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Heritage at the heart of new plan for Preston city centre

Posted on - 20th November, 2013 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - History, News, Preston City Centre, Preston Council, Redevelopment
the old post office

The top of the old Post Office which stands on the Flag Market. Photo by Tony Worrall

The development of the city centre in Preston must work to protect and preserve its heritage – according to a new council strategy.

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Alongside the new city centre plan, Preston City Council has chosen to outline its plan for heritage in Preston.

The 29-page document explains how it wants to see developers find innovative uses for historic buildings – such as the Old Post Office and area around the Covered Markets, as well as improvements to the Railway Station.

Nigel Roberts, principal urban designer at the city council, is one of those who has penned the strategy.

He said: “Many people don’t realise just how many historic buildings our city has.

“We take a lot of external organisations and businesses around the city, including developers, and they are stunned at the Georgian architecture in Preston.

“I think there’s a perception of Preston as a former industrial mill town, but just look at Winckley Square, Avenham Park and you realise this city has always had some civic grandeur to it long before the Victorians started building.”

The city council has produced the heritage strategy to assist in any bids to the Heritage Lottery Fund, who funded the current Cenotaph restoration.

Mr Roberts explained as private investment is currently stalled the lottery and heritage lottery represent a good chance of cash.

“It’s tough for developers at the moment,” he said, “they are ultimately looking at how much they will get back from a building. This strategy is one we have chosen to produce, we didn’t have to produce it, so it makes it clear our focus and preference for restoration projects in Preston.”

Research by English Heritage suggests bringing a building back into use attracts a “Heritage Premium” of some £13,000 a year in extra revenue, due to the attractiveness of the building.

Part of Mr Roberts’ job is to work with the owners of historic buildings to encourage them to bring them back into use.

He said: “We are looking not just at buildings in council ownership, but if you take College House on Winckley Square or the St Joseph’s Orphanage we are working hard with the owners to find a way to get these back into use.”

The strategy marks the first time the council has applied such pressure to private owners in the city, to try and hurry along any development of the buildings – such as St Joseph’s – which occupy prime locations in the city centre.

The roof of the former orphanage on Mount Street in the city centre

The roof of the former orphanage on Mount Street in the city centre

Mr Roberts’ is under no illusion how tough market conditions are for developers and that historic buildings add a large cost to restoring buildings.

He said: “Take the Old Post Office for example, it’s a very difficult building because it’s on different levels with lots of different rooms. It’s custom built as a Post Office and there’s a huge cost to any developer looking to change its use – in the region of multi-millions of pounds before you’ve barely started work.”

Amounderness House and The Old Post Office, and the area around the Markets, is currently being mooted as the location for the new technical college the city council is currently bidding to create.

The city council are now consulting on their strategy to seek views from the public and interested organisations in whether they’ve got the priorities of the strategy right.

The full strategy is available to read on the council website, and comments should be directed to the Heritage investment strategy survey by Friday 29 November.

What are your views? Should we be looking to conserve the heritage of the city or do you prefer starting from scratch? Let us know in the comments below

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