The end of the year draws near and like the Christmas Lights in Preston city centre the lights are going out one by one (gradually).Advertisement
It’s a good chance to reflect on the year that’s been and gone but more importantly look forward (to some things) at what’s to come.
What will be dominating the headlines in 2016? What will be shaping the debate? We cast an eye over some of the issues in the city that need tackling and resolving in the coming 12 months.
Say the F-word and you will get a response from any and every Prestonian. The new layout certainly looks nicer and has smartened up the city, but what’s happened to the traffic? There was a mini-crisis with drivers stuck for hours on end trying to exit city centre car parks.
As many pointed out there are ample car parks on the outer edges of the city centre but for those wanting on the doorstep access to the main shopping centres the new layout certainly seemed to contribute to the gridlock.
Lancashire County Council who installed the new layout, with major European funding, seemed to admit something must be done as they installed the ‘human traffic light’ at the Fishergate/Corporation Street/Butler Street junction.
With the county council facing an enormous financial crisis in 2016 it wouldn’t be hard to imagine some traffic lights going back up, as it’s a far cheaper and long-term solution than a team of men with stop and go signs.
We’ll also hopefully see the first signs of the new cleaned up street scene making its way up to Church Street and around towards the Guild Hall and Bus Station.
More shops move to Fishergate
With the new look high street there’s been a bit of a spate of new openings in both shopping centres and on the high street. However, it comes at a cost.
Preston Market plans have had plenty of talk in the last year but we’re yet to see a planning application tabled as wrangles over architects and how much to spend on the scheme have dominated discussions. The longer it goes on, the longer we’ll see market shops and stalls disappear and the area around the markets also show signs of closures and stagnation. The same goes for Church Street.
High street chains and those in search of footfall will always pick the busiest area, and the best looking, so expect to see new openings targeted at Fishergate until the scheme is widened across the city centre.
Taking a new road
Building roads is how the government is hoping to stimulate Preston and South Ribble through the City Deal. With an expanding population that needs housing somewhere, it also needs to be able to get to work, the shops and elsewhere.
With Preston’s road network often creaking with congestion there’s a number of key roads on the horizon. Work on the long-awaited Broughton Bypass begins fully this year and the A582 work should also be mainly complete by the end of 2016.
While the Preston Western Distributor on the western edge of the city, to serve the big housing developments penciled in for the North West of Preston. Consultation begins in January and then we should see it go to the planning stages.
While County and Town Halls are being bled dry in terms of money there is one place with plenty of it. The University of Central Lancashire is about to embark on a major building programme in Preston.
After a previous strategy of expanding overseas, which appears to have failed, the university is now focusing its efforts back on the Preston and Lancashire campuses. A £200m masterplan for the city centre campus includes some major new buildings and reshaping the Adelphi roundabout.
We’re not sure on the traffic side of things but the university appears to have got its love for Preston back after courting Malaysia, China, Cyprus and many other far-flung places. Preston Poly as it was is returning to its roots and has stayed local with putting interim manager Professor Mike Thomas in charge full-time as vice-chancellor.
All of the above is in vain if Preston planners don’t get their act together. The last twelve months has seen disarray in the planning committee of the city council. There’s a huge backlog of planning applications, councillors are regularly rejecting and overruling officers recommendations, there’s planning call-ins left, right and centre.
It would appear Preston has a long-term plan for growth (housing and new roads in the North West) but there’s certainly not universal agreement.
Planners must get a grip or it looks like Whitehall may intervene and place the city council’s planning system into ‘special measures’.
Heightened state of alert
Recent incidents at the Fishergate Shopping Centre and in Deepdale Road show what living in a post-Paris attacks society means. We’re likely to see heightened security and police presence continuing for the time being. What we can be sure of is a calm and rational response from Preston.
Sadly the events of Jonjo Highton’s death in August 2014 do not seem to have hit home to some. Just before Christmas we saw a city centre stabbing and another in Fishwick. Preston Police must ensure any tensions are calmed and the city continues to be a relatively safe place to live. There’s no place for gangs in our city. A knife amnesty could be something we see in the coming months.
The battle over whether fracking should be allowed in the countryside between Preston and Blackpool resumes in February. A rather pointless public inquiry is to be heard by a planning inspector before the government makes the final decision, in the shape of Greg Clark the secretary of state for communities and local government. The minister for local government may end up overturning the wishes of locally democratically elected county councillors who decided in the summer to reject Cuadrilla’s applications to frack.
We mentioned it last year, and it continued to dominate the headlines. 2016 will be no different for Preston’s most divisive building.
The restoration and maintenance work is needed, and swiftly. The county council were forced to close half the building, a taste of things to come, because of strong winds in late November and early December.
It’s a taste of things to come as when the Preston Youth Zone is built on the western side of the bus station it will see the buses use only one side. They seem to have been coping with using the smaller number of stands, so that bodes well.
What do you think will dominate 2016 in Preston? Let us know in the comments below