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What the Lancashire County Council election result means for Preston

Posted on - 7th May, 2017 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - News, Opinion, Politics, Preston City Centre, Preston Council
There is a big political difference between one end of Fishergate and the other Pic: Tony Worrall
There is a big political difference between one end of Fishergate and the other Pic: Tony Worrall

Preston has remained predominantly red following the latest round of local elections – but where does that leave it with the blue counterparts in County Hall?

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For four years there’s been something a love-in between the Labour-led Town Hall with Preston City Council and the Labour-controlled County Hall with their power-sharing deal allowing them to form an administration.

The two councils went as far as to sign a memorandum of understanding to work in partnership on the city centre redevelopment and there’s been a number of key decisions taken with the councils working together – such as the City Deal for the Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire region.

The Bus Station was transferred for £1 to county council ownership, there’s the funding for the Harris Museum and Art Gallery – and Fishergate’s new look of course.

Here’s a look at five things which are what Prestonians will want to know from the Tory administration.

Fishergate

Highways workers in hi-vis jackets direct traffic in Fishergate Pic: Paul Melling
Someone will need to decide what to do with Fishergate Pic: Paul Melling

The irony that a Skelmersdale county councillor is probably the most well-known man in Preston is not lost. County councillor John Fillis was responsible for highways and therefore the changes to the road layout in the city centre.

Installing the bus lane in Fishergate has seen thousands of people fined, and then refunded, and a lot of time, energy and money poured into the scheme.

Read more: Look up how not to install a bus lane, and you’ll find Preston

Fishergate’s bus lane was due to be reviewed in April – it is not actively being enforced at this time – so it’ll be one of the first things on the to-do list for whoever takes on the highways brief for the Tories.

Preston does have a traffic problem, whether stopping access to Fishergate – with inadequate signage – is the way forward will be one for the Conservatives to decide. But a decision is due on how they take the scheme forward, or whether it will be scrapped completely.

Libraries

Fulwood library, built in 1939, could soon be closed
Is it too late to re-open Fulwood library?

A major issue in the run up to the election – and a key pledge by the Conservatives. They said they would reverse any library closures and stop any sell-offs. Whether it’s too late for some deals which have already gone through remains to be seen.

Fulwood, Lostock Hall, Bamber Bridge and Penwortham all lost their libraries – although Brig and Penwortham have deals cut locally to either re-open them with community groups or find a new use for the buildings.

Read more: Plans go in for Fulwood Library

All those deals may be ripped up or renegotiated depending on how the Conservatives feel about the terms. The government had been deciding whether to formally investigate the county council’s decision on libraries for breaching the 1964 libraries act, but it this may now be called off. And there’s the big question of if all the libraries are re-opened, where will that funding come from? The county council has to find millions of pounds in savings over the next few years due to budget cuts.

It’s a strange world when the Tories win an election promising to end a scheme, in the libraries sell-off, which is proposed by Labour despite feeling like a Tory policy. But that’s 2017 politics for you!

Bus Station

A Preston Bus service leaving the Bus Station Pic: Paul Melling
A Preston Bus service leaving the Bus Station Pic: Paul Melling

Tory leader Geoff Driver has been highly critical of the proposals for the Bus Station and Youth Zone, will the work there continue? It’s a £23 million scheme in total and repairs and adjustments to the grade-II listed building are ongoing.

This is a big change to when Driver was in power in 2013, now the county council own the building and therefore all the repairs and issues that come with it.

Preston City Council transferred the ownership, for £1, and the deal was done in October 2014. How will the Conservatives take the plans for the Bus Station forward? Or will they rip up the ideas? It’s quite far down the track now with planning permission secured for the majority of the scheme.

Harris

The temporary sign for the Harris as part of Creed's work Pic: Paul Melling
The temporary sign for the Harris as part of Creed’s work Pic: Paul Melling

The biggest lottery bid in the history of the city, some £15million and it’s a joint service run by the city council and county council. Plans for the building include the controversial new entrance with a hole being knocked in the front of the building.

Read more: Neon sign beams down from the Harris

Heritage Lottery Fund money would predominantly be used for the ‘re-imagining of the Harris’ and it’ll be interesting to see whether the Tories continue to support the proposals, or if not the full proposals but which bits. There has been a lot of criticism of the Harris bid by the architectural lobby.

Political tensions

City council leader Peter Rankin and former county council leader Jennifer Mein had a good working relationship. You would regularly see them at events together, don their hard hats for photo opportunities and of course both represent Preston divisions or wards.

Will Rankin and Driver work together?
Will Rankin and Driver work together?

Geoff Driver also represents a Preston division for county but it’s likely we’ll see some crosser words being exchanged between Town and County Halls in the coming weeks and months. Where there was partnership before there could be division.

The man who may have a key role to play is leader of the Conservatives in Preston, councillor Neil Cartwright. As leader of the opposition he appears to have a structured and sensible relationship with the Labour administration in the Town Hall. He’s not prone to rash decisions or outbursts and could be the bridge between Town and County – as he appears to have good standing with Driver and the Lancashire Tories.

However, Rankin wants Preston to succeed and ultimately Driver as Preston North county councillor will also be acutely aware of the city’s place in a successful Lancashire. Will political differences be put aside to continue the two authorities working together or do we face a chilling period where relations between the two authorities cool off?

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