Open to the Public: Debate on the future of Preston’s empty buildings

Posted on - 30th January, 2013 - 9:59pm | Author - | Posted in - Opinion, What's On in Preston
Open to the Public: The audience listens to the debate about the abundance of empty properties in the city centre

Open to the Public: The audience listens to the debate about the abundance of empty properties in the city centre

Take a walk down almost any high street today and you’ll find an abundance of vacant properties. Preston is no different, commercial and retail areas of the city are awash with ‘To Let’ signs attached to the facades of empty properties. Since last October, two artists have been carrying out a survey of vacant properties in the city as part of the ‘Open to the Public’ project which has been commissioned by the Preston based arts group ‘In Certain Places’.


Artists, Katja van Driel and Wouter Osterholt have compiled a list of empty properties in the city and, from the data they’ve collected, they have created a supersized map which clearly shows the scale of the problem in Preston. Their findings can be viewed by the public in a vacant shop unit in the Guild Hall Arcade until Friday. They aim to use the data they’ve collected to encourage debate and discussion around the issue of empty spaces and to look into how the local community could be involved in finding a creative solution to the problem.

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As part of the project, Dr. Hannah Neate was the guest speaker at an event that was, unsurprisingly, open to the public, in the Guild Hall Arcade yesterday evening. After a short introduction by the artists, Hannah, who’s a researcher in cultural geography at UCLan, spoke at length about the role of modernist buildings in the 21st Century and the plight of our very own icon of brutalism, Preston Bus Station. Following Hannah’s talk the discussion was thrown open to the audience and a lively and lengthy debate ensued! Much of the discussion centred on the hot topic of the day, the future, or not, of the bus station. Preston City councillor James Hull explained that the Council are between a rock and a hard place over the issue with funding cuts driving the decision to demolish. Bus station campaigner John Wilson was also on hand to answer any questions with his seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge of the issue.

Sally Stone from Manchester School of Architecture and Ruth Heritage, creative director of ‘They Eat Culture’ were also present, and they gave an introduction to the newly launched Gate 81 project which aims to garner worldwide responses to, and proposals for, the redevelopment of the sixties icon. Anyone can download the bus station plans and free software from the Gate 81 website to create and submit your own vision of the future for the landmark building.

View photos from the event


All in all, the evening’s events proved to be lively and informative and underlined the importance of public participation in matters that ultimately affect us all. The ‘Open to the Public’ project continues this evening with a film screening of Birmingham-based filmmaker Sam Lewis’s recent documentary and on Thursday, Preston Council’s Head of Property Management Derek Woods, will be on hand to discuss the problem of vacant properties in the city.

Did you go to the event? What do you think about empty properties in the city centre? Let us know in the comments below

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