Back in the early 2000s Preston Council had a grand vision. Fully renovated and enclosed Victorian market canopies; glazed and two-tiered market shopping, replacing the tired 60s indoor market and car park. In place of the old indoor market would come a complex of restaurants and bars anchored by a city centre cinema complex – think a smaller scale Printworks, Manchester.Advertisement
Preston was awash with the promise of money and development. The whole area was included within the Tithebarn scheme – a part of town which previously had been subjected to an ambitious, but ultimately largely dismal redevelopment in the 1960’s. However factors such as public enquiries, more lucrative opportunities for the developers in Liverpool 1, change in shopping habits and the property crash finally killed the Tithebarn scheme. The money had gone and the dreams broken.
However despite the developers having “left the building”, the council persisted in their delivery of the sites. The Bus Station, whose architectural significance had continued to grow through the 2000s was still to be pulled down. Not to be replaced by new shopping complexes, town squares and restaurants, but by a flat carpark as in reality nobody wanted the site anymore. Central government had to step in and intervene to prevent this pointless destruction, which had the full support of all three political parties.
And so to the markets. The councils final throw of the dice to deliver the enclosed canopy scheme ended in failure in early 2014 when the Heritage Lottery Fund rejected a £5 million bid. A time for a full reappraisal in the light of the limited funds available? Not a bit of it – just teeth gritted and heads down. A limited refurbishment of the indoor market and car park said to be “not an option”, despite the fact it may take over 50 per cent of the available budget for the markets just to demolish them.
Apparently the funds aren’t available to provide inside spaces for traders, which many say they need or will have to close, yet the plan is doggedly pursued. In the meantime the indoor market continues to rot after years of uncertainty, with the dark cloud of demolition hanging over it.
To make matters worse the council are currently planning to demolish the charming Lancastria House (Great Times Building), in the hope of making the speculative cinema site more attractive.
Lancastria House is an art-deco beauty, a one off in Preston, built as a show piece of the Lancastria Co-opertive society in the 1930s. Ironically partly occupied by Preston Councils planning department, this was recently used as a setting for a Hollywood film starring Liam Neeson and Sigourney Weaver.
Demolition of this important and popular piece of Preston architecture would be a tragedy and make the centre a poorer a place for it.
The desire of the council to provide a site for a city centre cinema is admirable, however with any complex unlikely to be completed before 2018 has the bird not already flown here? Will film streaming not kill the idea like internet shopping killed the rest of Tithebarn? There is a huge danger here that the enormous upheaval involved could also practically kill off the market, leaving just a few tatty stalls, with a flat carpark or dismal cheap retail sheds where the indoor market stood.
In the light of the funds simply not being available to achieve the original goal, surely it is time now to consider the less radical and more cost effective option of partial refurbishment of the current markets, before a needless and dangerous gamble is made with 1000 years of market history in Preston?
What’s your view? How should the Markets area be developed? Should Lancastria House stay or go? Let us know in the comments below
Jeremy Rowlands is behind the Continental, The Ferret, The Moorbrook Inn and the soon to open Plau gin bar. He runs these establishments and has a keen interest in how Preston’s city centre develops.