Preston’s year in 2014 was dominated by what happens next questions and the moving pieces in various plans beginning to turn and come together. It was a transition year. 2015 looks like the year when reality happens.Advertisement
Here are nine things we know will be on the horizon in the city:
There’s no escaping them. And it’s not going to change for 2015 and beyond. There is £434 million being pumped into the infrastruture of Preston and South Ribble. It is the Coalition’s plan to try and boost economies outside of London and road-building is one of the oldest political tricks in the book.
For Prestonians it means plenty of stop-go signals and tailbacks. Will the pain be worth the gain? If the A582 and Preston Western Distributor get built then the way is paved for the new bridge over the Ribble which would completely change the face of the city and how people move between Southport-Preston-South Ribble-Blackpool and ease the bottleneck that is the M6 and M55.
Despite vocal criticism from many sides there is an iron will in both County and Town Hall to extend the Fishergate shared-space scheme. It is winning favour with major retailers who are now seeing Preston as a more attractive place to open their stores. More stores, more people coming into the city centre. Or at least that would be the planners plan – you imagine.
Money is there to extend up to the Bus Station, and there needs to be the same commitment given to Church Street to do something for an area of the city which desperately needs some love.
Turtle Bay, Hogarth’s, Harry’s Bar, Mokai, Mundo Tapas and The Olive Tree Brasserie – all opening in the space of a few months. If there’s one things Prestonians know it is how to have a good time. There’s a mini feelgood factor in the city centre going out scene, whether it will hold into early 2015 remains to be seen. But the opening of somewhere like Turtle Bay and Olive Tree and if they are making the kind of money they need to could fire the starting gun for more restaurants and bars seeing Preston as a viable option.
Preston City Council leader Peter Rankin has fixed his party on the regeneration of the markets, and it is shaping up to be a scrap. Indoor Market traders are furious at being moved outdoors, architects are drawing up plans and Vue cinema has a demolition notice tabled for the Capitol Centre giving a pretty strong hint they don’t see a future there beyond 2015 and want to be the city centre cinema for Preston.
Lancastria House sits to one side of this but could become Bus Station-part II. What if the architecture lobby get behind it and go for listing? You can imagine various people at the Town Hall throwing a laptop out of the window in fury.
Preston is very red right now. A general election always boosts turnout for local elections and higher turnouts can sometimes lead to unexpected results. UKIP didn’t win any seats in the 2014 local elections in Preston and despite plenty of scaremongering their vote share was not as high as many predicted. But with Farage riding the national media raw you wonder if more Prestonians will go purple and what this means for many of the seats with slender majorities. Our money is on Labour keeping its majority, with the Tories not making gains as voters punish the party of government and the Lib Dems struggling to maintain the status quo. If it is UKIP who get a local voice at this expense remains to be seen.
You can’t write something about the future of the city without mentioning Preston Bus Station. The building has remained static in 2014. It is listed, it still operates as a Bus Station but the talk around it has been defeaning. County Hall took until October to eventually outline their plans for it, a bus station operating from one side and a Youth Zone in another.
Serious questions remain about where the £23 million is going to come from, when Lancashire County Council faces a financial armageddon. The Tories stamping their feet about costs and the sucking-in of money to fund Preston at the expense of other areas. The repair bill is big for the building, and it needs serious work doing.
All the politics serves to do only one thing. The smell in the Bus Station gets worse, it gets dingier, darker and more unsafe for those people – often some of the most vulnerable in society – who use it the most. The young, the elderly and the disabled. While the chattering classes debate the architectural merits of the building, those who need to use it to catch a bus twice a day are being failed by everyone.
The great hope for a new energy gold rush in Lancashire? Or a dangerous threat to the health of local residents? One of the first things we’ll find out in 2015 is whether Cuadrilla can start fracking at two sites near Preston.
Environmental lobby and local residents are clear, not on our doorstep. Cuadrilla say it could trigger a huge economic boom for the area, and solve energy problems.
The debates are more complex than above, but it will come down to a number of Lancashire county councillors to make the kind of decision that sends us down one path or another. The kind where grandchildren ask, why did they do that?
Up to three days of passionate debates are expected in County Hall. The fields of Roseacre and Little Plumpton will lay quiet and still over Christmas but by next Christmas if permission is granted there will be a very different feel to the area. Lancashire really could be frontier land.
Some things will stop happening. A look through the budgets of both Lancashire County Council and Preston City Council tells you one thing, councils will not be doing what they do now.
County councillor David Borrow said every option is on the table for how they meet an enormous savings challenge. The status quo is not sustainable, and neither should it be.
Preston’s settlement in recent government cutbacks was one of the worst in the country. In 2015 we will see real changes to how councils do things, and this means they may stop doing certin things. Real things. Things which people see happening every week, might become once a month. People will lose their jobs. Councils will not spend the amount they used to spend with local firms. The ripples are huge of whatever is on the balance sheets of local authorities.
And that’s why there’s one thing we must all do come May, we must vote for who we want to be making those decisions in the County and Town Hall for us. We need to understand their motivations, the colour of their money and where they would cut back or expand. We can all take to Facebook to moan with a click of a button we can give a passionate, not always reasoned, arguement about something. But if we don’t go to the ballot box in May then it’s worthless.
We can’t let politicians rely on low turnouts to keep the status quo. We saw in the Scottish referendum how passionate arguments and debates, and a burning issue, compelled hundreds of thousands of people to vote who had never done so before. 2015 is the year when things happen in Preston, make sure the one thing which happens is you folding a ballot paper into a box.