For 20 plus years Preston has stagnated, increasingly falling behind its Lancashire neighbours Manchester and Liverpool.Advertisement
The last 12 months, however, saw the beginnings of a revival that could see the North West’s third city finally taking its place on the development map.
Public realm and infrastructure projects were either begun – the new outdoor market – or completed – the Fishergate streetscape and Winckley Square renovation.
And plans are being formed in the Town Hall and at County Hall to keep spending the £434 million City Deal cash from central Government on further improvements to Preston city centre.
Read more: From the depressing embers of Tithebarn we now feel like a city going somewhere
Work will get underway in 2017 on the revamped bus station and youth zone – an ambitious plan by a New York architect that will finally save this genuinely original building for posterity.
And further progress should be made in 2017 on the Market Quarter redevelopment plans. Commercially, Preston is still on a knife edge, There’s not enough (or any at all) Grade A office space in the city centre and the retail picture is far from rosy. What will greatly assist these twin pillars of the local economy is a robust and achievable residential plan for Preston city centre.
So what else can the council do to make Preston a more attractive place to live work and play in?
1. Encourage a lot more residential development in the city centre. This is a brownfield playground for imaginative developers like Etc Urban, whose Guildhall Street warehouse mixed use apartment scheme will receive planning consent within weeks and could be on site before the summer.
2. The new landscaping along Fishergate has been a genuine success – extend it to the streets running south of Fishergate connecting them with Winckley Square and Avenham Park.
3. Scrap plans for a replacement car park at the new market and give the space over entirely to residential development – we need a lot of new homes in Preston city centre and a good mix of up-market and affordable on this prime site will go a long way to achieving sufficient numbers.
4. Be bold with new residential plans. Manchester and Liverpool are building ever higher and Preston should be competing with them. A 20-storey tower in the city centre will make a statement like no other – watch this space for news!
5. Publish the City Living strategy for Preston city centre. People need to know what is being considered and how they can get involved.
6. Do something with Church Street – it’s a mess all the way down to the A59. Get all the land and building owners together and agree a united plan to transform this historic, but decrepit thoroughfare.
7. One or both of the councils should pledge a decent piece of council-owned land or a building (a redundant office building or works depot, for example) for a public competition to design a brilliant new residential and commercial space. City Deal can fund it together with the Homes and Communities Agency.
8. Bring back the free (or at least subsidised) concerts in Avenham Park. People still talk about seeing Oasis for free one summer long ago; it’s time to put Preston back on the entertainment map with high profile, big name gigs. This is what makes city living such a joy and encourages more people to leave suburbia.
9. Encourage the redevelopment of the Fishergate Shopping Centre. Plans for a multiplex cinema were knocked back last year – wrongly – which meant the city lost a £40 million investment opportunity. Preston Council should seek to reinstate these plans – which also included bigger stores and a food court – as a matter of urgency.
Read more: Historic and listed buildings being developed in Preston
10. Produce a realistic plan to redevelop all the prominent city centre buildings that have lain derelict for years, sometimes decades. Work in partnership with the owners or compulsorily purchase (CPO) them to kick-start action – the Farmers Arms Hotel arcade in Market Street, the Miller Arcade, the big cinemas and nightclubs empty in Fishergate and Church Street, BHS (and now HMV) in Fishergate, the bottom end of Friargate, the Harris Art School in Avenham. All these are in need of restoration as a matter of urgency.
Neil Thornton is a property expert and director of Etc Urban Developments and Thornton Media.
What do you make of Neil’s views? Agree or disagree? What is your 10-point plan? Let us know in the comments below