Preston’s university skyline to change with new 19-storey tower block

Posted on - 11th July, 2023 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Business, Housing, Preston News, Redevelopment, University campus
Artists impressions of how the new building close to the University Square will look

A huge, hexagonal-shaped apartment block will tower over Preston’s university quarter after it was given the go-ahead by councillors – becoming by far the highest point in that corner of the city.

The 19-storey building – which has an adjoining five-floor section – is set to spring up at the junction of Moor Lane and Walker Street, housing 120 apartments which will be available only for rent for decades to come.

The site has been vacant since 2017 when the gas training centre that previously occupied it was demolished.

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Preston City Council’s planning committee approved the new block at a meeting during which case officer James Mercer acknowledged that “there’s nothing like this” in the vicinity. The 1960s Telephone House building nearby is 12 storeys in height.

How the patch of land looks at the moment Pic: Google

Committee member David Borrow – who is also the cabinet member for planning and regulation – warned his colleagues that they had to be convinced that the proposal fitted in with the “modern environment” that had been created in the area by the University of Central Lancashire in recent years.

The meeting heard that the applicant, Portergate Developments (Preston) Ltd, had agreed to the blueprint being referred to an independent panel of architects which reviews the design of planning proposals and their impact on a local area.

That organisation – Places Matter – had concluded the building would “complement those very recent modern additions to this part of the city”, Mr. Mercer said. They had also advised that the block “would not dominate” any views of the landmark St. Walburge’s Church spire.

Suggestions as to how to create a “more defining top” for the block had been taken on board and the city authority’s planners were “satisfied that a building of this scale in this location and of this design was suitable”, councillors were told.

Committee member Carol Henshaw said that her reaction to the proposal could be summed up in a single word: “Wow.”

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The properties – 16 one-bedroomed and 104 with two bedrooms – fall into the “build to rent” category, which under national planning guidance, means that tenancies of at least three years should be offered to occupants – although renters would be free to request a shorter-term agreement if they wished.

In order to ensure that the dwellings remain in the rental sector for the long term, a 30-year covenant will be placed on them, meaning that if any of the units are sold within that timeframe, the council will be able to “clawback” compensation for their loss.

Portergate Developments successfully argued that their proposed scheme would not be financially viable if they were obliged to provide a 20 percent proportion of affordable properties within the development – the usual volume expected as part of build-to-rent projects.

CGI - View across University Square
CGI – View across University Square

The council’s own assessment of that claim supported the applicant’s conclusion – meaning that all of the apartments will be rented out at the full market rate. However, under an agreement as part of the planning permission, financial contributions will be sought from the developer at a later date if the project ultimately proves more profitable than currently expected.

Cycle storage will be available for each of the apartments, but no car parking space will be created – a prospect questioned by two committee members, with Cllr Stephen Thompson saying that it caused him to “despair”.

However, James Mercer said that it was not unusual for such developments to be devoid of parking spaces, because the city centre was the most sustainable location in which properties could be built, with easy access to the railway and bus stations.

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Cllr Thompson welcomed the development overall, supporting a call from Cllr Henshaw for more tall buildings to be built in Preston, which he said would prevent a continual spreading out into rural areas.

“These [apartments] will provide housing for people other than those that need three and four-bedroomed executive homes,” he said.

Cllr Borrow noted that of the 1,400 homes approved in Preston in 2022/23, around 250 were part of city centre developments.

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