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Plans for historic Preston building empty for 20 years given green light

Posted on - 7th November, 2023 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Preston Council, Preston News, Redevelopment
Amounderness House currently stands empty Pic: Paul Swarbrick
Amounderness House currently stands empty Pic: Paul Swarbrick

A historic Preston building has moved a step closer to being brought back to life after more than 20 years lying idle in the heart of the city centre.

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Councillors have given the go-ahead to the conversion of the former magistrates’ court building, Amounderness House, into an office and retail facility.

Grinchmas

The revamp of the Grade II-listed structure – which fronts Lancaster Road, Earl Street and Birley Street – has been on the cards since it formed part of Preston’s successful bid for cash from the Town’s Fund almost three years ago.

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Preston City Council’s planning committee has now approved what will be a £7.4m refurbishment, details of which emerged when the application was lodged back in August.  The work will involve the creation of a new public space within an existing courtyard area and the demolition of mid-20th century extensions, with a modern replacement being put in their place.

That addition – ranging between two and three storeys in height – will form a new frontage and entrance to the flexible commercial space, which will be made up of 26 offices and workspaces of various sizes to cater for established companies and start-up businesses.

Amounderness House courtyard plans

Meanwhile, the demolition of the existing two-storey south wing will pave the way for another contemporary two-storey extension that will accommodate a pair of larger studio or retail units.  The former cells of a building that initially opened as a police station in 1857 will be restored to create two other retail or craft spaces.

City council planning officer Jonathan Evans said that the planned addition of mezzanine floors in the original part of the property – in order to create a new second floor level – was deemed “harmful, but…the harm would be at the lower end of less than substantial.

“The removal of the existing extensions and the replacement with more sympathetic [ones] is considered of benefit,” Mr. Evans told the committee meeting.

He added that because the external works would be limited to the courtyard area – which is currently used for parking council vehicles, but would be vehicle-free under the plans – they would not have any impact on the market square conservation area in which the building sits.

Christmas show Barton Manor

Committee member Jennifer Mein said that it would be “fantastic to see [the] building back in use again” – and she and her colleagues unanimously approved the request, made by the council itself, both for planning permission and listed building consent.

As part of the plans, an electricity substation will be installed within the existing service area of the Box Market, beneath the canopy of the Grade II-listed Fish Market.

Amounderness House forms part of what are considered an important group of civic buildings in the city centre which includes the adjoining Town Hall, Sessions House, and the Harris Museum to the south and the listed market hall to the north.

The project has been designed by Preston-based FWP Architects and the facility will be run by office specialists W_rkspace when it opens, which is expected to be in late 2025.

In a statement issued after permission was granted, the chair of Preston’s Towns Fund Strategic Board, John Chesworth, said that the scheme will “help stimulate business, cultural, and community uses in Preston city centre”.

“We are making significant progress in regenerating the Harris Quarter and seeing a ripple effect of interest in what Preston is achieving as an attractive place to live, work and play.”

Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown, added: “On the back of this excellent news, we can transform Amounderness House and capitalise on this asset being in public ownership and using it to support growing local businesses. Furthermore, in line with our community wealth building principles, we’re working with Preston-based W_rkspace to run this important heritage asset as it helps boost our economy.”

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