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Opinion: 2024 marks a foundational year for Preston city centre’s redevelopment

Posted on - 25th February, 2024 - 8:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Opinion, Politics, Preston City Centre, Preston Council, Preston News, Redevelopment
Preparation work on the new Youth Zone building site in Preston city centre Pic: Blog Preston
Preparation work on the new Youth Zone building site in Preston city centre Pic: Blog Preston

This year appears to be a foundational year for the city.

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The regeneration of Preston and primarily the city centre has been a hot topic ever since we began Blog Preston in 2009.

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Collapsed schemes, false dawns, some glimmers but nothing transformational.

Read more: See redevelopment news from in and around Preston

Changes to the city have mainly been happening on its edge since hundreds of millions of pounds were focused on the City Deal which spanned beyond just the city’s traditional borders in 2014. This burst of investment focused primarily on new roads and housing, now a decade on there’s bypasses, dual carriageways and swathes of new-build homes in a semi-circle from Lea round to Fulwood and out into the eastern side of the city.

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No doubt it’s helped to swell the population and number of households in Preston (also a consequence of people moving out of larger urban areas like Manchester due to rocketing house prices) creating a much larger suburban sprawl than a decade back but has that translated into a boost for the city centre itself?

Not really, you only need to look at the congestion on the M61 and M6 with regularity to know that there will be many who rarely, if ever, venture into the city centre.

This week the Preston Partnership formally relaunched. It brings together the private sector and public sector institutions, organisations and individuals, to attempt to create one voice for pushing the city forward. There are many actors in the city, across multiple organisations and tiers of government – the Partnership wants to put them into one coherent place.

See a thread from the Preston Partnership relaunch event

It saw success in playing a part to secure the Towns Fund deal which has seen a flurry of investment in and around the so called Harris Quarter which runs around the museum, Markets and Town Hall.

But as many of those gathered heard it is small dice compared to the investment needed to super charge Preston to the next level, because fundamental problems remain.

Read more: Amounderness House revamp plans lodged ahead of workspace hub

The transport system is a mess, there is limited city centre office working going on and a lack of more family-sized good quality homes on the edge of the city centre or within it. The current city centre has become a transactional place, you get in – to do something – and get out. Or many people avoid it all together, and a consequence of the pandemic is the comfort and familiarity of staying more local has become more attractive. Another pint in a suburban tap house versus waiting for a bus that rarely appears into town….

Scars stand around of previous attempts at getting the city going – from the ill-fated Shankly Hotel scheme which now stands in tatters and with the Serious Fraud Office combing through the details of an apparent scam-scheme for developments that were never finished through to the concrete riddled husk of the Guild Hall which for the last five years has come to symbolise Preston’s stagnation.

Read more: How you can help us grow arts coverage in Preston

However, there are lots of green shoots and these mean there is a growing confidence in the city’s ability to heal the scars of years gone by.

The Animate scheme, although a long time in the making, is going up at a rapid rate and is set to open in 2025 giving the city a large scale leisure place that beyond shopping gives a reason for a significant number of people to be in the city at once.

Work is beginning on the new Youth Zone on the scrubby patch of land opposite the Bus Station that wouldn’t look out of place in some kind of threatening Stanley Kubrick-style dystopia. A much needed uplift for this area and based on the use of other Youth Zones like Chorley then it’s a sensible place given the proximity to the bus – a favoured transport method for those of school and college age.

The Stoneygate Masterplan, launched in 2019, is seeing major investment starting to come in from the likes of Onward Homes and Belgravia group planning to put sizeable schemes in Horrocks Mill and Urban Village off Church Street to build upon the work The Heaton Group and others have been doing on existing schemes like The Exchange and Bishopsgate. Lots of other schemes from the Guild Tower to other Church Street plans are also now springing up.

Horrocks Mill From the air - after development
Horrocks Mill From the air – after development

UCLan continues to be the major investor in putting up new buildings, the Vet School off Moor Lane is its latest large-scale building after the completion of its new student centre and engineering centre in recent years and the Adelphi Square area.

Add in the Harris Museum and Art Gallery re-opening in 2025 after its revamp and there’s lots finishing or work ongoing in 2025 that could see the city’s landscape and skyline change.

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But it will need the Station Quarter proposals to come to fruition to be the real gamechanger for the city, and that’s where the Lancashire Devolution deal may start to unlock the kind of funding settlements and regeneration projects which would be truly transformational for the city. Putting in large-scale top-notch office development along with a full revamp of the very tired looking Preston Railway Station could be the City Deal II the city centre needs.

Preston Station Quarter Aeriel Shot
Preston Station Quarter Aerial Shot

No one organisation or person can do it alone, it’ll need teamwork and co-operation and collaboration at all levels of government and private enterprise to achieve the ambition and potential Preston has.

As John Chesworth alluded to this as he opened the Preston Partnership meeting, there’s still much more to do and Preston feels like it’s beginning to get back to where it should be.

Let’s hope it is forwards momentum from now on for all involved in the city but for 2024 it may be a case of patience, rather than action.

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