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Alleged ‘rundown’ state of Preston city centre blamed on car policies and cost-of-living crisis

Posted on - 21st June, 2024 - 8:00am | Author - | Posted in - Business, Politics, Preston City Centre, Preston News
Fishergate in Preston city centre Pic: Blog Preston
Fishergate in Preston city centre Pic: Blog Preston

Shutdown shops, anti-car policies and the cost-of-living crisis have all been blamed for the “rundown” state of Preston city centre.

They were the claimed deadweights holding down the local economy according to some of the candidates who want to be the city’s next MP.

The politicians were speaking at a hustings event ahead of the general election, at which they were asked what they would do to improve the place they hope to represent.

Read more: South Ribble general election hustings to be held in Penwortham

In a question submitted by a member of the public, Preston was described as being “in a dire state, with numerous boarded up shops and a general sense of neglect”.

The candidates were probed about how they would ensure the city could “thrive again” – and many of them were as keen to diagnose what they saw as the the problem as they were to prescribe a solution.

Conservative candidate – and former Preston city councillor – Trevor Hart said that the number of vacant retail units in Preston was “an absolute disgrace”.

“It is dying on its feet. The roads almost…stop you getting into [Preston] now, pushing you further and further out. Parking is expensive.

“[As for] the night-time economy, the offer that’s there at the moment isn’t good enough.  We haven’t got a theatre right now. The Labour Council have spent money in Preston and invested there – but have they actually improved Preston?   I don’t think so,” Mr. Hart said.

Alliance for Democracy and Freedom representative David Brooks said the “vast amounts of money” being spent on “net-zero nonsense” was the reason so many places – and people – were struggling. In Preston, he said that was manifesting itself in measures which made life difficult for motorists.

“There’s a decline in the town because we’ve got no access [and] no parking – we’ve put cycle lanes and bus lanes coming into the town centre, so that we can force people out of cars and onto public transport,” Mr Brooks said.

He also told the audience at the event – staged at the University of Central Lancashire – that “there is no climate emergency” to justify such policies and that current warming is part of “a natural cycle”.

In contrast, Liberal Democrat candidate Neil Darby said a “green revolution” would help combat the cost-of-living – and, in turn, rejuvenate local economies like Preston’s.

“We want to be building more renewables and…insulating homes across the country. It’s a brand new industry that we can be kickstarting – and we’ve got a really exciting opportunity to be at the very heart of that here in Preston.

“What the Liberal Democrats also want to do is to increase the amount of funding that we have for local governments. We’ve seen cutbacks year after year since the late days of the last Labour government,” said Mr. Darby, who has been a city councillor for 10 years.

Meanwhile, Joseph O’Meachair, representing the Rejoin EU party, pegged Preston’s plight to what he said was a broader national malaise.

“The experiment of Brexit has led to tremendous damage – not just here in Preston, but particularly…in the north of England.

“There are two areas of this country that are still doing well – London, which is [dominated by] large financial services, and particularly Northern Ireland, which has remained within the [EU] single market.  We need to take a lesson from that,” Mr. O’Meachair added.

Independent candidate Michael Lavalette said Preston was “showing the effects of years of austerity”.

He added:  “People in Preston have got a lower standard of living than the national average. The average wage in Preston is about £6,000 below the national average of £29,000. But there are some people who earn £14,000.

”We need decent jobs with decent paying wages. We need investment in this city and we need to invest in ways that give our young people hope and opportunity.”

Preston’s most recent MP – of 24 years – Sir Mark Hendrick claimed Preston “only has a future under Labour”.

“When I was first elected as the MP, we had a Labour government – and we were pumping millions into the local economy.

“For my first 10 years in Parliament, between 2000 and 2010, what we saw was huge improvements to the health service, to businesses, to investment in the dock areas,

“That’s what will make a difference – investment in local services, in local government, in local health services,” said Sir Mark, who is seeking to retain his seat at next month’s poll.

None of the candidates directly referred to what Labour-controlled Preston City Council says is £100m worth of investment going into the city across a range of projects – many of which are at least partially backed by government cash pots like the Levelling Up Fund and Towns Fund – including the £45m Animate cinema and leisure development and the wholesale refurbishment of the Harris Museum.

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