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‘Death-trap’ empty Winckley Square offices a ‘blight’ on famous suffragettes memory

Posted on - 1st July, 2024 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Crime, History, Housing, Politics, Preston News, Redevelopment, Winckley Square
The boarded up former offices along Winckley Square Pic: Blog Preston

Winckley Square businesses have hit out at the state of one of the square’s former office blocks and say a suffragette would be ‘turning in her grave’ over what’s become of it.

Lanson House – currently standing empty – has become ‘blighted by vandalism and anti-social behaviour’ according to its near neighbours.

The building has a blue plaque on the front explaining it was home to suffragette Edith Rigby.

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Recent incidents – with youths seen on top of buildings around Lanson House – has seen a 14-year-old boy arrested after a number of police attendances in Mount Street and Garden Street.

Chief executive of Cherry Forensics Chartered Accountants, Ian Cherry, who has premises next door at 26 Winckley Square told Blog Preston about the issues they were experiencing.

He said: “The building next door which is double fronted and overlooks Winckley Square carries a blue plaque commemorating Edith Rigby the votes for women campaigner. She must be turning in her grave at the way it has been allowed to deteriorate. Thieves and vandals have gained entry to the empty building and smashed all the windows showering glass into the surrounding area.

“It is literally a death trap and only a matter of time before a member of the public suffers a serious injury. Winckley Square is a flagship square in the centre of Preston that is enjoyed by everyone visiting Preston including families and young children.

“They should not have to endure streets full of broken glass, smashed windows , hanging shards of glass, ripped out interior, stolen roof slates and lead and copper wiring stripped and thrown from the building. Winckley Square is being blighted by the dangerous and embarrassing state of this building together with its neighbour Lanson House in Winckley Gardens, Mount Street which was sold for development and is being allowed to deteriorate to a similar state.

“We have reported the matter numerous times to the police and council but no one seems to accept responsibility. If action is not taken soon then I fear we will lose the buildings beyond recovery and a beautiful Georgian Square in the centre of Preston will be irreparably damaged.”

Pictures released to Blog Preston show the state of disrepair the property has fallen into.

What those living on the Square experience

Issues with anti-social behaviour in and around Winckley Square – itself a conservation area – are not new. With the St Joseph’s Orphanage and a number of other notable buildings standing empty, despite recent demolitions of some, the place has become a ‘bomb site’ according to the residents group which represents it.

Chair of the Friends of Winckley Square, Patricia Harrison, told Blog Preston: “We are very aware of the deteriorating state of some of the properties on the west side of the Square, including the former home of Preston’s best-known suffragette, Edith Rigby. We are also very concerned about the experiences of those who live and work around Garden Street and Mount Street, many of whom have been plagued for years by appalling levels of anti-social behaviour.

“The new Public Space Protection Order introduced last week for the city centre is very welcome, but the issues around Mount Street are more specific. The Order refers to ‘persons’ but whether this will apply to children is less clear.

“The former Mount Street Hospital and associated buildings have long been a magnet for vandalism and arson. As the buildings deteriorate, more young people are attracted to join in the wrecking. This includes the throwing of window glass, slates and fittings from the windows into the street.”

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Mrs Harrison went on to criticise the police for their inability to constrain the problems.

She said: “Young people are fully aware that once inside the buildings the police will not follow them for a mixture of reasons, including safety for the officers and concern that the young people will injure themselves if pursued. Local residents have met police representatives, and it is clear that police action is severely constrained. Even in the face of verbal abuse from children on the roof the police can appear powerless.”

“The demolition of the gym on Garden Street three years ago created a bomb site at the foot of Mount Street and the subsequent neglect of Lanson House has resulted in young people using the materials left on the demolished site to gain access to Lanson House and to the rear of properties that have their fronts on Winckley Square. Once again the pattern is repeated. Children enter the buildings, vandalise them and refuse to come out when police or PCC staff call them out.”

Mrs Harrison went on to also criticise building owners and land owners for not taking forward plans which were due to take place in and around Garden Street.

The gym in Garden Street was knocked down in 2021 and the site still hasn’t been cleared Pic: Blog Preston

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She said: “Planning permission for a new development to replace the gym was first passed 20 years ago but not a single brick has been laid.

“The former gym was demolished in 2021. The site is easily accessible. The protective hoarding should be secure and within the footprint of the site but to this day it remains balanced on the damaged pavement.

“FoWS are clear that the first responsibility is for owners of empty property to secure their buildings and sites. Residents report that they are repeatedly told that those land and property owners who do not do so have been contacted but have failed to respond. Legal action is discussed at both PCC & LCC levels but as yet there is no tangible evidence that this has had any effect on certain landlords.

“FoWS are keen to see inbound high-quality investment in commercial, social and residential developments in the city centre. We encourage visitors, local and distant, to visit our city and its beautiful open spaces, its heritage, its shops and cafes and services. When those from neighbouring suburbs join our walks and talks they often comment that they now rarely come into the centre. We have to turn that tide.

“Our local councils must make it harder for landlords and property speculators to purchase assets and then neglect them, inviting anti-social behaviour and presenting a visual impression of decay and neglect. Nor do we need displacement. If the same characters simply move to another empty or neglected site in the city the problem isn’t solved. Concerted and co-ordinated action led by senior officers at the County, the City and the police is required.”

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What the city council had to say

Blog Preston approached Preston City Council to understand how they were tackling the issues with Lanson House and surrounding empty buildings.

On Thursday last week there were reports of a hive of activity on the Square to secure buildings near to Lanson House, but not at the site itself.

A spokesperson said: “Preston City Council is aware of the reports from Lanson House and is working with representatives of the company that owns the property who are co-operating with the Council to rectify the results of damage and further secure the building.”

How the police responded

Addressing the comment by the Friends of Winckley Square Group, a spokesperson for Preston Police – as well as detailing the arrest made – said: “We take all reports of criminal damage seriously, and our officers are investigating to bring justice for the community.

“You may see an increase in neighbourhood policing officers in the area, and we would encourage anyone with concerns to approach them.”

A new future?

On Friday the BBC reported on a campaign group – the Friends of Edith Rigby – who are wanting to turn the property into a museum in her memory.

But the Robert Pinkus Property Management on behalf of the building owners, told BBC Lancashire: “The landlord does not intend to sell the building and is in the process of reviewing the development potential of the property.”

Blog Preston has also made a request for comment from the building’s owners – about its apparent lack of security and potential future use – to Mustaq Bhailok who is understood to own land and buildings around the Mount Street and Garden Street site. But we received no response by time of publication.

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