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Preston City Council fire back over Yousuf Bhailok’s city regeneration criticism

Posted on - 7th July, 2024 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Politics, Preston City Centre, Preston Council, Preston News, Redevelopment
One of the many Bhailok posters that appeared on abandoned buildings in Preston during the election campaign Pic:

How Preston’s regeneration strategy is developing has been defended by Preston City Council – after criticism from one of the city’s largest landowners.

Multi-millionaire Yousuf Bhailok, who stood in the general election to be the city’s MP, took aim at the city council’s planning department during an interview with Blog Preston.

But his criticism has been dismissed by the Town Hall who say the ‘unrealistic financial expectations from landowners’ is the reason for the lack of progress on redevelopment.

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

Mr Bhailok, who pledged to ‘revitalise Preston’ in his campaign – with slogans stuck across many empty buildings and patches of land in the city he is associated with – said: “I don’t know what it is about Preston planning in particular, but it’s very slow. Do they not have the staff or what?

“We need a fast-track system. So many plans they just don’t see the light of day because of the way it is handled. There must be a fast-track to ensure we start to see building in the city.

“There must be a task force for regeneration in Preston. We must learn the lessons from other places, get the best people and then make it happen here.

“We also need more joint ventures, the council must be willing to work with the private sector and business people who know what they are doing.”

In response, the city’s council’s director of development and housing, Chris Hayward, laid into the property mogul’s comments.

Mr Hayward told Blog Preston: “The Council has one of the best Planning services in the country, illustrated by the fact that it deals with over 97 per cent of planning applications within set timescales, and in recent years it won the Royal Town Planning Institute’s national award for planning excellence.

“Planning is not the problem. Private sector development doesn’t come forward as quickly for other reasons, such as viability and unrealistic financial expectations from land and building owners. We want to see developers with a good track record providing quality schemes and bringing back empty buildings into use.

“There are already good examples in Preston and the City Living Strategy has made a big difference. We also want to see more social rented homes being provided through direct provision, or through working in partnership with registered providers. The voluntary and community sector also has a role to play in bringing buildings back into use, for example, local artists in the Birley Studios, which is a Council property. The Council is also playing its part through significant public sector investment in its assets.”

Read more: Preston Youth Zone to be called ‘Vault’ as city’s young people put spades in the ground

The Animate scheme is one of the developments the city council points to as taking action in the city centre Pic: Blog Preston

Mr Hayward went on to defend the city council’s record of working with private and public redevelopment.

He said: “Preston City Council has brought forward more than £1bn of investment into the city centre over the past decade and work continues on an extensive £200m Harris Quarter regeneration programme in the city’s cultural centre. Animate, a £45m+ entertainment and leisure complex, and the £16m regeneration of the Harris Museum and Art Gallery, both Council-owned, will open to the public next year and works are also due to start soon on Amounderness House, another Council-owned project that will breathe new life into an empty building to create new office space and retail outlets along with improvements to the paths, lighting and roads in and around Preston Markets and the Flag Market.

“A newly formed Preston Regeneration Board is a strategic collaboration of the city’s anchor partners, Lancashire County Council, Preston City Council, UCLan and Preston Partnership, dedicated to bringing to fruition the next steps in Preston’s regeneration with a shared vision, priorities and objectives, and to keep up the momentum of more investment throughout the city, including more environmental improvements to our public spaces such as those seen on Fishergate, University Square and Friargate.

“As well as focusing on bringing forward a renaissance in the Harris Cultural Quarter, there is a big focus on providing more affordable city living, creating new high quality office space in the city centre, and working with private landlords and property owners to renovate and bring back to life derelict and empty properties in the city.”

Read more: Five years on from the Stoneygate Masterplan and whether it will finally fix Church Street

Mr Bhailok also criticised the city council for a lack of action on Church Street specifically, saying: “Why not just compulsory purchase the lot and knock it down? There is no big thinking anymore.”

Mr Hayward said: “In regards to Preston City Council compulsory purchasing derelict or empty properties, the Council tirelessly continues to remind all landowners and property owners to ensure their land and buildings are tightly secured to deter unwelcome anti-social behaviour. The development team is always happy to have discussions on how properties can be best revitalised to secure the ongoing economic growth of the city.”

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