The future looks bright for Preston as it emerges from the recession, say council chiefs.
Council leader Peter Rankin said there were great plans for the city, and the City Deal and other initiatives would help ensure it left the bad times behind it.
The multi-million pound City Deal, announced by the Government last summer, will bring major improvements to the transport network around Preston – and the city centre is expected to benefit from around 6,000 jobs in the next 15 years.
The council sees its own city centre plan as complimentary to the City Deal - but it also needs outside investment.
Coun Rankin said officials and councillors were working hard to bring extra business, investment and people into the city.
The picture was already brighter than that painted in the Local Data study of empty shops as it was based on figures from 2012.
“I’m quite excited about the future - things are already starting to move,” he said.
Figures revealed by the Local Data Company said the average rates of vacant shops in the country was just over 13 per cent - but Preston’s latest figures were massively up at nearly 24 per cent.
Preston’s figures were based on a 2013 report, which noted that many empty shops on the fringes of the main shopping area were not fit for purpose. It also noted a lack of investment in new floorspace over the last decade. A pre-occupation with the ill-fated Tithebarn project was named as a factor.
Coun Rankin said the council was working hard and he felt the current true picture was much better. He said the bigger picture was to look at bringing in people and businesses - not just retailers. Businesses brought staff with them, who used city shops and boosted the economy.
Last week it was announced that Blackburn-based Profile Financial Services were moving to Norwest Court in Guildhall Street in a move which was seen as a sign of better things to come.
He said: “It’s about improving the whole experience for people coming into the city. Things like the public realm improvements, the redevelopment of the Guild Hall, the plan for a cinema are all positive things. At long last we are moving - it hasn’t been easy.
“A lot of it is confidence - once you get one or two people investing in something then others will follow.”
Coun Rankin accepted that the Tithebarn project had taken so much time, and that boarded-up shops in the city centre blighted the area. He accepted that areas like Church Street had suffered.
The problem was money - and the council like many others had had its budgets squeezed.
He said: “I wish we could be more financially flexible with our money. We have been very badly limited in what we can do. We are now working with Lancashire County Council - by working together we can do things that separately we couldn’t do.”
Coun Rankin said Preston was open for business and was flexible with what the private sector would propose.
The council is working hard to attract a city centre cinema and other plans, giving people more reasons to come in and spend their time and money.
He said latest figures showed Preston now to 54th place in the country - six places higher than in 2013. But people’s ‘shopping habits had changed - and town and cities had to adapt.
He said: “We have ambitions to create a top-rate cinema in the city centre - that will be a game-changer. It’s about making Preston more attractive, which brings in more people and more retailers. Perhaps we will see retailers opening later in the day.”
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