Preston Council’s leader has revealed that work to demolish the city’s bus station could start in 2014 - but said no timeframe has been set as yet.
Coun Peter Rankin met with the city’s Business Improvement District (BID) representatives to discuss the controversial proposals, along with director of finance Bernard Hayes, director of environment Mick Lovatt and town centre councillor Drew Gale.
He again outlined the financial plight of the council and said the decision in principle to build a new station and surface car park was probably the most difficult he had ever had to make.
The bus station costs £300,000 a year to maintain, and to carry out much-needed repairs would cost £1.4m.
According to a report, the bus station would need a further £5m of investment over the next few years, and the total cost of refurbishment could be £16m.
Coun Rankin reiterated the council was in talks with two potential investors and “prepared to talk to anyone who is willing to put money into the building”.
But he said: “By the end of the month we need to know where we’re going with this because it’s urgent.”
He said the council needed written confirmation this month from Lancashire County Council, which runs the bus service, that it was prepared to fund and build a replacement bus station.
He said County Hall chiefs had earmarked £7.5m for the work and would need to top this up to meet the expected £10-£12m cost of the project.
He said: “We have no idea on a timescale yet. It could be next year.
“But there could be a judicial review that could postpone that. I know there is an attempt to list the building and that could cause delays to put it mildly.”
Mr Lovatt said an unnamed local firm would begin work today on analysing the feasibility report, to give a second opinion on its figures.
Coun Rankin said the intention was to build the new bus station towards the north of the site, which would benefit St John’s Shopping Centre and market traders, as developing the city’s markets as a prime attraction was a key priority.
In response to questions about car park spaces, he said a car park management plan would be drawn up to look at providing additional spaces while any demolition work was carried out.
Mr Hayes said the new car park would have around 300 to 350 spaces - the average daily use of the existing 1,100 space-bus station now - and that it was “much cheaper” to run a surface car park.
He said the existing car park did not meet current standards, either in terms of its ramps, lifts or disabled access.
Mr Lovatt said a temporary bus depot could be located outside St John’s Shopping Centre.
He also said the potential for further development alongside the new bus station and car park would be considered in a city centre section of the forthcoming Local Development Framework, which is still being prepared.
Answering a question about concerns over noise pollution caused by the demolition, he said this would be minimised due to the council’s experience in carrying out this kind of work, having pulled down high-rise flats in Moor Lane.