Multi-millionaire Owen Oyston has launched his most ambitious bid yet to convert a Preston landmark named after him into luxury apartments.
And if the plan goes through more than a dozen businesses in Oyston Mill on Strand Road could be forced to relocate.
The owner of Blackpool Football Club has submitted a “prior notification” to the city council for a change of use for the top three floors of the 103-year-old former lampworks from office to residential.
The move is the latest in a series of planning applications for the run-down building dating back a decade. But, unlike earlier attempts to find a better use for the old factory which all failed, this one is seen as having a much better chance of success.
Under new rules aimed at streamlining the planning process, the Oyston Mill application could be fast-tracked through, leaving the city council with only limited grounds to refuse.
The building, split into units around 30 years ago and formerly the home of the Oyston Group of companies, is now largely empty, although there are around 20 small firms still based there - two-thirds of those on the upper floors which are earmarked for development.
Artist David Crossley, who runs his Big White Frog murals business from the top floor, said: “There’s a lot of uncertainty. But all we’ve heard is there’s another plan to convert the building into flats. We don’t know any more than that.
“I’d been thinking about spending money on my studio, redecorating it and putting new windows in. But there’s no point me doing that if we are all going to have to leave.”
Dave Wilson, whose Interdec Limited fireplaces firm has been on the ground floor since shortly after Oyston Mill became units in 1983/4, added: “I’ve been here longer than anyone and there have been lots of different planning applications for this place over the years, but none of them have come off. This could be just another of those, although let’s wait and see.
“If it’s just the upstairs floors than we should be alright, although I can’t imagine a big block of apartments will want businesses like this underneath. They’d be looking to put shops in.”
Under a “prior notification” submission the planning process can be speeded up to remove much of the red tape which used to strangle applications.
Alban Cassidy, from top Preston architects Cassidy and Ashton who are acting as agents for the Oyston company Denwis Limited, explained: “Unfortunately much of this site is vacant and has been for some time. So, on behalf of the owners of the building, we are considering different options to make best use of space available in the future.
“We’d like to stress that this isn’t a planning application and simply an exploratory exercise.”
A spokesman for Preston Council said: “The prior notification step is a relatively new thing and a way of fast-tracking something through the planning system.
“It gives the local authority a limited amount of grounds they can consider an application under. They are transport and highways, contamination and flooding. If there isn’t a problem with any of those then the application automatically goes through.
“The council has just 56 days to find out if any of those matters apply. That deadline for this matter is April 29.”
Oyston Mill was built in 1911 to manufacture tungsten filament lamps. Its previous owners include Dick, Kerr Limited, English Electric, British Siemens, AEI and Thorn Lighting. It closed as a factory in the late 1960s.