Preston’s plans for a more shopper-friendly city centre have received a huge £1.3m boost from European funding.
The £3m Fishergate Central scheme includes plans to cut the amount of traffic using the city’s main shopping street, Fishergate, and make the area look more attractive to visitors arriving from Preston Railway Station.
Now County Hall chiefs, who drove the bid with support from Preston Council, have learned their application for European Regional Development Funding (ERDF) has been successful, with an award of £1.385m in the pipeline.
A contract is expected to be signed in the next few weeks.
Lancashire County Council leader Geoff Driver said schemes such as this should attract more visitors and businesses to Preston.
He said: “Preston is one of the key motors for economic growth for the county as a whole and we are determined to do all we can to support the city.
“Encouraging investment to boost growth is a key priority for the county council and attracting new businesses to Preston will have a positive impact felt well beyond the city itself.”
Lancashire County Council chiefs will be asked to provide £1.5m match funding for the project next week.
A report, due to be considered by Coun Driver and the cabinet members for planning, highways and economic development, says the current view greeting travellers arriving at the train station is “underwhelming” and the new scheme will better link up the stations, the “core” of the city and the University of Central Lancashire.
It is thought that under the plans traffic access to Fishergate would be limited to buses and a smaller number of cars, travelling at lower speeds, to make the area more pedestrian-friendly.
The project will include widening footpaths and introducing new paving, getting rid of unnecessary railings, traffic lights and signs, and installing new “contemporary” bus shelters.
A timetable for the scheme estimates that work could start at the Ring Way and Corporation Street junction this spring, with two further phases along Fishergate expected to be completed by summer next year.
Coun Drew Gale, who represents the city centre on Preston Council, said he welcomed the funding and the plans.
He said: “I’m fully supportive of the pedestrianisation of Fishergate. I think it will enhance the shopping experience and bring more people into the city centre.
“It’s something I’ve supported and wanted for quite some time.”
Around 50 business leaders and traders from Preston’s BID (Business Improvement District) are to attend a City Talk meeting today at County Hall, where they will be able to discuss the proposals and put forward their views.
The meeting will begin with a presentation by County Councillor Tim Ashton, cabinet member for highways and transport, and senior regeneration officer Becky Joyce.
Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North & Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: “Redevelopment of Preston’s main gateways is vital and will act to kick start the regeneration of the city centre.
“As with all major development programmes we have to accept that there will be a degree of inconvenience and disruption to everyday city life.
“We are working closely with key partners such as Lancashire County Council to make sure that businesses affected by the works are kept informed throughout the process and that disruption to business is kept to an absolute minimum.”
It is as yet unclear how the project will affect Trampower’s plans to run a tram service from Deepdale Road through the city centre to the train station.
The company is still waiting for the last chunk of its Guild Line network, running from the West View Leisure Centre to Deepdale Road,
to be given the go-ahead by highways officials.
County Hall chiefs said they would be able to speak about the Fishergate scheme in more detail, once the contract has been formally signed with the ERDF. Detailed designs are expected to be published next month.