MORE than 750 new homes will be built in the centre of Preston after the city was declared a national “housing zone”.
Work is to begin on bringing empty buildings and brownfield sites back into use for homes, following a £165,000 boost from the government.
The project is linked with the £450m City Deal, and is hoped to “transform” city living in Preston.
Six sites have so far been earmarked to develop 776 homes over the next five years, with work expected to start on the first units early this year.
The re-development project includes plans for 45 homes at the site of the former Tulketh High School, 150 homes at Argyll Road, 81 homes at the former St Joseph’s Orphanage in Mount Street, 232 homes at Winckley Square, 200 at the site of Avenham Street Car Park, and 68 homes at the former Alliance Mill off New Hall Lane. It is hoped the latter will be under construction in March.
Coun Peter Rankin, leader of Preston Council, said: “This is another major boost for Preston.
“It’s about promoting development and encouraging city living right in the heart of Preston.
“Our focus is on re-developing empty buildings and also bringing “brownfield” sites back into use.
“What we are saying to the investment and development community is look, there is a marvellous opportunity here.
“Preston is a great place to live with excellent communication and transport links, beautiful parks, a thriving university, world-class businesses and a growing economy.
“There’s also a real hunger and appetite for development in the city centre, so all the ingredients are there to take forward the development of city living in Preston.”
The cash from Government is to be used to collect evidence and present a business case to show the sites have good potential for development, and to work to market the city.
Coun Jenny Mein, leader of Lancashire County Council, said: “There is high demand for housing in Preston and across Lancashire.
“It’s vital that we support and enable the growth of sustainable and well-connected local communities.
“More people living in and around the city centre in turn creates greater demand for retail, leisure and restaurants.
“We want to Preston to capitalise on this.”
The City Deal is expected to help to create more than 20,000 new private sector jobs and see more than 17,000 new homes built across Preston and South Ribble, as well as new school places, open green spaces and new health provision to cater for the growing population.
Jim Carter, chairman of the City Deal and Lancashire Economic Partnership board member, said: “Developer interest in Preston is increasing and this move to Housing Zone status is a key step forward.
“I am optimistic that it will stimulate a response from the market.
“The City Deal will unlock the economic potential of the area.
“We’re putting infrastructure in place to provide the new roads that are needed across Central Lancashire.
“This will help people to get around, helping them to access new jobs and opportunities.”
Mick Goode, director of Kirkham-based architects Croft Goode, and regional chairman of RIBA north west, described the housing zone plans as “extremely exciting”.
He said the announcement gave Preston a “real chance to address these issues of what do we do with buildings and brownfield sites that have proven so difficult to develop”.
He said: “Often, although the sites have problems, they are in fantastic areas like Winckley Square.
“In terms of getting measures in place that will allow residential development to take place back in the city centre, that’s critical.
“It’s critical for a city that’s going to grow and prosper, because it makes the place where people work also where they can live and spend their leisure time.”
He said the housing developed across the city would include apartments and family homes, and would be a mixture of tenures including homes for rent, affordable housing and homes to buy.
Simon Turner, a director and co-founder of the Winckley Square Community Interest Company (WSCIC), which is spearheading a £1.2m restoration project of Winckley Square gardens, said: “This is very positive news and another step in the right direction for the Winckley Square area and the city.
“It’s much more than building homes, it’s about building communities and having more people living in and around Winckley Square will bring tangible social and economic benefits.
“It’s particularly pleasing to see focus on the former St Joseph’s Orphanage site which has the potential to be an outstanding development.”
As well as developing 776 homes, the Housing Zone will also include the development of a new “city centre living strategy”, to encourage new housing in the area and support for the plans for the Stoneygate area as an “urban village”.
The first 19 housing zones, of which Preston is one, are to share more than £6m to deliver up to 34,000 homes.
Coun Neil Cartwright, leader of Preston Council’s Conservative group, added: “I’m delighted that Preston will be sharing this multi-million pound pot to help families and first-time buyers.”