Preston’s new bus station will now cost up to £25m – and taxpayers will pick up a third of the bill.
County Council officers now believe the cost of a new station on the corner of Church Street and Manchester Road – part of the city’s proposed Tithebarn regeneration – stands at between £23-25m.
Three years ago it was estimated the cost would be £15-17m until the design of the building was altered. Preston Council officers meanwhile said last year bringing the current facility up to scratch would cost just £4m.
Developers Lend Lease have said they do not want to pick up the tab for the new station, warning that the rest of the Tithebarn scheme would be “financially compromised”.
Instead, county council chiefs are now proposing that £7.5m of the authority’s money is pumped into the project – despite the fact budgets could be squeezed in coming years.
Another £10m would come from the North West Development Agency (NWDA), funded indirectly by taxpayers. The remainder would be covered by the developers, with Preston Council and others also contributing.
The proposals will be discussed by the county council’s cabinet later this week.
But the news sparked anger among city heritage groups today - especially as a campaign is ongoing to retain the current bus station.
Aidan Turner-Bishop, of the 20th Century Society, which has attempted twice to have the current bus station listed, said: “At a time when we know there are Government cuts coming it seems crazy to knock down a good but neglected building and then spend double or three times as much building a smaller one which is not as good.
“They are just not thinking about people and passengers, they are thinking about money, property developers and making a profit.”
A Preston Council report released in December last year, as the Government was considering the listing bid, estimated it would cost just £4m to bring the current bus station up to standard. But Coun Anthony Gornall, Preston Council’s regeneration chief, said: “The bus station area is central to the Tithebarn development and that is why it really needs to be relocated.
“£4m is probably a conservative estimate. It is a 1960s concrete structure and renovating them is very expensive.
“We have an enormous bus station in Preston which is not used to its full potential and never will be used to its full potential. I think it could be better placed than it is presently.”
Frank McKenna, of private business lobby group Downtown Preston in Business, told the Evening Post this week the bus station should be demolished regardless of whether Tithebarn goes ahead.
He added: “You have got to look long term. £25m is a lot of money, particularly in the current economic climate, but that bus station is standing in the way of a potential £700m development.
“If you look at the business case and the strategic vision rather than simply looking at what money you are going to have to pay out tomorrow, I think it is a great return.”
A report to LCC’s cabinet said: “The total cost of the proposed facility, including the cost of land acquisition, is likely to be in the region of £23-25m.
“It should be noted that the developer has consistently taken the view that the whole redevelopment scheme for the Tithebarn area would be financially compromised should he be required to meet all or a significant part of the cost of providing a replacement bus station.”
The council admits it does not know when the £7.5m would have to be pumped in because of uncertainty surrounding the Tithebarn scheme.
But the report adds: “It would appear highly unlikely to be a commitment before the 2012/13 financial year at the earliest. If supported by cabinet this project would be first call against the council’s available capital resources for 2012/13 to 2014/15.”
The council admits that would “reduce flexibility” to support other priorities over this period and that “the financial landscape facing the county council over the next three years suggests that capital resources are likely to be significantly reduced.”
The report suggests that £2.5m a year would be contributed between 2012/13 and 2014/15 and that the council’s contribution would be limited to £7.5m.
But it warns: “Without a financial contribution from the county council towards the cost of a replacement bus station in Preston, there is a high risk that the regeneration of Preston city centre will not be financially viable for the developer. This could lead to cancellation of the project even if planning consent is obtained following the public inquiry.”
A spokesman for Lend Lease said they did not wish to comment.
LCC leader County Coun Geoff Driver said: “The debate as to whether we should be keeping the bus station, either in its present form or upgraded at a cost of £4m, we have had. We have decided that the Tithebarn scheme should go ahead.
“That requires the bus station to be relocated.
“The three party leaders (at LCC) signed a letter saying we were in support of Tithebarn and we were preared to put our money where our mouth was.”