A year ago this week, Preston Bus Station was declared a national monument. The “Marmite” building survived repeated attempts to bulldoze it by winning Grade II Listed status.But 12 months on little, if anything, appears to have happened to spruce up one of Britain’s architectural treasures. BRIAN ELLIS investigates.
In the files of English Heritage, it is listed building No 1416042, sitting uncomfortably on a shelf between cathedrals and thatched cottages.
As architectural masterpieces go, it has been variously described during its 45 years as a “carbuncle,” a “giant urinal,” an “eyesore” and a “concrete monstrosity.”
Yet Preston Bus Station, seen by some as a building only a mother could love, shares protected status with some of the nation’s grandest designs,nad was spared the wrecking ball because of a public campaign that attracted both ridicule and reverence in equal measure.
Twelve months on from the announcement that the second largest bus terminus in Europe is officially one of the crown jewels of 20th century Britain, precious little has been done to make it sparkle.
“We have given it a decent clean,” said a spokesman for Lancashire County Council, new owners after a philanthropic takeover in April from the previous landlords who wanted to knock it down.
Regular commuters might be hard pushed to notice a difference. A year might be a long time in politics, but it is hardly a blink in the renaissance of a colossus of this magnitude.
County Hall are adamant there is much more to come as they prepare to throw £8.3m at revitalising a structure which has divided a city.
And talk of major announcements in the very near future is filling the corridors of power in both Pitt Street and Lancaster Road.
John Wilson, who played a leading role in the Save Preston Bus Station campaign, is expecting developments soon. Meanwhile he admits feeling “frustrated” that nothing has so far been done to make the terminus a more pleasant passenger experience, even if it is only cosmetic.
“I’ve been trying to find out what is happening and, no pun intended, there’s nothing concrete as yet,” he said. “I was told back in August that LCC would be making an announcement ‘in a month’ and that month is now up. So far there is no sign of what that news will be, although I’m confident it will be positive.
“I sent the council a wish list last year suggesting how they could make it more presentable to the public, by doing something with the doors, lifts and staircases.”
Some feel the delay in making improvements is down to the change of ownership halfway through the first year of Listed Building status. County Hall took over from Town Hall in April and officers have been working since the handover to formulate an action plan.
One key factor determining how LCC moves on would seem to be the future of the 1,100 vehicle multi-storey car park which sits on top and gives the bus station an appearance, in one critic’s eyes recently, of “concrete lasagne.”
One possibility would be for the council to hand over the running of the car park - and its revenue – to a private firm like NCP.
But, in the absence of any announcement from the new owners, the question is just as much in the air as cars on the top level.
Coun John Fillis, LCC’s cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “We’ve been working hard for some time on proposals for the future of the bus station which we hope to be able to share more widely in the coming months.
“I believe that people are already beginning to see our vision with the development of the Fishergate Project so far, and our plans to extend it all the way up to the bus station, which will link the bus station to the train station via the city centre.
“A significant amount of work has already been done including a thorough structural survey to identify the maintenance needed. We will be bringing our proposals forward as soon as possible to improve the way the bus station operates and provide people with a safe, secure and positive experience.”
Mr Wilson added: “I’m frustrated more by the fact that the council are not making the public aware that they have things in the pipeline. I know things are going on behind the scenes from meetings I have had and I thought there would have been some announcement by now.
“Things are happening, there are irons in the fire. But unfortunately they aren’t branding anything at the moment.I know LCC have only been owners for about six months. That said, there are a lot of things that could have been done to make it more presentable for the public and the people who work there.”