The public are being asked for their views on Preston Council’s future plans.
Long-awaited plans to replace the ill-fated £700m Tithebarn project to breath new life into Preston city centre have been unveiled.
Now it is over to the public for a say.
Preston Council’s city centre plan is designed to reinvigorate the economy and increase footfall in the city centre.
Among the council’s major plans are creating a thriving “office quarter”; building a new city centre cinema; increasing the number of city centre residents by building quality homes; and revitalising the city’s leisure and culture offering.
Council chiefs were once talking about demolishing the bus station and developing the land – now they are looking at ways to improve it.
The City Deal, announced by the Government this summer, brings major improvements to the transport network around Preston – and the city centre is expected to benefit from around 6,000 jobs in the next 15 years.
The council sees its city centre plan as complimentary to the City Deal.
The report says: “The plans sets out the policies and proposals that will help manage new development to help deliver something new for Preston, something that will bring people from all sections of the community back into the city centre to work, live and spend – reversing the trends observed across the country.”
The council is conscious that Preston has a great opportunity, but is also conscious of its weaknesses.
The report says: “The city centre currently has relatively few houses and flats, resulting in a low city centre population, leading to low demand for services and facilities outside of working hours.”
It also addresses its heritage.
“There is a rich legacy of historic buildings and spaces in the city centre, such as the Flag Market, and Winckley Square. These areas contribute to Preston’s uniqueness, yet they lie under used and in need of investment.
“Assets like these need to be utilised more efficiently to contribute to sustainable economic growth.”
The report also slams the ageing and poor quality office accommodation in the city centre.
“While there is widespread availability of office accommodation in the city centre, most of this is ageing, poor quality and not fit for purpose. Much of this stock sits vacant or under-used. There has been no significant investment in new office development for some time, making it increasingly difficult for the city centre to compete with out of centre business parks.”
On shopping, it says: “Although the city centre has a wide-ranging shopping offer and is the main non-food shopping centre for Lancashire, for many years there has been very little investment in new floorspace as a result, Preston’s retail ranking has fallen, the proportion of vacant shops has risen as the city centre is struggling to keep up with the changing retail environment and the growth of internet shopping.”
The city centre plan also highlights Corporation Street and the City Centre North Opportunity Areas are “ideally located to deliver modern, high quality and sustainable offices that are currently absent from the city centre.”
The plan also proposes using empty properties in Winckley Square for office use to support the existing cluster of business activity.
As part of its drive towards retail and leisure, the plan recommends one new city centre cinema, and invites submissions “which provide evidence to support any potential city centre locations for a new cinema”.
New housing is also a key feature of the city centre plan, and suggests converting vacant office accommodation to increase city centre dwellers.
The report also acknowledges the close proximity of the UCLan main campus on the border of the city centre.
The current Fishergate Central Gateway Project involves public realm and pedestrian improvements along Fishergate, starting from Lune Street and reaching as far as County Hall. The council sees this as the first step in improving pedestrian links between the railway station and the university.
Both Preston Council and the county authority want to continue these improvements along Fishergate and Church Street, although funding has yet to be confirmed.
The report also sees Fishergate becoming more “shared space”, with pedestrians and cyclists being given more space.
Meanwhile, the “office quarter” in the city centre has now been downsized from the last draft of the plan.
The report says: “The area has been reduced to focus on the corridor created by Corporation Street and the developable opportunities......as a result of this change, the area will be referred to as ‘Corporation Street’ as opposed to the ‘New Central Business District’.”
Under the proposals, Preston Markets will continue to operate from the Markets Quarter but in a different way.
A report received by the council has concluded the market has a viable future, but needs to be smaller in size.
It is proposed to relocate to Market Canopies, “which themselves are in need of repair and refurbishment”.
Almost all respondents to the council’s first draft report said Church Street should be promoted as the main redevelopment opportunity in the city centre. More than 60 per cent felt that this was the most appropriate site for a cinema.
The ageing bus station, now a listed building, is described by the council as “not functioning effectively”. The council promises to work with the county council to make it a modern, and accessible bus station and integrate it completely with the city centre. It may even reduce vehicle movements in Lancaster Road.
Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: “The proposed city centre plan is a clear indication that things are starting to move forward for Preston.
“The challenge facing our local politicians is to fully engage the private sector in its development and implementation.”
Consultations on the plan finish on December 11.