Preston’s iconic bus station is to be bulldozed with Town Hall bosses claiming they cannot afford to keep it open.
Today, the city’s council has admitted defeat on efforts to save the building, saying it would cost £23m to refurbish it and more than £5m to just keep it standing.
The decision will be rubber-stamped next week and talks will start immediately about building a new, smaller bus station on the site of the old one.
Council leader Peter Rankin said the authority could no longer afford to pay nearly £300,000 a year to keep the building standing, with its budgets set to be squeezed by further spending cuts within weeks.
He said the council had hired experts and spoken with developers about refurbishing and transforming it before ruling out every option except demolition, which will cost an estimated £1.8m.
Council leader Peter Rankin said: “My job is to protect the services we deliver and to be spending the best part of £300,000 every year on this building makes that very difficult.
“The easy decision would be to refurbish it but that would mean borrowing £23m and paying £2m in interest alone on that debt, I cannot justify putting that amount of taxpayers’ money into keeping a building open for 20 years.
“We are left with a difficult decision, but an obvious choice which is to demolish the current bus station and work with the county council to build a modern one in its place.”
He said he expected some people to be “outraged” by the decision, adding: “I am sure there will be people who say they simply do not believe the figures, but it is simply a decision we cannot afford to put off any longer.
The council’s cabinet meets next Thursday when it is expected to rubber-stamp the plans.
Deputy leader John Swindells, a regular user of the bus station, said: “Our budgets are tight as they are and we are expecting them to get even tighter, so if we added £2m of interest payments into the cocktail, it puts everything in jeopardy.”
The council is refusing to set a timetable for demolition but the demolition and the building of a new bus station would require a planning permission expected to be submitted early next year. This could be challenged by public objections and even lead to a judicial review challenge.
At a meeting this between city council leader Peter Rankin and chief executive Lorraine Norris and their opposite numbers at County Hall, Geoff Driver and Phil Halsall, it was agreed the county council would build a new bus station if demolition goes ahead.
Mrs Norris said she expected the two bodies to sit down immediately after the city council’s cabinet rubber-stamps the plans next Thursday to start putting together a plan for a future bus station.
It is believed the preferred option is building a 36-bay bus station on land on the north side of the site of the current 80-bay bus station. Tim Ashton, the county council’s cabinet member for transport, said: “An effective transport infrastructure is vitally important to Preston’s future prosperity and, whatever decisions are made by the city council at this stage, it is essential there is provision for buses that will meet the needs of passengers and operators.
“If the decision is taken by the city council to demolish the existing bus station, we will work very closely with them to ensure a suitable alternative is put in place.”
Coun Rankin added it would be able to build a 300-space surface car park alongside a new bus station. Opposition councillors have backed the Labour-led authority in pushing ahead with the proposals.
Conservative group leader Ken Hudson said: “We are taking the difficult but only realistic decision available, to start afresh with a new modern bus station for Preston.”
Bill Shannon, leader of the Liberal Democrat group added: “We cannot justify spending many millions of pounds of public money on a building which is fast approaching the end of its useful life.”
For more on story see Friday’s Lancashire Evening Post.