Council bosses defended their decision to demolish Preston Bus Station as they were grilled by a committee.
Sitting before an ‘historic’ meeting of the authority’s overview and scrutiny committee yesterday, leader Coun Peter Rankin admitted his ‘back was against the wall’ over plans to demolish the bus station and car park to bring the site forward for development.
He also revealed they were in talks with two ‘white knights’ from the private sector who could save the bus station at the last minute – if the right plans were in place.
Coun Rankin said: “There is a strong body of opinion that wants to keep the bus station at all costs. People ignore the finances. They just see a building they like and want to keep it.
“This isn’t about the merits of the building. Is it a piece of art or is it a bus station? People really don’t care.
“They think we have to bankrupt ourselves in order to save it.
“We have had some private sector interest that has come along at the eleventh hour and we are starting to talk to the private sector about what their proposals might be.
“We can’t just hand over something like the bus station and say ‘there you go boys’.
“We would want to know what their programme of investment would be so we wouldn’t find ourselves in the situation where some years down the line a private company demolishes it anyway.”
The bus station costs £300,000 a year to maintain, and to carry out much-needed repairs would cost £1.4m.
According to a report, the bus station would also need a further £5m of investment over the next few years.
Coun Rankin said: “Just doing the repairs that are needed is beyond this council. We really have our backs against the wall in terms of actually protecting our services.”
The committee said they needed to make sure that ‘every avenue had been explored’ in the decision, taken by the council’s cabinet in December.
Coun Ken Hudson, who chaired the committee, said: “We need to make sure that we have explored all avenues and are comfortable with what we are doing.”
Coun David Borrow, who sits on the committee, asked if there was any external funding that could be available to refurbish the bus station.
He said: “Certainly in the past there have been funding pots around for particular projects. Have we looked at what is available other than revenue pots?”
In response, Coun Rankin said they had approached English Heritage, who said they wanted to protect the building, but could not help provide any money. He said: “There just isn’t anything out there in the public sector. It is very, very difficult.”
The committee advised that any negotiations must be dealt with quickly, including a second opinion on figures provided in a feasibility report commissioned by Lancashire County Council, which are due later this month.