Town Hall bosses in Preston have agreed “in principle” to demolish Preston Bus Station.
The six-man cabinet of the city’s council debated whether to progress with plans to demolish Preston Bus Station and press ahead with the redevelopment of Preston’s historic markets at its monthly meeting on Monday night.
And after a discussion lasting more than 30 minutes, cabinet bosses agreed at just before 6.50pm to demolish the bus station “in principle” and build a new station for the city.
Council leader Coun Peter Rankin outlined a number of “caveats” to decision, including that the authority is happy to talk to anyone who wants to invest in the existing building - but stressed they must have a sound business case.
He also wants a Preston Council-backed study of the station to get a second opinion on a £17m refurbishment figure arrived at by consultants engaged by Lancashire County Council.
Councillors also heard that the design of the new station would need to be negotiated and agreed with Lancashire County Council.
Coun Rankin said the authority had already been approached by one wealthy individual about investment.
And the decision is likely to be called in by the council’s scrutiny panel, meaning there will be more discussions.
The matter will then likely come back before cabinet in the new year.
The debate on the future of the station started at just before 6.20pm.
Preston Council deputy leader Coun John Swindells told the meeting demolition of the station would “be like ripping the heart out of Preston”, but he still believed it would be the “right decision”.
City Council chief executive Lorraine Norris told the meeting discussions have been held with land owners and developers to find a solution but there has been no interest from the private sector.
She started discussions by outlining five options for the bus station - refurbishment, replacement (two separate options), demolition and decommission.
She also told the meeting the station currently operates 80 bays - but could operate with 36 or fewer.
The meeting also heard Lancashire County Council has reached the conclusion that the cost of refurbishment would not be value for money. It would cost £17m to refurbish it according to consultants appointed by County Hall, councillors were told.
Coun Rankin suggested the authority should get a second opinion on the costs being quoted and another survey should be carried out.
Resources chief Coun Martyn Rawlinson said he was “sceptical” about the £17m figure, but suggested it could still be at least £10-12m.
He added the council “could not take the risk” and only Lancashire County Council could.
Cabinet member Coun Robert Boswell told the meeting he felt it would be “grossly unfair for people of Preston to pay so much to bankrupt Preston” to pay for the building.
He claimed many people would suffer if council decide to keep bus station and it would saddle Preston with massive debts.
Earlier in the meeting, a recommendation to demolish Preston’s markets and redevelop them were also approved by the cabinet.
Ms Norris told the meeting the recommendation was that the market hall should be demolished with the car park and the markets should be relocated.
She said a condition survey of the market hall in 1999 showed £9.5m of investment required over 10 years but there is only £5m available to spend.
She explained there is “no business case” in investment in existing building and so the recommendation is demolition.
Coun Rankin said there was a report due at the end of January with regard to plans for the market and traders would be consulted.
He said the markets were “central to regeneration” of the city.
Deputy leader Coun Swindells said it was important to have a viable solution adding that the Town Hall cannot afford repeat of Lancaster markets which has closed due to high rents.
The cabinet voted in favour of the recommendation to demolish the markets and move to a redevelopment before moving on to the bus station.
If the cabinet votes in favour of all the proposals, the council will have decided in principle to raze the building, widely considered one of the country’s best examples of post-war brutalist architecture.
The council has said it would then open talks with Lancashire County Council, the authority which runs buses in the county, about the future of bus provision in the city.
But, in an opinion piece written for the Lancashire Evening Post, council leader Peter Rankin said the door was still open for a last-minute investment package to save the building, which the authority has said costs it £300,000-a-year to keep open.
He said: “We have talked to developers and they could not make it pay but we are happy to talk to anyone about investing in the current bus station building - as long as they are serious investors with money.
“But they need to be quick.
“The declining state of the building and moreover the diminishing state of the council’s finances mean that a decision has to be taken soon.”
Around 15 members of the public were in attendance at the meeting, with almost 50 more following proceedings on a live webcast from the Town Hall.