It’s big, it’s bold and it will cost an absolute bundle.
But planners hope Preston’s “Marmite” bus station will be more liked than disliked when its £23m facelift is finally complete.
New owner Lancashire County Council has unveiled full details of how it intends to turn it into a “modern and vibrant” attraction in the heart of the city centre.
And while County Hall is forbidden from making major alterations to the Grade II Listed building, which many have branded an eyesore, the authority is sure that when it is complete the resulting structure will finally qualify for true iconic status.
“We aim to breathe new life into the building and the space outside, making it a far more welcoming gateway to Preston,” declared LCC leader Coun Jennifer Mein.
The plan, which is arguably the most ambitious scheme in the city for decades, will include splitting Europe’s second largest bus station into two.
On one side – the east, facing Ringway – will be a new 36-bay terminus with reconfiguered bus routes in and out, designed to keep vehicles and pedestrians safely apart.
The other – the west, facing the city centre – will be converted into a huge youth zone with a wide range of sporting and artistic spaces, including a multi-use 3G outdoor pitch, a four-court indoor sports hall, a climbing wall, a dance and performing arts studio, a martial arts/boxing gym, a fully-equipped state of the art fitness suite, a music room, a film and multi-media suite, arts, crafts and fashion areas, an enterprise and employability room, a cafe and a number of other adaptable spaces for general association and recreation.
The County Hall report, which will be debated by councillors next week, also includes the possible closure of two of the three subways, the banning of general traffic from a section of Tithebarn Street and a continuation of the “shared” open space from Fishergate which will eventually connect the city’s bus and train stations for pedestrians.
“These proposals not only secure the bus station’s future, they represent a major investment in young people, transport and the regeneration of the city centre,” added Coun Mein.
If the scheme is passed by the county council, work could start by October next year. It will be done in phases with all buses initially moved to the west side (currently the base for Preston Bus services) while the new terminus, reduced from 80 bays to 36, is put in place. In addition there will be a new four-bay coach station at the southern end.
Once the buses have switched across to the east side work will begin on the youth zone. And on the floors above extensive refurbishment will be going on to bring the decaying 1,100-space multi-storey car park back up to scratch, with new lifts, redecorated stairwells, new pay stations and improved lighting.
That work should be be sufficient to give the car park another 25 years of working life.
The cost breakdown for the scehme shows the youth zone will come to £6m – with £1m provided by the private sector.
Redevelopment of the bus station itself will cost £7.3m – around £1m less than LCC had already set aside for the building of a new bus station.
Developing the western apron of the building into a public space will reach £2m. Highways works will reach £1.5m. And the structural repair works to the building annd its car park will cost £6.5m.
The total bill will come to £22.34m with LCC looking to attract external grant funding to pay for some of it.
The decision to site the youth zone at the bus station has caused raised eyebrows, especially after LCC initially approved a plan to build it at the rear of its own County Hall headquarters. The original plan involved the demolition of a nursery, but now that scheme has been moved up to the opposite end of the city centre.
Guy Topping, chairman of Preston Youth Zone, has backed the idea of incorporating it in the bus station scheme. He said: “We owe it to our city’s young people to ensure it is the best it can be. This is a very exciting development. Preston bus station is not only centrally located, it is also extremely accessible to young people, making it an ideal location.”
Coun John Fillis, LCC’s cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “These exciting proposals represent a new life for Preston bus station.
“Improving access to the city centre via the same kind of high quality environment we are creating in Fishergate will link the bus station to the train station and make the bus station feel much more a part of the city centre.”
Coun Matthew Tomlinson, cabinet member for children, young people and schools, added: “The youth zone will make a huge and positive difference to the lives of thousands of young people from Preston and beyond.”