Preston’s street of haves and have nots

Fishergate Hill, Preston
Fishergate Hill, Preston
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ONE of Lancashire’s smartest shopping streets has been branded a highway of haves and have nots.

While Fishergate has just had £3.4m lavished on it to create a bright, modern shopping experience, things are nowhere near as smart on the other side of the tracks.

Fishergate Hill, which is designated as a conservation area, has now been on Historic England’s “At Risk” register for the past six years.

In the latest edition, just published, the section of Fishergate below the railway station is now said to be in a “very bad” condition and “deteriorating”.

“It has always been a bit of a Cinderella area,” said local historian Aidan Turner-Bishop.

“When you look at what’s happened to the shopping stretch of Fishergate, it’s sad to see what the road is like further down.

“Something needs to be done because, if you half close your eyes, it is quite a handsome street really. But it seems to have been forgotten.”

The 2016 “At Risk” register contains only four entries in Preston. Last year it was five, but the now Emmanuel Church in Brook Street has been removed - much to the surprise of its vicar.

“Yes, I am surprised,” said Rev Peter Hamborg. “But the building is in the hands of the Diocese who are looking into its future. The most important thing is the structure is retained.”

That still leaves two more churches in the city about which Historic England has been sounding alarm bells for years.

The Church of St George the Martyr in George’s Road off Lune Street is classified as being in “poor” condition due to cracks in the 170-year-old stonework that encases it.

The Seventh Day Adventist Church in Grimshaw Street, Avenham is also in the “poor” category, although improvement work has been going on to address issues for more than a year.

The fourth entry on the list is a wing of the former Barton Old Hall in Jepps Lane, Barton, which stands empty and beset by worsening decay to its timber frame.

The problems in Fishergate Hill are more varied, with a number of early and mid-19th century properties now houses of multiple occupation, hotels, shops and offices.

Adjacent streets such as West Cliff, Stanley Place and Spring Bank, which also form part of the conservation area, are still mainly residential and in better condition.

A spokesman for Preston Council said a review of the Fishergate Hill Conservation Area had been carried out 12 months ago and significant changes had now been made, with a view to the area finally being taken off the register in 2017.

“Within the review, undertaken by Historic England, it was found that there are a small number of properties and areas that let the area down. A couple of the properties were identified including one on Fishergate Hill which is currently under investigation with the council’s enforcement team.

“Another long standing property that is at risk is on West Cliff. That has been vacant for some years and has suffered severe dry rot. The dry rot has been dealt with and the structure is now ready for redevelopment. The council is currently liaising with the landowners looking at various possibilities for its re-use.

“Since the conservation area review several other properties have been renovated and brought back into use including two properties on Fishergate Hill as high quality student accommodation, and another as apartments.

“Two others on Fishergate Hill were long standing empty properties in a state of disrepair that were renovated to a high standard as part of a successful project led by the council’s Empty Homes team.

“A further outcome of the review was that the council committed to producing a guidance leaflet for home owners advising on ways in which to improve their historic properties in terms of energy efficiency and basic maintenance and repair. This is currently being drawn up.

“Inappropriate signage on one property has been removed. There are some unresolved matters with replacement windows that the council are working on.

“Overall, we believe that the area has improved significantly and will not be included on the Heritage at Risk Register of 2017.”

Fishergate Hill, designated in 1994, is one of 11 conservation areas in Preston. It is also one of four which have tighter restrictions on householders making alterations to their properties.

While minor changes are allowed under “permitted development,” owners in Fishergate Hill, Avenham, Fulwood and St Ignatius conservation areas need special planning permission before any work is carried out.

Mr Turner-Bishop, who is a member of the Victorian Society, the Twentieth Century Society and Preston Historical Society, said: “Traffic is the problem in Fishergate Hill.

“I remember back in the 1970s when we were talking about a Penwortham Bypass and the ring road, we were told Fishergate would be liberated and become traffic-free.

“It would again be an area people wanted to live in. But, of course, that never happened.

“What would be good now is some way of controlling the traffic down there. It’s good quality housing, some of it is actually very nice.”