'New Winckley Square' promised for Preston 'dumping ground' as part of huge apartment block development

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Prestonians will be able to enjoy a new public open space – which has been compared to Winckley Square – as part of a major new housing development that it is hoped will “kickstart” the regeneration of a rundown corner of the city centre.

Members of Preston City Council’s planning committee have given the go-ahead to a scheme which will see a 19-storey apartment block built on disused shops and a car park at the junction of Church Street and Manchester Road.

A total of 280 flats will be developed across the both the skyscraper – which also has an adjoining four-storey element – and a separate 11-floor tower on the same plot.

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A brand new look awaits part of Preston's Church Street when the new apartment blocks are built(image:  DAY Architectural)A brand new look awaits part of Preston's Church Street when the new apartment blocks are built(image:  DAY Architectural)
A brand new look awaits part of Preston's Church Street when the new apartment blocks are built(image: DAY Architectural)

At the heart of the site will be a landscaped courtyard area, which the agent for the proposal, Clare Bland, suggested would be “attractive” – and potentially even akin to another of Preston’s much-loved green spaces.

“I started out my professional life working in Preston …[and] Winckley Square was the place we went to sit and have lunch.

“This is hopefully going to be similar – if not better – but the aspiration is to make a space that everybody wants to use,” Ms. Bland told the committee.

Town hall planning officer James Mercer said the courtyard had been redesigned by the firm behind the scheme – TAG Preston – based on advice from the city council. He said the authority’s intention was for it to provide a pedestrian link through to “the next [redevelopment] site that hopefully comes forward in this part of town.”

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It's hoped the demolition of derelict units like these to make way for the new flats will kickstart the regeneration of Church Street and the wider Stoneygate area (image:  Google)It's hoped the demolition of derelict units like these to make way for the new flats will kickstart the regeneration of Church Street and the wider Stoneygate area (image:  Google)
It's hoped the demolition of derelict units like these to make way for the new flats will kickstart the regeneration of Church Street and the wider Stoneygate area (image: Google)

Planning permission has been granted subject to details being provided of how the new public space will be managed in future in order to maintain it to a high standard.

The site sits within the Stoneygate regeneration area and a resident of that part of Preston said its best days were long since behind it.

Telling councillors it was vital that the new development went ahead, Mike Hesford said a “lack of investment by everybody” had left the location as a “partially derelict, rundown area”.

“I’m old enough to remember this [part] of Preston being a thriving place, with a Tesco…Allied Carpets [and] the Guild Hall [being] full of shops. But it’s looking very sad and neglected now,” Mr. Hesford explained.

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He said that as well as providing “much-needed housing”, he hoped the blueprint for the site would “kickstart the redevelopment of this area of town”.

“It’s been slow getting it going, but hopefully this will really put a boost into it. At the moment, this area…is constantly being vandalised – it’s a dumping ground, there’s so much rubbish there it’s untrue. [To] the poor homeless people, it’s [also] a danger,” Mr. Hesford added.

The design of the development has been influenced by the recommendations of an independent panel known as Places Matter. That resulted in changes from the initial blueprint, which had proposed a single U-shaped building.

The 19-storey tower will front onto Manchester Road and include 125 one-bedroomed apartments and 51 two-bed properties on the upper floors.

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The adjoining four-storey block overlooking Church Street will house three commercial units on the ground floor, along with 18 one-bed and six two-bed flats.

The separate 11-storey block will look out onto Shepherd Street, containing 70 single-bed flats and 10 two-bed apartments.

Committee member Sara Holmes welcomed the inclusion of 159 bicycle storage spaces within the development, but questioned why a space had not been provided for each dwelling. Clare Brand said it had been a matter of balancing that need with the ambitions for the courtyard – adding that the central location of the flats meant not all of the occupants were likely to have a bike.

The plans were unanimously approved, with committee member John Rutter hailing the proposed transformation of a “part of town [that] desperately needs to be redeveloped”.

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‘WE CAN’T AFFORD IT’

In common with a slew of other residential developments in Preston city centre in recent years – including the conversion of the Guild Tower from offices to flats, which was approved at the same meeting – the new Church Street apartment blocks will not contain any discounted ‘affordable housing’.

The applicant successfully made the case that their scheme would not be financially viable if they had to ensure 30 percent of the properties on the plot fell into that category, as is usually required by Preston City Council’s own planning policies.

Under national planning guidance, developers should be able to assume they will make a profit of 15-20 percent on their projects – that becoming the level which determines a development’s viability.

As always in such scenarios, the city council had the developer’s claim independently assessed – but the same conclusion was reached that neither any affordable housing, nor the £189,000 requested by Lancashire County Council for seven new primary and two secondary school places, could be provided.

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However, committee member Anna Hindle said she was struggling to understand how the firm could be failing to make sufficient profit from a development of such a scale.

Clare Bland said that “build costs” since 2020 had “gone absolutely through the roof”.

“[It’s] not just the physical build costs, it’s the engineering work. We have had to design quite a lot of underground drainage infrastructure.

“When you’ve got a greenfield site…you literally just have to dig a new drainage system, but with this, you’re working around such a lot of [existing] infrastructure as well.

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“So it’s not a matter of in any way trying to divert provision from affordable housing,” said Ms. Bland, adding that it was expected there would be “a deficit” of £14m against the level of developer profit that might have been expected.

However, a review will be undertaken at a later date so that the city council can clawback a financial contribution towards affordable housing elsewhere in the city should the scheme have ended up generating a greater profit than currently forecast.

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