'It deserves to have its future guaranteed': Calls made for Preston Grade II listed Miller Arcade to be given new lease of life

Preston's historic first indoor shopping centre is now a far cry from the popular destination it once was. The Lancashire Post found out what the future holds for the Grade II listed structure.

Wednesday, 25th August 2021, 3:19 pm

Businesses come and go, but city shoppers and council chiefs have now had their say on what they would like to see introduced to the Grade II listed Miller Arcade in Preston.

It was once the city's first-ever indoor shopping centre, built by local councillor Nathaniel Miller in 1899 and modelled on the larger Burlington Arcade in London.

Today it is home to a small selection of bars, cafes and other eateries, but has sadly had to close the shutters on many of its other resident traders in recent months.

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The former French Connection store sits empty on the corner of the Miller Arcade

The news comes as the Olive Tree Brasserie suddenly announced it had been repossessed and closed just last week following a difficult struggle through the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Preston's Olive Tree Brasserie confirm sudden closure of city centre restaurant

Above these groundfloor traders sit a further three completely empty stories, which were once home to a vibrant hotel with a spa in the basement for the hotel guests to enjoy.

The majority of businesses in the Grade II listed building are food and drink venues

Council and business chiefs have recognised that the period building is becoming increasingly popular with food and drink venues, following the recent successful launch of the Rise Brunch cafe, with suggestions for the Victorian site to be converted into a food court, boutique shopping centre or live music venue.

Leigh Norton and Jack Swire, the owners of Rise, a popular brunch-inspired cafe in the Arcade, said they would like to see the building restored back to its former glory.

Leigh said: "The Miller Arcade has so much character, when designing Rise we wanted to keep the stained glass windows to keep some of the original features. We would love to see the arcade back in all its glory with awesome boutique shops, patisserie, grooming and a micropub.

"When we took the lease we believed the plans for apartments or a hotel above was moving ahead however it appears not to be. It would be great to see more people passing through the inside of the arcade where they could sit down, sip a coffee and admire the architecture however this has not been possible.

Leigh Norton, one of the owners of Rise Cafe, who manages it alongside business partner Jack Swire

"Other venues such as Barton Arcade in Manchester thrive of this and that would be a great example to look at. From everyone at Rise we would love to thank everyone for their custom and continued support during such a tough year."

Mark Whittle, manager of the Preston Business Improvement District (BID) has called on the owners, understood to be Callaway Estate Ltd, registered to the British Virgin Islands, to work closely with any interested investors or businesses.

He said: “Miller Arcade is one of the city centre’s most exciting buildings, and home to some really good businesses. We’d love to see the Arcade continue to be a hub for great food and drink, with tables taking over the malls inside, so it can be used at any time of the year, whatever the weather, creating a stunning food court, maybe with some live music”.

“We hope that the building’s owners continue to work with businesses who are keen to invest, or expand, here in Preston, to ensure Miller Arcade is a ‘go to’ on everyone’s list”.

The upper floors of the building lie derelict and empty. Photo by Walker and Williams.

City Centre Coun Sam Desai, told the Post he thinks the architectural value of the building should be retained, but that more modern additions to the building should be considered, providing it is 'in keeping' with its Victorian features.

He said: "It is so important that the building is looked after and preserved because it has so much architectural value. For longevity, I can see a mixed development upstairs with both residential and office spaces would work if looked after.

"It is a much-loved building by people in Preston and I would like to see someone come forward that would guarantee its future and give it the new lease of life it deserves.

"The current owners have made an effort to rent out to hospitality businesses which appear to be doing well and bringing most of the footfall to the Arcade. It seems like it is becoming an increasingly popular area to go for food and drink.

"The pandemic has meant a lot of retail has had to move online and the high street is therefore becoming more hospitality-based. It is a beautiful building and those businesses seem to be surviving because people are eager to get back out to restaurants and cafes with friends after a difficult year.

"It is a prime location in the centre of Preston and would be a great spot to continue to develop and bring footfall into the city. It is such a shame to see it left the way it is, but because of the restrictions of the Grade II listing, it can be challenging for new developers.

The Olive Tree Brasserie is the latest business to close at the site

"At some stage, the council will need to consider what is acceptable development-wise. As long as they are in keeping and enhance the natural features of the building, I don't see why changes can't be made. We are now in a city, and our landscape is changing."

Heavenly Desserts opened in the Arcade late in 2016 but has since moved to Cheapside, and is undergoing a refurbishment to be replaced by premium dessert chain Haute Dolci.

The 1800s building is also home to Iceberg Burgers since 2017, Smashed nightclub, Baluga Bar, Rohan clothing, Roni's barbers and more recently the Rise Brunch cafe, since October 2019.

Back in 2015, a planning application for 45 studio apartments and a restaurant at the first-floor level was passed by the city council but these plans never came to fruition, as it sits empty and unused.

WHAT DO PRESTON SHOPPERS THINK?

Joanne Harding, from Salmesbury, works in Preston and said: "I think Preston needs some high-end clothing shops, especially for women. Otherwise, you have to travel to Manchester or Leeds for all those options.

"There are a lot of food places in Preston so I think we need something different. The building is so beautiful, they all are around here, but hospitality businesses are opening up all over the place."

Valerie Stanfield, from Walton-le-Dale, called for it to be brought into use for the homeless, adding: "It could be made into some flats or apartments because it is just sitting there, empty and there are so many people who don't have places to live.

"Downstairs I think we need more independent boutique shops. Through the pandemic, people have wanted to support independent businesses, and I think it would encourage more people to visit."

Gillian Seville, from Fulwood, told the Post she visits Preston shopping once every two weeks. She said: "I remember when this beautiful building was full of people and had all sorts of different shops, times have changed.

"Independent retailers are what I think people would love to see up here. It is those independent and smaller businesses that offer that something a little bit different and unique than the rest of Preston and would encourage more footfall to the Arcade.

"It is a shame that the Olive Tree has gone, but it is probably due to the difficulty of the past 18 months. Going forward, I would like to think Preston will become much busier again as things return to normal and give whichever businesses do eventually come to the Arcade a good chance.

"The bars and cafes seem to be doing particularly well, Rise is busy and Baluga is absolutely packed on weekends, so I think it is down to what businesses are offering."

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