New life being breathed into one of Preston's most run-down streets as multi-million pound masterplan gets off the ground
Green shoots of recovery are beginning to be seen in one of Preston's most run-down and neglected streets.
For years, Church Street in the city centre has seen shop after shop close down, with buildings falling into disrepair and leaving a bad impression of the area for visitors.
But now, boards are coming off windows and workmen are moving in as money is being injected into the historic area by independent entrepreneurs, keen to get on a new boom for the area.
It is being triggered by the approval of the Stoneygate Masterplan by Preston Council - a vision to create a vibrant "urban village" of up to 1,600 homes and new commercial properties in the area.
It is also spurred on by the recent approval of a £50m scheme known as “PR1”, which will see four high-rise apartment blocks built on land currently used as a car park on Syke Street and Avenham Lane.
>>>Read more about the PR1 scheme here
Mohammed Ali Khan and his cousin Mujadib Ali have ploughed £150,000 into a derelict former jewellery shop in Church Street, and have turned it into the Food Lab - an experimental new eatery offering items such as 24-carat gold burgers.
They believe they can bring a Manchester-style eating experience to Preston and wanted to be among the first to invest in the area before it booms.
Mohammed, 26, from Deepdale, said: "This used to be the centre of town when we were kids, and it has become run-down over the years.
"But we think now is the time to start investing money. Hopefully the Stoneygate regeneration plans are approved and in two to three years, it will all be going ahead.
"We wanted to get in now, early, and we believe there's going to be a cafe culture in this area, a restaurant area where people can come and relax and talk."
Mark Skeffington and Anthony Newman have bought Barney's Piano Bar in Church Street and have spent £100,000 giving it a facelift.
They are creating 12 jobs, and as well as refurbishing the bar, they have transformed floor two and three of the building and the annexe to the rear into apartments.
Anthony, 37, from Goosnargh, said: "We looked at premises in other areas before buying Barney's, but it was really the Stoneygate development that made us want to buy here. There's also a lot of money being spent on the university and on Fishergate.
"This end of town is run-down, so we knew we'd be able to buy cheaply, and if they (the Council) decide to invest in this end of town, it will increase the value of all the properties."
He added: "The problem with Church Street is that nobody has put any love into it for a long time and residents have moved out. When they go, you lose your passing trade and it all falls into disrepair.
"But now we know there are big plans to bring residents back into the centre, we're creating apartments, our neighbours have created four or five apartments above their shop. It is happening, but to get more interest, I think the Council need to come out and meet business people.
"People need more concrete information about plans. We would also benefit from investment in footpaths like they've done in Fishergate. All that kind of thing helps."
In June, Preston Council passed plans for the Stoneygate Masterplan, which involves a 38-hectare site extends from the heart of the city centre around St. John’s Minister, out towards the Queens Retail Park in the east and Cardinal Newman College in the south - and also incorporates an area to the south east of the bus station.
Up to 1,600 homes could ultimately be built, along with new commercial properties - with the aim of also bringing back into use currently empty buildings which contribute to the character of the city, including the former Horrocks Mill.
Preston City’s Council’s cabinet has adopted a so-called “supplementary planning document” (SPD), which outlines an overall vision for the area and could be afforded significant weight when it comes to deciding on individual planning applications.
The SPD proposes a “significant improvement in environmental quality” around Stoneygate, describing large parts of the public realm in the area as “adequate at best”. It lays out plans for a mixed-use development, with new buildings of various heights - but with the proviso that all significant views of the spire on the Minster are protected.
There is also a focus on reducing “the dominance of traffic, while maintaining appropriate vehicle access”. The document also reveals plans to expand Cardinal Newman College.
Councillor Peter Moss, Deputy Leader of Preston City Council and Cabinet Member for Planning and Regulation, said: “We have exciting plans for the growth and development of Preston including the Stoneygate area of the city which encompasses Church Street.
“Church Street has long needed investment and a new lease of life and through our Stoneygate Regeneration Framework, City Investment Plan and City Centre Living Strategy we’re working tirelessly with partners of all sectors including the Business Improvement District to bring much needed transformation to this historic part of the city.
“It’s important that we respect the history of the area and the legacy of some of its fantastic buildings and understand the ever changing nature of the high street to ensure developments are fit for the future and provide a space for community use and enterprise.
“The recent approval of the PR1 scheme of modern apartments for Avenham Lane is another step on this journey which will bring fresh investment and growth to the city. The next few years will be exciting not only for Stoneygate, but for the city as a whole.”
A spokesperson for the Preston City Centre Business Improvement District said: "The news of renovation and new businesses opening on Church Street is very welcome.
"Here we are seeing local people in the private sector taking the lead in helping to rejuvenate an area of the city centre that is in need of improvement.
"Continued investment in the city centre is key and needs to include areas like this where support is required. The development of the wider city centre is important in making it a more desirable destination and assist in the growth of Preston’s economy. If the private and public sectors can work closely together much can be achieved in improving the prospects for the Church Street area."