Preston city centre apartment block approved opposite the bus station on land where popular nightspots once stood

An 11-storey apartment block in Preston city centre has inched closer to becoming a reality after a long-running wrangle over affordable housing was finally resolved.
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Members of Preston City Council’s planning committee gave the go-ahead to the 124-property Tithebarn Gateway project, opposite the bus station, in July last year - in spite of the fact that none of the flats were proposed to fall into the affordable homes category.

That was because the firm behind the development – Wansfell Ltd – successfully argued that its plans would not be financially viable if it were forced to provide the 30 percent proportion of affordable dwellings that is usually demanded on urban developments in Preston.

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The block was first approved more than year ago, but has been held up by discussions about affordable housing (image: NW Architects Limited)The block was first approved more than year ago, but has been held up by discussions about affordable housing (image: NW Architects Limited)
The block was first approved more than year ago, but has been held up by discussions about affordable housing (image: NW Architects Limited)
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However, the permission granted by councillors hinged on whether an agreement could subsequently be reached between the authority and the developer about what should happen if the scheme - on land bound by Tithebarn Street, Old Vicarage and Bishopgate - ended up being more profitable than initially expected.

The site was home to the popular Piper nightclub back in the 1960s and 1970s, before it morphed into Barristers and Lord Byron’s in later decades.

The development - which will involve the demolition of the largely disused single-storey parade of shops and rooftop car park that currently stands on the plot - was approved by the committee after members were told that city planners had accepted a claim made by the applicant that the project would generate only around five percent in profit. That is far short of the 15-20 percent that national planning guidelines state developers should be expected to make on their schemes.

For the same reason, the firm was also exempt from the £46,000 that had been requested by Lancashire County Council as a contribution towards the new school places that would be needed as a result of the new block.

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However, the city council insisted on a “review mechanism” being agreed as a condition of the permission - meaning that payments to compensate for the absence of affordable housing would be secured if more money was ultimately made from the sale of the properties than was forecast.

The so-called “section 106 agreement” needed to finalise that arrangement was supposed to have been completed by the end of August 2022, with work on the project expected to have begun some time this year once more detailed plans had been submitted. However, the affordable housing discussions dragged on for more than 12 months and the deal has only just been struck. That means that the outline permission granted by the committee last summer has now been confirmed.

Under the agreement, the owner of the site will submit a fresh assessment of the viability of the development before the point at which a quarter of the dwellings are occupied.

If the council and the owner agree – or a viability specialist determines – that a “surplus” has been made, then half of that amount will be paid over as a contribution to the cost of creating affordable housing – somewhere else in the city. It can also be used for the school place funding wanted by County Hall.

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Now that an agreement has been reached, the finer details of the development will also need approval by the town hall once they are submitted - and only then can construction begin.

The outline permission permits the ground floor of the new building to feature a retail or leisure unit, a gym for residents and a cinema room – while the block will also be topped with a “sky terrace”.

Of the 124 apartments, 82 will have one bedroom, 37 will have two and five of the dwellings will be three-bedroomed properties.