A meeting of Preston City Council’s planning committee heard that operators are "lined up" for all elements of the 'Animate' scheme - and the Lancashire Post understands that their identities will be revealed in the coming months.
Tourism chiefs said that it will make the city “one of Lancashire's must-visit destinations”.
The £41m facility is expected to create around 140 jobs and will boast an eight-screen cinema, 16-lane bowling alley, five restaurants, a street food hub and a so-called “competitive social” outlet, such as crazy golf or an escape room.
A new single-level car park will also be created, accessed from Ringway and containing 164 spaces - 400 fewer than the old multi-storey. However, Ormskirk Road will be opened up to allow easy access to the bus station car park, enabling it to act as an overflow.
A new public space will also be developed in between the complex and the new market hall - bridging the height gap between the two - featuring granite steps, planting and formal seating for the restaurants and informal places for people to gather.
Chris Argent, a director at planning consultants CBRE, told the committee that the site had been a “hole in the ground” in a prominent part of the city for too long.
He added that the proposed development would act as an “family-orientated [leisure] anchor for the city centre”, which will increase the length of time people want to spend in Preston.
Questioned by committee member Cllr Geoffrey Aldridge as to the wisdom of there being such a "substantial" reduction in parking spaces, Mr. Argent said that the city centre location meant that planners should be seeking to “change travel patterns” and get people out of their cars.
He said that there had been an “open and transparent” consultation with the public about the overall scheme - and while some people had “questioned the principle” of such a development and whether it was needed, nothing was said that would have caused a rethink of the plans.
Given the opportunity to debate the application amongst themselves, committee members uncharacteristically moved straight to the vote - and unanimously backed the long-awaited blueprint to transform the city centre.
Speaking after the meeting, city council leader Matthew Brown said that their decision had made “the dream a reality”.
“As well as the bowling alley and the cinema, we’re going to have some well-known restaurant chains and independent businesses as well.
‘It shows that the regeneration we are doing now is going to lead to more vibrancy - it’s going to support entertainment and leisure within the city centre and there is a link to the cultural programme we are putting forward.
“There is going to be the mobile events tent and performance and art in the city centre, [all] supporting our local independent businesses,” Cllr Brown said.
The development will be wholly council-owned and will be paid for, in part, by a tranche of the city’s £20.9m allocation from the government's Towns Fund, with the city authority funding the remainder.
Cllr Brown said that the council’s cautious finance officers would not have backed the idea if they did not believe the city could make a success of the venture - and he added that the rental income generated by the outlets will provide a long-term return on the authority’s investment.
He also claims that it will make Preston a more “resilient” destination than those relying solely on retail to tempt people in. The scheme is forecast to generate an additional £7m a year for the local economy.
“The reality is that if we don't do this for ourselves, nobody else is going to do it. It shows the power of doing things in our own way - so regardless of who the government is or the mood swings of institutional investors, this is us…just taking control.
“And because we’re going to own the asset, that gives us a bigger say over who is employed in the construction and development stage and over the terms and conditions of the workforce - and it [enables us to get] really strong social value outcomes," Cllr Brown said.
Reacting to the development being given the go-ahead, Rachel McQueen, chief executive of Marketing Lancashire, said that it represented “a significant step towards the council's vision of a regenerated, vibrant and sustainable city centre”.
"Preston was recently named the best city in the North West in which to live and work - a title that is much deserved. Over the last few years especially, we have seen great investment in UCLan's campus, in public realm, in quality restaurants, event venues and independent retailers, which have all brought new life and vigour to the visitor experience, as well as to the quality of life for residents.
"It is thrilling to see this historic city, of which we're already very proud, emerging as one of Lancashire's must-visit destinations,” Ms. McQueen added.
Hollywood Bowl became the first - and so far only - Animate operator to be publicly named late last year.
The idea of a city centre cinema was first mooted more than a decade ago as part of the doomed Tithebarn regeneration project.
It was resurrected and revised in 2016, when planning permission was granted for a similar scheme and for the demolition of the old market hall and car park, which was carried out three years later. However, subsequent delays - and the pandemic - have resulted in a further tweaked plan being brought forward.
Chris Argent told the planning committee that the latest iteration - spread over three floors and a roof area - was “far less aggressive in terms of height”, after the removal of previous plans for a replacement multi-storey car park.
A report by planning officers said that the design of the development is “respectful” to the Grade II-listed market canopy nearby.
The scheme has been designed by Leach Rhodes Walker and will be delivered by the council in partnership with Maple Grove Developments, part of the Bamber Bridge-based Eric Wright Group.
Andrew Dewhurst, development director at Maple Grove Developments, said of planning permission being granted: “There has been a huge amount of work taking place to get to this decision today and I would like to extend my thanks to our partners and project team for their efforts.
“We have been extremely encouraged by the strong interest received from national retail and leisure occupiers, who do not currently have a presence in Lancashire, and we look forward to making more announcements in the coming weeks.”
Meanwhile, Chris Hayward, director of development and housing at Preston City Council, said that planning approval marked "a key milestone towards starting construction work later this year with the view to opening Animate in 2024".
It’s a key project in Preston’s 15-year City Investment Plan and will contribute greatly to its ambitious vision to transform the city.”
John Chesworth, chair of the Preston Towns Fund Board, predicted that Animate will "act as a catalyst for further investment into Preston and will be a valuable asset in positioning the city as an attractive place to live and work".
WHAT’S GOING WHERE?
Level 1 - car parking, accessed from Ringway and exited via Tenterfield Street for vehicular traffic and from the footpath adjacent to Lime House for pedestrians; a changing places facility; and fully-glazed access to the bowling alley and competitive social unit, located on Level 3.
Level 2 - the main frontage of the scheme. at ground level. The restaurant frontages, which face the covered market, will sit above the car park level at one end but level with the “street” at the other. The main entrance to the cinema will be next to Lancastria House, at the opposite end to the bowling alley entrance, to create “bookends” to the scheme. Four of the restaurants and the street food hub - and the access to the first-floor restaurant - will be located in between those two points, facing out towards the market. A new area of public open space will be created between the market and the restaurant units, with formal and informal seating.
Level 3 - the upper level with the cinema to the rear and lobby area, restaurant with roof terrace fronting the market and the competitive social unit facing Lime House and Ringway.
Level 4 - the roof level, with roof space varying to accommodate the uses beneath it at Level 3. The roof above the cinema will be higher than that above the restaurant to allow a stepping down towards the covered market.
Source: Preston City Council