As another plan for a high rise building in the city centre goes before the planning committee, Tom Earnshaw examines the vision for Preston’s ‘city living’
“We want to see the homes built for the people who want to live in the beating heart of the city and live, work and play in Preston.”
Those were the words of Director of Development for Preston City Council, Chris Hayward, when introducing the council’s City Living scheme.
Five months later, progress is well underway to deliver on the aspirations and hopes set out.
Ambitious project are being submitted for approval, properties are being snapped up before completion, and the regeneration of derelict buildings are just some of the efforts going on to bring more city centre residents to Preston.
“I think it’s snowballing,” Leader of Preston City Council, Coun Peter Rankin, said. “It’s very interesting. New planning applications are coming in just in the last few weeks and that’s a very good indicator that developers and investors see that things are happening in Preston and want to be in on the action.
“The more people that live in the city will also attract not just retailers, but restaurants and the big chains starting to look at the city that current aren’t here. It’s excellent.”
To cope with the projected influx of city centre residents, Coun Rankin is calling for retail to keep up with the increased demand that will come with City Living being a success.
Coun Rankin said: “People are living in the city centre as opposed to working. There will be a need to support that living influx a lot better than the retail sector is doing at the moment. One of the issues I have is that retail tends to shut down at five o’clock or half past five and if you’re coming into the city centre, you don’t tend to come in until seven, so there’s that gap between half past 5 and 7.
“Hopefully that will all change if city living takes off as it seems to be doing.
“For me at the moment and for anyone who is working in the city centre – if they want to go out in the evening, it would be really nice to do a bit of shopping beforehand. This has happened to me where I’ve been doing my work and thought about popping to the shops about five o’clock and at that time they’re already beginning to close down with shop workers out with the hoover.
“It’s not very conducive to people wanting to buy things if they’ve got the work force cleaning up. It happens at the moment and it is a bug-bear of mine that retail is not prepared to meet the night time economy in the middle.
“With more city living it would make a lot more sense for them to do that and stay open a little bit longer – you’re not asking for them to stay open until nine o’clock or 24 hours. It’s a question of staying open for an hour or two to be able to support the people who are working elsewhere but living in the city centre that can come back at half five or quarter to six and do a bit of shopping. City living would be good for retail.”
Director of Planning for Preston City Council, Chris Hayward added: “My wife works in Liverpool and she was saying to me this week it was 7 in the evening and Liverpool city centre is buzzing.
“Manchester is another city as well. In the past I’ve taken my daughters to concerts and have been wondering what to do with my time, and up until 8’oclock you can at least do a bit of shopping. I’m not saying we have to be exactly like Manchester and Liverpool but that sudden closure between five and six doesn’t make sense.”
One exciting development currently taking place on West Cliff is to turn an old Grade II listed post office into 31 luxury apartments.
A spokesperson for developers behind the project, The Heaton Group, said: “It is an exciting time for Preston, with investment in housing, infrastructure and large city centre projects; we are looking forward to being part of the city’s renaissance and are proud to be restoring such a notable historic building.”
Coun Rankin added: “We’ve got an application for the old furniture shop on Market Street that’s been derelict for many years and I think the owner sees the post office development.
“It’s a snowball effect – we see this as an encouragement to other people who own buildings in the city centre who haven’t been doing anything with them but they say ‘now is my opportunity to make some money out of Preston’ which is great.
“It’s going to provide homes for people, work for people, and that is our broad aim. That’s what we’re there as a council to try and do; to improve the attraction of Preston.”
Another development has seen two office blocks on Winckley Square – Guild House and Winckley House – go from former Lancashire County Council office blocks to fresh-looking flats, which have been selling like hot cakes prior to contractors moving in.
Chris Hayward said: “The development of the former Lancashire county council offices – which we own the freehold on – was a real partnership between county council and city council working together.
“A decision was taken – we don’t want these buildings standing empty. We wanted to work with the county to get the offices occupied and residential is a fantastic opportunity.”