What is happening with the restoration of Preston's Park Hotel?

Progress on the long-planned redevelopment of Preston’s famed Park Hotel is shrouded in mystery after the organisation behind the project declined to provide an update - more than a year after major demolition work was undertaken at the site.

By Paul Faulkner
Monday, 27th December 2021, 12:30 pm

A concrete office block, which was built alongside the city landmark back in the 1960s, was dismantled in August 2020.

The moment appeared to mark a significant step forward in ambitious plans to refurbish the hotel and reopen it to guests for the first time in 70 years - but it is unclear as to what activity has taken place since.

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There was no sign of activity at the Park Hotel site when the Post visited earlier this month...

Sometimes likened to a Disney castle, the red-brick building on East Cliff morphed from luxury accommodation into a more mundane incarnation as administrative offices for Lancashire County Council in 1950.

The authority vacated the premises in 2011 and, five years later, the restoration plan was unveiled when it was announced that the administrators of County Hall’s own pension fund had taken ownership of the site.

However, when approached by the Post before Christmas for details of how the revamp was progressing, the Local Pensions Partnership - which is independent of the county council - responded with a distinctly detail-free one-line statement: "There is no further update on this development at the current time.”

When a Post photographer visited the site one weekday afternoon earlier this month, the gated entrance was closed and there was no sign of any work currently being carried out,

...and the pension fund behind the planned restoration declined to issue a progress report.

It is almost three years since planning permission was granted for restoration of the hotel building, the intention being to create 71 guest rooms and capacity for around 200 diners.

The external appearance of the original structure would remain largely unchanged under the plans, but its surroundings would be radically altered with the addition of a banqueting suite pavilion overlooking Avenham and Miller parks. If constructed, the new facility would swallow up around 100 of the existing car parking spaces on the site, leaving 124 available for the hotel.

On the plot of the now demolished office block, a new five-storey building was proposed, with the two lower floors again due to function as office space and the levels above forming an extension to the hotel, providing an additional 44 guest rooms.

Meanwhile, separate existing office accommodation at number 8 East Cliff was to be partially demolished and rebuilt to create a new health spa.

The pavilion extension proposed to Preston's Park Hotel (image: Cassidy + Ashton via Lancashire County Council planning portal)

It was an overarching vision that one born-and-bred Prestonian - who remembers the allure of the Park Hotel, even after it closed - was looking forward to seeing realised. David Bunting, 78, recalls how, as a young trainspotter, he would set up camp on the covered glass bridge that used to connect two of the railway station’s platforms directly to the hotel car park.

He told the Post that a rejuvenated Park Hotel would provide Preston's residents and visitors with something special - and said he would be saddened if the project had stalled.

“The hotel itself was a magnificent structure - and still is - but when it came under the ownership of Lancashire County Council, it was totally ruined by the attachment of a concrete monstrosity.

“If restored to its former glory, it would be a focal point for social events and accommodation. The city has nothing like it, nor is it [ever] likely to have.

The Park Hotel building in its spectacular setting overlooking Avenham and Miller parks (pictured in 2016 before demolition of the concrete office block to the left of the venue)

“The current plethora of characterless hotels does nothing to improve our skyline or our profile, but a refurbished and enhanced Park Hotel will not only be attractive, but give us a ‘wow’ factor.

“It is an imposing edifice, its position overlooking and commanding Miller Park and the railway station giving it a certain stature.

“Put it this way, if I had the money – and I know it's going to take quite a bit of cash to bring it about – I wouldn’t hesitate to finance it,” said David, who added that he believes Preston residents of his “vintage” would share his hope that the hotel could be brought back into use.

Preston Historical Society chair David Hindle described the building as "splendid" and said that its Victorian origin and setting as a backdrop to the parks made it the ideal candidate for restoration.

The Local Pensions Partnership (LPP) was formed a matter of months before the purchase of the Park Hotel. It was initially a venture between Lancashire County Council and the London Pensions Fund Authority, ahead of a government plan to create ‘pools’ from the 89 local government pension schemes

LPP is now one of just eight local government pools and, according to its website, manages approximately £22.1 billion of pension assets.

A neighbouring council office block was built in the 1960s - and torn down in August 2020, as part of the planned restoration of the facility

HOTEL HISTORY

Although not a listed building, the Park Hotel is ingrained in Preston’s heritage. Having originally been home to the Simpson family, who owned Preston’s gold thread works, it was converted into a hotel after being bought by two railway firms

Opening as the Railway Station Hotel in 1883, it provided a place to stay for the growing number of first class passengers using the station which it overlooked.

Renowned guests at the prestigious venue have included the then Prince of Wales, who would later become King Edward VII, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and the entertainer, Gracie Fields.