Preston’s once bustling Church Street has become one of the city’s most neglected areas.
Earmarked for regeneration under the now-abandoned Tithebarn project, the area has become run down over the decades.
Now plans have been lodged to tear down an empty building, which leaders say will make way for redevelopment.
Preston Council’s property services department has applied for permission to demolish the building on the corner of Church Street and Grimshaw Street, which had been home to shops including the Philatelic Gallery.
Coun John Swindells, the council’s cabinet member for planning and regulation, said the building was beyond repair.
He said: “It’s the intention to get the regeneration of Church Street through to the Queens Retail Park, and the whole linkage of the bus station and the Fishergate as far as the Minster.
“Hopefully, it would eventually go as far as the junction of London Road.
“It’s one of the most neglected parts of Preston.”
He said the “best solution” would be to knock the council-owned building down, and then “come up with another use for the site”.
Coun Swindells said: “They are in a poor state at the moment because they are now structurally unsound.
“They are held up with a combination of props and scaffolding and the structural report says three to five Grimshaw Street is structurally unsafe to use as shops and the cost of putting them right is probably not justified.
“It would give the opportunity for wider development that would be considered as part of the Stoneygate Masterplan that will start later this year.
“That should start later this year with how we are going to link that site and the Queen Street development into the Fishergate and the bus station.”
Town centre councillor Drew Gale said: “I’m in favour of the demolition, I think we need to allow for further development of that end of Church Street.
“I think, when the Queen Street development is up and running, that end of town will be completely reinvigorated and therefore that plot of land, we could perhaps do something substantial with.”
The council has lodged a prior notification submission for the demolition of the existing shops, which will be considered by the planning committee.
A statement from agents Jones & Company said the buildings had become “obsolete”, and the last remaining tenant had recently left.
It said: “Their condition will continue to deteriorate and despite their location previously being considered primary, trade and the hub of the area has migrated away to the west to be closer to the town centre or as an effect of out of town retail sites.
“We look to Preston Council to support this simple application for the demolition and site clearance so that further options of re-development of the site can be considered thereafter.”
Concern over demolition plan
While the need for the regeneration of Church Street is largely agreed, some commentators say demolishing buildings is not the solution.
Aidan Turner-Bishop, local historian and civic expert, said knocking down the site would be “giving up”.
He said: “Church Street, or as I prefer to call it Church Gate which is its original name, should be treated as a special action zone.
“Church Street is a rather nice, rather good Georgian and Victorian street and it needs to be a special action zone.
“The buildings need to be rebuilt, conserved and preserved, they shouldn’t be knocked down because that would lose the character.”
He said buildings in other towns had been rebuilt, and said: “You don’t solve problems by demolishing buildings. “This could be a prime attractive area with small businesses and studio workshops.
“There’s a problem with being able to retain graduates from UCLan because of a lack of rental space, it needs a broader, longer vision and it needs somebody with sympathy and design skills.
“You can regenerate the area using traditional skills.
“The masterplan for Stoneygate is long overdue, because it’s been long neglected.
“It could be rebranded as the Church Gate Quarter - it would be a nice place with speciality shops and cafes and workshops and studios, we could have rock bands and indie bands and low-rental accommodation.
“That’s what’s needed, we need to rehumanise it.
“Demolition is giving up.”