£10m plan to transform Preston's tallest office block

PRESTON'S tallest office building could be transformed into a hotel as part of the latest vision unveiled by business tycoon Simon Rigby.

Thursday, 29th September 2016, 6:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 5th October 2016, 2:42 pm
How Villa Urban could look

Ambitious £10m plans to turn the 15-storey Guild Tower into an aparthotel of at least 100 rooms, along with a casino, spa and gym, have been lodged with Town Hall chiefs.

If planners agree to the proposals, the block looks set to be rebranded as Villa Urban, in the latest move by the business tycoon.

The application from architects at the Frank Whittle Partnership (FWP) includes a casino on the first floor and a spa and leisure area, as well as a new entrance point into the Guild Hall, replacing the current bus station underpass.

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The outside of the building would also be transformed with a “weave” effect facade – described by FWP bosses as a “contemporary interpretation of Preston’s industrial past and an abstract representation of a cotton fabric pattern”.

The aparthotel can include up to 150 rooms, depending on size, with architects predicting 105 in the tower. They say the rooms will increase in size with the height of the building, with the top four levels offering large “luxury” suites with balconies overlooking the city, duplex spaces and entertainment and cinema rooms. Mr Rigby, whose team is working to transform the adjoining Guild Hall, said people could stay longer in the new accommodation than in traditional hotels.

He said guests would be encouraged to use the restaurants within the Guild Hall, and said: “I think it is very exciting.

“We are doing standard rooms, and then we are doing suites, and we are also putting on the top some penthouse duplexes, so we are going to have every grade of accommodation people might want.

“You can go for one night, but if you want to stay for a week or a month, you can.

“The idea is maybe for wealthy students or long-term workers in the city centre, people coming on secondment, or people coming to work for a few weeks or months.”

The tower’s proposed name, Villa Urban, will link with the Villa brand, and Mr Rigby said: “We believe we are going to deliver quality without pomposity.”

He said a garden area would be created on the roof of the former Morrisons for people in the apartments on level two of the tower. He said: “We believe it’s going to greatly enhance Preston’s offering.

“Preston is the most under-bedded city in the country, we are bringing very good-grade accommodation and also securing a whole new market for the Guild Hall. It’s an entertainment venue at the moment, but this brings us into conference facilities as well because we’ll have on-site accommodation.

“If we have a conference for an organisation, people could stay over.

“If we’ve got snooker events, the players could stay there and be on site. We see this as a major enhancement.”

The Guild Tower is currently occupied by HMRC staff, and Mr Rigby insisted he was not pushing them out.

He said: “This is very much a plan B from our perspective.

“Plan A is HMRC would stay there and continue its current usage.”

HMRC last year announced plans to have fewer, more modern “regional centres” in the future.

Mr Rigby said: “What we don’t want is another 15 floors of empty space in Preston, we believe it would be better used as an apartment hotel,

“If they stay, the building will be refurbished for a new long lease to HMRC. “We want them to stay but we need to be ready with a good alternative use and I don’t believe me refurbishing lots of offices is a good use, when you look at the amount of empty office space in the city.”

He said the aparthotel would be “four star equivalent”, with “absolutely magnificent views”.

The application for the casino is for planning permission only, not for an operating licence.

Mr Rigby described a possible casino as a “logical aspect” of the Guild Hall and Guild Tower plans.

An HMRC spokesman said: “We announced in November 2015 that our three Preston offices would close by 2020-21 and later transfer to the Department for Work and Pensions.

“There are a number of potential options that we are currently considering for the location of all our new regional centres across the UK.

“In the north west we have already said these will be in Liverpool and Manchester. We’ll only confirm a particular development after we have told our people, who we keep informed throughout the process.”