A £2m revamp of Preston’s historic market will kick-start the regeneration of the city centre, it can be revealed today.
The city council has unveiled plans to turn its Grade II-listed Fish Market on Birley Street into a modern food market, alongside a street market running down Market Street.
It is pumping £2m into the project to get the plans off the ground, and spending a further £250,000 on repainting the neighbouring 33-year-old covered market.
Council leader Peter Rankin said it will move traders out of the city’s Market Hall into the revamped Fish Market, which will leave a prime spot of the city centre open for a developer to transform into a leisure complex.
He said: “We want to convert the Fish Market into a food market, that is where most of the £2m will go into, and we want to use Market Street as an outdoor market.
“We hope to be able to talk to the landlords of the empty shops there, so that those shops will be used within the food market as well.
“The idea is that we move people out of the Market Hall and, by doing that, we would free up a site for a developer to come in.”
He said the work will turn Preston into “a destination”, capable of attracting thousands of shoppers to the city, but he warned it had to be realistic about its ambitions.
Coun Rankin said: “It is a difficult thing to pull off, because we have seen where it has not worked, in Lancaster for example, where they built a very big, new market and had to close it.
“The rents were too high, so traders did not want to go into it, and it was a failure.
“We want to create something which market traders can afford and is an attraction to people. What we cannot afford to do is build a new market hall, because we run the risk of becoming the new Lancaster if we do that.”
Chief executive Lorraine Norris said it had carried out a study, which showed there would be demand from operators looking to open a cinema in the city centre.
Under the vision unveiled today, the council is proposing the cinema would sit above a row of restaurants and cafes, with the main covered market area transformed into a mix of market stalls and cafes.
It would see “stylish glazed pavilions” built under the larger canopy to retailers and cafes.
Mrs Norris said: “We know people want a cinema in the city centre, but we need to go out to the commercial market and see what would work in the current climate.
“Let’s not make any bones about it, to get a development off the ground is tough, but we have taken the time between the loss of John Lewis and with consultants Drivers Jonas Deloitte to look at what is viable.”
John Crellin, the council’s city centre planning manager, said it would fit the Fish Market with “adaptable, modern and attractive-looking market stalls” to accommodate the food traders currently housed in the Market Hall.
He added: “The food market will be housed under the smaller canopy, with street markets. Some of the fruit and vegetable sellers could go on to the street market element,as they do not need chillers in the same way the fish and the meat does.”
Coun Rankin said he would be meeting with market traders later this month to discuss its vision, and said he hoped the repainting of the markets could take place before the end of the year.
He said this meeting would start work on transforming the market, and said it would involve traders “every step of the way.”
It is currently carrying out a structural survey of the main market canopy and the Fishmarket, opened in 1879 and 1912 respectively, to assess the stability of both structures ahead of painting them.