Guild Hall is on council ‘hit list’

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Preston’s political leaders are to hold a ‘Doomsday scenario’ conference, where the future of the city’s Guild Hall could be decided.

Preston Council leader Peter Rankin’s voice shook with emotion as he revealed the cash strapped cabinet would be looking at the city’s leading entertainment venue among a hit list of other council services that may suffer cuts as a result of mounting financial pressures.

SUPERSTARS: The Jackson Five have graced the Preston Guild Hall stage

SUPERSTARS: The Jackson Five have graced the Preston Guild Hall stage

It comes as the city is reeling from the news another historic landmark, Preston bus station, is to be demolished because it will cost too much money to make necessary repairs and refurbish it.

In December chief executive Lorraine Norris said the authority was “looking at the business case” for each of its buildings and “deciding the future for them”, before indicating the Guild Hall was the next asset to be reviewed.

And traders in the city centre voiced their concerns over the building’s fate at a BID (Business Improvement District) meeting, arranged to discuss Preston bus station, at the Town Hall on Tuesday night.

Mark Waddington, who works as a volunteer co-ordinator at Preston CVS, based in the Guild Hall Arcade, asked what plans the council had for the building.

Coun Rankin said: “We will have to look at the Guild Hall, as we’re looking at everything at the moment because of this financial settlement from the Government.

“We are setting our budget later this month. We are okay for this next year, and that gives us time to actually sit down and go through some very, very drastic and serious options for this council, that are going to affect services, and the Guild Hall is going to be one we are looking at.

“I’m not saying demolition is on the cards, but that is clearly an option.

“My preference would be to bring in an entertainment company to run the Guild Hall.

“There is a considerable subsidy we put in to the Guild Hall and any company that took over we would have to say the whole reason for you taking it on would be for us to withdraw the subsidy.”

Speaking after the meeting, Coun Rankin said he felt “quite emotional” about the challenges ahead, which include saving £3m by 2016.

And he voiced his anger at central Government, which has awarded the local authority a settlement 6.4 per cent less than the previous grant – one of the worst deals in the country.

He said: “I just don’t know how we are going to save this money. We need to save £3m by 2016, which is a colossal amount.

“I want to get away from this notion that my answer to everything is to demolish it, but some tough decisions will have to be made.

“I can’t speculate on the Guild Hall’s future at the moment.

“Once the council has set the budget for the year ahead we will be looking at all the services provided by the council to see if we can save money, probably in early March.

“We are planning to have a Doomsday scenario conference where the cabinet is looking at all kinds of options.

“We do not understand what the Government has got against Preston.”

Coun Rankin’s grim forecast comes two years after a plethora of stars from the entertainment industry backed the Evening Post’s calls to save the Guild Hall, when it emerged the number of performances by musicians, comedians and touring shows would be reduced and staff would be lost.

Town Hall bosses will look at a number of options for the venue in early March, once this year’s budget is agreed.