County Hall chiefs have flatly denied buying Preston’s iconic bus station for £1 in a secret deal to “bail out” the neighbouring city council.
Labour leaders angrily rejected an allegation from Lancashire’s top Tory Geoff Driver that an agreement to transfer ownership of the controversial building from one authority to the other for a nominal sum was hatched at a behind-closed-doors meeting of the local party.
“It is absolutely untrue,” said LCC deputy leader Coun David Borrow, who is also a member of Preston City Council. “The sale went through all the correct legal channels - through scrutiny and executive scrutiny committees where there isn’t a Labour majority - so I’m not sure what he is trying to get at.”
Coun Driver, the Conservative group leader on the county council, made his claims during a stormy budget meeting.
The one-time Preston city councillor suggested Labour-run County Hall had only agreed to buy the delapidated bus station and its multi-storey car park to help its neighbour across the city out of a deep financial hole.
“The truth about the purchase of Preston Bus Station is that it was a deal to bail out Labour-controlled Preston City Council - and all other council tax payers in Lancashire will have to pay for it,” he claimed.
“It was obviously agreed behind closed doors by Preston Labour Party. Personally I can’t wait for the inevitable review of the purchase of the bus station and the serious adverse impact it has had on LCC’s finances.” The county council agreed to buy the bus station after the city council’s plans to knock it down were blocked when it became a listed building. Preston admitted it could no longer afford to continue maintaining the terminus and the car park.
County Hall has since vowed to spend around £23m to give it a much-needed facelift and convert half of it into a state-of-the-art youth zone.
Coun Driver attacked the Labour group, saying: “You agreed to buy it without a clue as to how you were going to fund it. Your proposal to repair and refurbish it is grossly understated and under-funded. And it will no doubt have a significant adverse effect on this council’s future years budgets.”
But the Conservative claims were shot down by Coun Borrow, who said: “That’s just ridiculous. It (the sale) went through the system and was approved. So all the necessary checks and balances were carried out as they should have been.
“Preston Council and Lancashire County Council have come to an agreement on it. I am not aware that the Conservative members of Preston Council have kicked up a fuss.
“But instead of welcoming the way the city council and county council have found a solution to the saga of the bus station, he (Coun Driver) has complained and tried to find reasons why it shouldn’t go ahead. It may well be that it sticks in his throat that when he was leader of the county council he couldn’t find a solution and now he isn’t we have found one.”
Coun Driver’s comments came less than three months after he accused Labour of not spending enough on doing up the bus station, claiming their refurbishment was £6m to £8m short of what was needed.