‘Vision’ that blinded a council has cost us £14m

LEP Columnist Barry Freeman
LEP Columnist Barry Freeman
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Refreshing, ain’t it, to see an elected councillor throw off the yoke of tribal politics and lambast fellow Conservative Party members over their laxity in local government?

Well done, Coun Graham Gooch. We need more like you, sir, in our corridors of power! Individuals who, when necessity demands, are happy to set aside party loyalty and administer a stern shoeing.

And what a well-earned kicking it is. Preston City Council’s wilful neglect of the city’s sole modern building of note – and a damn hard-working one at that – has now, it appears, saddled the entire county with a crippling bill for repairs.

Over more than a decade the council – under both Labour and Tory leadership – played a game in which there would, ultimately, be no winners, merely degrees of loss.

As Coun Gooch rightly points out, a survey of the now Grade II listed bus station found that a shade over £2m was required to put it shipshape and Bristol fashion.

Preston Council did nothing. You see, they had plans for the bus station. They had a ‘vision’.

They planned to clear the site, at huge public expense, building a new bus station somewhere else (again at huge public expense), then gift the plot to a private company, along with half the town centre, for a rent unknown (we are yet to see the deal they signed with Grosvenor on our behalf, as mere custodians of the land) but almost certainly peppercorn.

They would bring the shops. John Lewis! Oooo! John Lewis!

But they never did. Having not been compelled to tender for the deal, Grosvenor (later Lend Lease) were in the fine position of having committed to no deadline. They could simply park it. One for the back sack, should need ever arise.

And Preston? A fly in amber. Elections came and went. Labour out, Tory-led coalition in, them out, the other lot back in...

And all the while time and the elements did their inexorable work on the bus station. Quietly running up that bill from a steep but not startling £2m to today’s staggering £14m, and this in an age of ruthless central government attacks on local authority funding.

Coun Gooch is quite right in his damning indictment of Preston Council’s historic performance.

“Incompetence, on a vast scale.”

We are now all about to pay, hard cash, for the folly of Tithebarn. The time for a full investigation into that whole sorry episode is now due.