Quirky or ugly? Preston's "event tent" gets the go-ahead

Preston city centre is set to get a temporary new landmark after plans were approved for a pop-up “event tent”.

Friday, 9th July 2021, 7:29 pm
Updated Friday, 9th July 2021, 7:30 pm

The 12-sided structure – to be created from four shipping containers covered in stretch fabric – will be based on the site of the city’s former market hall and car park for the next 12 months.

With the capacity to hold up to 100 people, the venue will play host to a rolling schedule of arts and entertainment attractions – including cinema screenings and dance, theatre and music performances – when it is installed later in the summer.

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This is how Preston's temporary events space will look (image: Preston Partnership)

The 7.1 metre-high structure – similar to the size of a two-storey house – will also feature an inflatable and illuminated ‘floating’ version of Preston’s coat of arms over the entrance.

Preston City Council’s planning committee gave the thumbs up to the event space, which will be operated by the authority itself.

However, committee member Sue Whittam said that while she thought the concept was “a brilliant idea”, she feared that it would look “a bit ugly”. She also warned that the giant lit-up version of Preston’s famous lamb was likely to be toppled from its prominent position by thieves or vandals.

“I’m just a bit shocked at the design,” Cllr Whittam added.

The meeting was told that the coat of arms would only be inflated during performances so that it did not become a target when the venue was unoccupied.

Planning officer James Mercer also said that the shipping containers themselves would not be visible, because of the fabric that will be wrapped around them.

“It is a temporary structure [and] it is on a site that, at the moment, is not visually pleasing. It is a facility that would encourage more people into the city centre and so, in the balance, we have to look at the wider picture as what this may bring to the city – as opposed to how it may look to people walking through,” said Mr. Mercer.

He added that the facility would cause only “low or moderate” temporary harm to the setting of the Grade II-listed covered market nearby for the duration of the entertainment venue’s operation.

Committee member David Borrow noted that the tent would be in place at the market plot during what would be the “halfway point” between Preston Guilds.

“We are used to having temporary structures for performance and the arts [during the Guild] and that’s the function that this is going to be delivering for 12 months. If people find it a bit quirky, there’s nothing wrong with that at all,” he said.

The long-term plan for the former market site remains to redevelop it as a cinema and restaurants complex.

While permission to pitch the tent on that plot has been granted only for a year, the structure is intended to be mobile – and so in future could be moved to other parts of the city, where its use for events of up to 28 days’ duration would not require planning approvals.

The committee was told that the tent would be largely shielded from street view in its temporary home by both Lancastria House and the covered market.

Committee chair Peter Moss requested that members later be given “additional information” about the venue, which he said was likely to make them far more “pleased and confident” about what was being proposed.

The project is being funded by an advance £1m payment that Preston received late last year as part of its successful bid to the government’s Towns Fund. The city was told back in

March that its secured a total of £20.9m for schemes including a youth zone and improvements to public spaces in the city.

HOW WILL IT WORK – AND LOOK?

***The four shipping containers will be arranged around a 150 square metre space.

***The tent roof, stage floor and retractable seating are brought out the containers.

***A 260 square metre stretch fabric roof will be supported on five posts, without the need for foundations – and will be anchored against the containers so no ground fixing points will be required either.

***The sides of the containers will be covered by a translucent, buttoned stretch fabric that will be backlit for evening events.

***The internal walls of the containers and open doors will be covered in printed artwork.

***An inflated and illuminated Preston coat of arms will be positioned over the entrance to the tent, with separate entry and exit points to and from the site. Access to the wider site will be prohibited.

***The container interiors will be able to be used as stages, changing rooms and refreshment areas.