Preston's 'sloping' apartment block gets the go-ahead

Plans to build a distinctive ‘sloping’ tower block in Preston city centre have been given the go ahead.

Monday, 11th May 2020, 7:22 pm
Updated Monday, 11th May 2020, 7:42 pm

The angular apartment block will stand 21 storeys high on Church Row, close to the city’s bus station.

The group behind the scheme hopes that demolition work will begin before the end of the summer on the vacant retail units which currently occupy the site and have stood empty since 2007.

Mohammed Afaq, managing director of 1618 Architects, which designed the building, says that he hopes it will transform both the immediate area – and perceptions of Preston.

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How the tower is expected to look

“It’s been a long and worthwhile journey and hopefully it will put a marker down in terms of redeveloping certain parts of the city centre.

“We see it as a gateway project – because once it is built, you should be able to see this striking, iconic shape from quite far away and hopefully it will transform the landscape. Obviously the planners saw it the same way, otherwise they wouldn’t have supported it.

“There is not too much to be positive about [in the world] at the moment, but this scheme should hopefully bring some much-needed employment to the area,” Mr. Afaq said.

The finer details of the design will now be drawn up for approval and Mr. Afaq added that the changed market brought about by coronavirus will require some further “number-crunching” to be done. He hopes that developer Eastern Estates Limited will also be able to secure approval in the coming months for an application to create a seven to eight-story apartment block in Winkley Square on the site of a former sports hall – allowing demolition on both sites to take place at around the same time.

The disused building where the apartment block will be built (image: Google Streetview)

A total of 80 properties are intended to feature in the Church Row development – some for rent, others to purchase. Current plans propose that 33 one-bed, 42 two-bed and five three-bed apartments will be made available.

Outline permission was granted for the development – which has been three years in the planning – under emergency powers conferred on the city council’s chief executive in the absence of planning committee meetings during the coronavirus crisis. His decision to approve the scheme was taken in consultation with cross-party planning committee members at the authority. Minutes of the process will be made public shortly.

A report by planning officers, who recommended that the largely glazed structure be approved, stated that “although the proposed building would be of a different architectural style and scale to the [other] tall buildings within the vicinity [including the Guild Tower and Unicentre], it is considered that in the right place, well-designed tall buildings can make a positive contribution”.

Four “decorative spikes” are set to adorn the slope of the building, protruding at the top of the 60-metre tower, a feature which officers concluded would help “soften” the appearance of the structure – similar in the design to the Urbis block in Manchester, which became home to the National Museum of Football after it was relocated from Preston.

Although it features five more storeys than the Guild Tower, the new block would be just four metres taller than the main roof of its elevated neighbour – with almost identical overall maximum roof heights once other features are factored in.

The scheme was revised by Eastern Estates after initial plans were lodged in order to address concerns over the “massing” of the building. Its first two storeys now match the height of buildings elsewhere on Church Row. The changes have also allowed for an increase in the number of apartments from the 69 originally planned.

Planning officers concluded that the amended proposal is suitable in spite of the site’s proximity to lower-level grade II-listed buildings in the surrounding area, including the eighteenth century Bears Paw pub on Church Street.

“There is no readily appreciable reason to suggest that [the] redevelopment…will impact –positively or negatively – on the historic interests of any listed buildings in a manner that is not already experienced through the imposing presence of other tall buildings such as the adjacent Guild Tower,” their report states.

The developers will not be required to include any affordable properties within the scheme, after planners accepted that such a requirement would make the scheme financially unviable. The expected return on the project stands at six percent – already below the 15-20 percent considered reasonable under planning guidance.

The building will require weekly – rather than the usual fortnightly – bin collections, which will be subject to a charge from Preston City Council.

There will be no parking provision for residents – but highways bosses did not object to the absence of spaces, on the basis of the sustainable city centre location. Bike storage will be available for 36 cycles.

Conditions have been imposed requiring submission of plans for separate approval detailing the materials to be used for the building and noise mitigation measures to protect future residents of the block from noise emanating from activity at the nearby Blitz nightclub.

Preston City Council’s chief executive, Adrian Phillips, said: “The application was approved subject to conditions, as outlined in the published report, following consultation with members of the planning committee.”