Businessman who quit Preston says city has been turned into a 'no go' area that does not welcome shoppers
Craig Halsall, director of PC Carpets, said the authorities were turning Preston city centre into a “no-go area” because of poor planning and road design and the infamous bus lane cameras.
Fishergate has been totally transformed with “shared space” and a one-way stretch only usable by buses and black cabs.
Tens of thousands of motorists have been fined for using the one-way Fishergate during prohibited hours.
Many claim the signage is not clear enough, or often blame a satnav error. But they are hit with a fine of up to £60.
Until last year, Mr Halsall’s carpet business was based on Lune Street at the heart of the revamp of Preston city centre.
He said a combination of disruption during the roadworks, traffic congestion and a growing anger at the bus lane cameras had persuaded him to abandon Preston last year and go back to the firm’s long-established premises in Watkin Lane, Lostock Hall.
Mr Halsall said: “When the roadworks were going on, it was total chaos near our shop. The pavement wasn’t finished for 18 months.
“I used to see people falling in the road. The traffic was backed up right through the city centre.
“People just stopped coming in. The footfall dropped off dramatically.
“I got a reduction on my rates but it wasn’t enough.
“I decided at Christmas 2017 that I had had enough.”
Mr Halsall said car parking charges in the city centre, the road layout and the anger caused to visitors and locals who had been fined on Fishergate had convinced him to leave the city centre, where the store had been based for around six years.
He said: “I went into a shop one lunchtime and everyone was complaining about the state of the city centre and talking about fines and I thought ‘I’ve had enough’.
“It’s almost like the council don’t want visitors coming to Preston. It’s hard for people to get in, hard for them to park and then they get done in the bus lane.
“What kind of message is that sending out?
“They have created a deterrent, and they are making a fortune from the fines.”
Leader of Preston City Council, Councillor Matthew Brown defended the transformation of the city centre, saying the council’s approach was “beginning to bear fruit”.
He said: “The vitality of the city centre is a priority for the City Council and we are actively pursuing and promoting numerous measures to support the high street.
“Working with a range of partners, including the County Council, and we have made big strides in improving the city centre through transforming the public realm, encouraging city living and bringing empty buildings back into use.
“We have to accept that high street retailing is undergoing a national decline and the demand for retail premises on the high street will never return to former levels. This national problem requires a different local approach and we, as a council, have been promoting a diversification of city centre uses for a number of years.
“This approach is starting to bear fruit with a marked increase in city living and a greater variety of the food and drink offer being increasingly evident.
"We are also supporting new economic approaches to promote a more inclusive local economic model including support for a regional community bank.
“We are doing everything we can to encourage investment into the high street and city centre. Shopping local and supporting local businesses is something that everyone can do to help, and we would encourage all Prestonians to do that too.”
Lancashire County Council highways boss Keith Iddon said he was sorry to hear about Mr Halsall’s comments.
But he said efforts were being made to improve the city centre, going back several years.
He added: “We know that times are tough for high streets across the country, which is why we’ve been improving the city centre over recent years, to encourage people to visit and attract new businesses.
“Thousands of people visit the city each and every day, and we’ve seen new businesses opening recently in the city centre, including national brands.
“There are a variety of car parks and transport options for people to use, which are handily located and reduce the need to drive into busier areas of the city centre.
“The bus lanes have been in place since Autumn 2016. They have helped bus services and reduced significant congestion issues at peak times.
“We also improved Lune Street in 2017, so that people can access Ringway.
"This has helped people leaving the St George’s Shopping Centre car park after they’ve visited.
“It’s an exciting time for the city with lots of new developments coming to the city centre including around the university, which are bringing new jobs and economic growth.
“We’re sorry to hear that Mr Halsall feels this way about the city centre.”