The curse of the phantom road digger has struck again in Preston’s improving city centre.
Now traders in Cannon Street have been left fuming after part of their expensive natural stone surface was carved up and replaced by a tackier alternative.
“It just beggars belief,” said antique dealer Brian Beck as he looked down on a black strip across the recently re-laid road, just off the Fishergate “shared space” development.
“How many times are utility companies going to dig up work which has only recently been done?
“The street looked great when it was first re-laid. Now it’s got three patches and it’s pock-marked with oil spills from vehicles which shouldn’t be here in the first place.
Cannon Street was given a jazzy new look last year to match up with the adjoining £3.4m Fishergate scheme.
Lancashire County Council (LCC) spent a good chunk of a £945,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant bringing the side street up to the quality of the city’s prime shopping thoroughfare, in the hope customers would be drawn to explore its array of independent businesses.
But within weeks of the pale stone surface being laid, it was already looking grubby thanks to drivers ignoring “access only” signs and either using it as a shortcut, or a short stay parking spot.
Those oil patches are still visible. And now ugly strips of asphalt from excavation work have scarred the street even more.
County Hall chiefs say the latest piece of work has been carried out by water company United Utilities, which it is believed has been improving the supply to a building being converted into flats.
It is believed the work, which began in July, is only part way through and has yet to be finished.
After that the company will be expected to restore the surface to its original condition, or pay LCC to do the work for them.
Cannon Street is only the latest section of Preston’s revamped city centre to suffer from an attack of the diggers.
Shortly after the first phase of the Central Gateway project was unveiled in 2014, workmen were back in Fishergate ripping it up to carry out “emergency” electricity work.
From then on there have been a catalogue of repairs – among them the replacement of newly laid flags smashed by traffic forced to drive over them to avoid the roadworks.
Brian Beck said: “This all started more than four years ago and it is still going on.
“I’m in the city centre every day and I’ve lost count of the number of repairs that have had to be carried out after the original work has been done.
“In Cannon Street we were all delighted when the county council decided to spend a fortune on giving us a lovely new road surface. When they put it down it looked brilliant. But look at it now.
“Patches of oil and areas of asphalt were not what we expected. And it’s only been down just over a year.
“It wasn’t cheap. I know that. But you’ve got to question the use of light coloured natural stone.
“I sincerely hope that whoever dug it up will come back and repair the mess they have left. And, while they’re at it, let’s have the oil spills cleaned up as well.
“It’s a joke, although no-one is laughing.”
A spokesman for United Utilities said: “The developer of a new nine block of flats on Cannon Street applied for a connection to the public water supply.
“This work has been completed, and a temporary reinstatement took place to comply with LCC streetworks notice and for health and safety reasons.
“Once the new materials arrive, the pavement will be restored to its original condition.”
Cannon Street chaos
Signs at the bottom of the road say it clearly: “Access Only.”
Yet locals claim Cannon Street is busier now than it was when through traffic was allowed.
And the oil stains which litter the expensive stone surface suggest some drivers are ignoring the restrictions to park their vehicles in the street and dodging traffic wardens for a quick visit to Fishergate.
“It’s not just the parking,” said Brian Beck who runs European Fine Arts and Antiques.
“It’s the speed they drive. They fly up here. It’s like Brands Hatch.
“Cannon Street isn’t closed off at the top like Guildhall Street, so they use it as a shortcut.
“It should only be for loading or unloading. But nobody takes a blind bit of notice.”
City centre revival
The £3.4m Fishergate Central Gateway project, which has revamped Preston’s main shopping street, is just one piece of a bigger jigsaw to revive the city centre.
Together with feeder roads like Cannon Street, the scheme is meant to make the place more attractive to pedestrians as a retail and leisure hub.
The “shared space” stretches from the railway station to the bus station - which has itself been refurbished using public money.
Winckley Square has been restored to its Victorian splendour.
And the city council is involved in an ambitious project to redesign the markets quarter, with a new market hall opened this year and the old one set to be demolished to make way for a huge cinema complex. Spending by local businessman Simon Rigby has brought the Guild Hall back to life as a busy entertainment centre.
And with a new plush hotel currently being developed in the old Post Office building, the city centre should be completely transformed within the next couple of years.