But less than six years after it opened, Fishergate’s “shared space” road scheme has lost its sparkle, with broken flagstones, uneven block paving and scruffy repair work turning it from chic to shabby.
“It’s a disgrace,” stormed Coun Yousef Motala, who represents Preston city on Lancashire County Council.
“I walk down there to get to County Hall and it’s a real mess. It needs sporting out as soon as possible - and the job wants doing properly.”
The first phase of the £3.4m Central Gateway project was unveiled by County Hall in October 2014. And it is this section, near to the Fishergate Shopping Centre and the city’s railway station, which has deteriorated badly.
The Post sent photographs of the ravages of five-and-a-half years of heavy traffic to County Hall, itself just 100 yards from the uneven footpaths and damaged carriageways.
The pictures tell a sorry story of excessive wear and tear and stopgap repair work.
“It’s not looking good,” admitted Coun Salim Desai, who represents the city centre on Preston Council.
“I’ve complained many times to LCC and all we seem to get is a poor quality repair. The money is there to fix it properly and they should be doing that.”
Last month County Hall chiefs held a meeting with highways officers and councillors representing Preston to discuss issues with the city’s road system.
Coun Motala was at the meeting and revealed: “I brought up the Fishergate shared space and said it needed looking at.
“It’s not just small patches, it’s large areas. I said it needs to be done again, all of it.
“The issue they have is that it is constantly dropping, the stones and setts are uneven and they are a potential trip hazard. If someone falls because of the uneven surface then we will be liable as the highways authority.
“There is a national strategy to try and get town and city centres back on track. But if you make it difficult for people to walk around, what’s the point?
“I don’t know why it should be so bad, but I have a strong feeling it’s the ground underneath and potentially the materials used that aren’t able to cope with the traffic.
“I’m pushing as hard as I can as a councillor to get this tackled as a matter of urgency and to make sure, when it is, that we do a proper job and not just another patch-up.”
Critics say LCC has the money to do major repairs to the shared space - from the income generated by the Fishergate bus lane which continues to churn out penalty tickets to drivers caught on camera.
City Councillor Desai, who has also been taking pictures of the damage, said: “I’ve walked along looking at the state of the road and pavements and I think there are issues with the work done originally. I think it was sub-standard.
“That’s why LCC took it in-house and even some of their work seems to be sinking. It must be something to do with the ground underneath.
“I would have liked it to be done right in the first place - a job that would have lasted for years and years, rather than keep having to come back and back to repair it.
“They (LCC) need to keep on top of this. They decided to do this with our main shopping street and they should have ensured it was done right, with the right material that was suitable for the job and should have been able to cope with heavy vehicles like buses and big delivery wagons.
“Some of the (bitumen) patches are down to me complaining about broken or uneven paving stones. They say they are temporary repairs. But sometimes a temporary solution becomes a permanent solution if no-one complains. That’s why I have been complaining.”
COUNTY HALL'S VIEW
County Hall chiefs say they are planning to carry out maintenance work in the shared space area soon.
And they have hinted they could look into putting bollards in place in Corporation Street to protect footpaths from vehicles.
Ridwan Musa, LCC highways manager, said: “We carry out regular inspections across the road network to pick up any faults. People can also help by reporting any fault they find to us, so that we can look into them.
“The areas of bitumen are a temporary solution until permanent repairs can be carried out. As particular materials are needed to repair this area, we wait until we can carry out a few pieces of work at the same time.
“We are planning to carry out some maintenance work in this area.
“We are proposing to carry out repairs to the footway on Fishergate railway bridge towards the junction with Corporation Street, with a report going to our Cabinet in March. This would also involve work on Corporation Street including on the paving flags and a proposal to install bollards to protect the footway.
“We are also looking at other remedial work in the analysis for funding in future years.
“Money from misuse of the bus lanes does go towards road maintenance and other highway improvements.”
The controversial Fishergate Central Gateway project cost £3.4m, partly paid for by the European Regional Development Fund.
The intention was to create a more pedestrian-friendly and attractive city centre, less dominated by cars, which would help attract more commercial investment and boost growth in the area.
New road surfaces and wider pavements were intended to minimise the segregation between traffic and people on foot. By removing kerbs and “decluttering” streets, drivers and pedestrians are given equal priority and encouraged to get along together.
But the idea has been constantly attacked by critics who say the lay-out is more dangerous for pedestrians, particularly those who have sight problems.
Despite the opposition, the idea is now being extended to other parts of the city centre, including Friargate and the new University Square, which is currently under construction.