Tycoon snaps up historic building

A multi-millionaire has snapped up another of Preston's "legacy" buildings, it has emerged.

Yousuf Bhailok, who already owns Harris Park in Fulwood, paid 298,000 for the Harris Institute in Avenham and plans to use it for "educational or community" projects.

Today, he suggested the Grade II listed building could be used as a graduate studies centre for an Islamic college.

And he has also approached Town Hall chiefs and offered to lease it to the council rent-free for a "substantial period" and then for "a very competitive rent", believed to be 45,000 a year.

And, in the past few days, he has offered a similar deal to bosses at Cardinal Newman College, suggesting they might want to use it for music or drama.

The Avenham Lane institute, built between 1846 and 1849, was founded with cash left by wealthy lawyer Edmund Harris who specified that the building be used for educational purposes.

Mr Bhailok said: "Coincidently, this was again, like the Harris Park, left as a legacy to Preston. I was somewhat surprised that, for the price, the council didn't snap it up.

"I have no problem if they still want it. I fully agree our council should indeed keep historical gems like this to keep them within its heritage and protection remit. I would happily work with the council in respect of any proposals that keeps this building alive and well.

"I openly say to our city councillors, many who are indeed supportive and genuinely want to save this gem of a building, that I will bend backwards to work with them on this project."

The Institute, previously owned by the University of Central Lancashire, has been empty for around two years since students moved into a 15m building on the campus.

Mr Bhailok said he "loved" listed buildings and said he hoped English Heritage or the Heritage Lottery Fund could help with funding improvements.

He said: "I am not seeking to make commercial gain from this purchase but it is one which is going to be a labour of love. I would be delighted to work with other partners to make a worthwhile use of such an attractive imposing building situated in an important conservation area."

Council leader Ken Hudson said: "We would like to put some of the community groups that contacted us with a view to them buying it, in contact with him and, via Preston Vision, let's hope we can come to a solution that keeps it in educational use for the citizens of Preston."

Earlier this year, real estate advisors DTZ met with Preston Council planners about future uses for the building. Among those which could be considered were offices, a fitness club, or a restaurant/bar.

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