This is how Preston’s new Main Square will look – without its abandoned £8.5m youth zone.
Detailed plans have now been lodged with the city council to show the final shape of things to come on the western apron of the iconic bus station.
A tree-lined public space, with raised lawns, flower beds, a flexible area for concerts and even an ice rink, will all be created if councillors give it the go-ahead in the next few weeks. The £2.75m project will take up to a year to complete.
The county council, which owns the revamped terminus, is applying for Listed Building Consent to close the apron and make the space more user-friendly as a “modern transport hub” in this its golden anniversary year.
But for the first time the plans bring home the reality of County Hall’s controversial decision not to proceed with the long-awaited youth zone on the northern end of the site.
In its place will be an area of garden and open space which, at times, could be used for ice skating.
LCC say the Main Square will complete work on a major gateway into Preston, which has also included a full renovation of the Grade II Listed bus station and its multi-storey car park above – both projects finished last year.
Coun Keith Iddon, cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “This is the latest stage of the redevelopment of the bus station, which has already received coverage around the world.
“These plans will create a new public space on the former bus apron, on the city centre side of the building, by providing new seating areas, green space and new lighting.
“We’ll also be changing the road layout along Tithebarn Street to help public transport. This was developed in discussion with the bus companies to understand their needs.
“The aim is to create better connections between the bus station and the city centre, while also creating a more welcoming and pleasant space for people.”
A planning statement by Preston architects Cassidy and Ashton says: “The creation of a public urban space, alongside the completed refurbishment of the multi-storey car park and ground floor concourse, is considered an essential component in enabling the wider regeneration and development of Preston city centre, sitting alongside development at the Guild Hall, the markets and the approved new cinema complex.
“Accordingly there is an opportunity with this proposal, alongside the others already completed, to complete the works to enhance the attractiveness and visitor experience for a key gateway into the city.”
The latest plans, which replace an earlier application including the doomed youth zone, show the space between Tithebarn Street and the bus station as three separate areas surrounded by trees and garden areas.
The three spaces - called Terminal 1/2/3 - can all be used for different events, with two of them potentially linked to make a combined area for major open air concerts, with capacity for between 3,500 and 4,400 people.
The intention is to work with the experienced operational events team at the Guild Hall next door to stage shows or music concerts, some of them with “high end performers.
But on a day to day basis, the space will be used to create “a public square to both provide a focal point and safe and easy pedestrian access to the bus station”. It will also have a bike storage area called The Cabin.
The planning statement says: “The layout of the site will change from a bus apron to a public space with associated landscaping. The appearance will be greatly enhanced in the form of an attractive public open space with appropriate materials to complement the grandeur of the bus station.
“Pedestrian access will be improved by allowing safe access across the public square without the need for crossing points or the use of subways.
“New planting will be introduced to soften the outer boundary of the public square to Tithebarn Street and compliment the final phase of the Fishergate enhancement works.
“This is part of a wider scheme of improving pedestrian links between the railway station and both the university and the bus station, linking two of the main gateways into the city centre.
“It is considered that the bus station regeneration works complement these works and will have a positive knock-on effect on the local area and encourage further developer investment around the Tithebarn Street/Church Street area.
“The development would also enable the bus station to operate more efficiently as a modern transport hub by providing a more civilised user experience. The opening up of pedestrian access to the apron would also result in significant safety improvements and encourage more use of the bus station.”
The new square will be the second under construction this year in Preston with University Square, wholly funded by UCLan at the Adelphi roundabout, also set to be built.
Youth Zone 'completely erased'
In case anyone was in any doubt, the latest plans submitted to Preston Council for the bus station apron show an open space where the proposed £8.5m youth zone has been completely erased. A previous planning application, with the building a key feature, was granted in December 2016. But a change of administration at County Hall five months later brought a change of heart and the new Tory rulers have since decided a youth zone on the bus station site is no longer feasible in the current economic climate.
The decision has caused consternation inside Labour-controlled Preston Town Hall where councillors have protested and written to local MPs expressing their concern at provision for children and young people in the city.
Council leader Matthew Brown said in August: “The last thing the young people of Preston need is not having a youth zone that has been promised to them for so long.”
LCC leader Coun Geoff Driver explained at the time that the advice to abandon the youth zone project at the bus station had been taken on “clear, unequivocal advice” from officers.
The decision to halt the project will also have come as a huge disappointment to architect John Puttick, whose New York-based team won a competition to design the youth zone.
The winning design was later scrapped after the Twentieth Century Society and Heritage England objected, so a new design was created.
Yesterday a council spokesman said: “The county council is not currently looking to provide a Youth Zone in Preston, but we will continue to work with partners to provide services for young people in Preston.”
Celebrating 50 years
Opened in October 1969, Preston’s distinctive bus station was the largest in Europe until it was overtaken by a terminus in Helsinki in 2006.
It was designed to look and feel like an airport with a fully enclosed concourse with service facilities and clearly identified boarding gates.
But by 2013 it was looking tired and dated and the city council was looking to demolish it and its 1,100 multi-storey car park until a long-running campaign, backed by Historic England and the Twentieth Century Society, to have the building listed saved it from the bulldozers.
Lancashire County Council bought the structure in 2014 and since then the authority has been carrying out a £19m redevelopment project to turn it back into a modern transport hub.
The new-look bus station was unveiled in July last year, with LCC leader Coun Geoff Driver saying at the opening ceremony: “We’re lucky to be standing here in the bus station. Originally it was going to be knocked down.
“We now have this fantastic refurbishment and it is going to serve Preston and the people of Lancashire for generations to come.”
Although the concrete apron on the western side is not listed, a heritage statement submittted to the city council says: “There will be benefits to the heritage value of the bus station in that with the public realm works on land adjacent there will be a greater opportunity for the general public to experience a high quality travel experience which, at present, is tempered by sub-standard and outdated external facilities and poor pedestrian accessibility.”
The creation of a public square will be carried out in a way which will maintain key views of the bus station using 10 types of low level trees in a “green spine” along the site’s border with Tithebarn Street.