Preston set for major change with big plans for the bus station and Guild Hall
PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 January 2015 | UPDATED: 17:35 21 October 2015
The ever-changing city is living up to its nickname with big plans to transform its look. Emma Mayoh reports
Ten years ago Preston was on the cusp of big change. The city council was on the verge of signing an agreement for the £700 million Tithebarn redevelopment, a project that was designed to radically change the look of England’s then newest city. But in 2011, after several years of waiting, the scheme unravelled when the project’s major retailer pulled out. Undeterred and less than four years later, the city is pulling itself up by its bootstraps - determined to live up to its Proud Preston motto.
Millions of pounds are being invested in the city with plans to regenerate many parts. One is the £23 million proposal for the controversial listed Preston Bus Station building. The plans include a new 36 bay and four bay coach park as well as a multi-million pound Youth Zone Plus for ages eight to 19. If given the go-ahead it will have sporting and artistic facilities including a climbing wall, fitness suite and outdoor pitches as well as a base for young people’s services. The car park above the station will also be repaired and access between the building and the Guild Hall will be improved.
Jennifer Mein, leader of Lancashire County Council which owns the building, said: ‘Until its heritage listing, replacing the bus station seemed the most practical option. But the listing meant we had to go back to the drawing board and work out how to make a building which is really quite run-down into a comfortable, modern, bus station that will be an asset to Preston for decades to come.
‘For a long time there has been a need to improve and invest in the area surrounding the bus station as well as the provision for bus services. I really think our plans to invest will be the catalyst for wider improvements in that part of the city.’
Preston’s Guild Hall is also receiving a dramatic £5 million makeover. Preston City Council, its former owners, lost more than £1 million a year trying to keep it open. The decision was taken to close it this spring. But Simon Rigby, who owns several businesses including The Villa Group, decided to take action.
The 52-year-old, born in Preston but now living in Wrea Green, bought the building for just £1. And he now has big plans to turn its fortunes around. He said: ‘The Guild Hall was looking in a bit sad. There were empty units and you couldn’t even get a cup of tea here. It was very unwelcoming, The first thing we did was open our coffee shop, Leaf or Bean. We’re just about to open a tapas bar, too.
‘The building oozes potential. It is a rough diamond that needs some polishing. But with love, care and attention it will truly sparkle as Lancashire’s premier entertainment venue.
Many of the units in the entrance to the Guild Hall have been empty for several years but these are now being occupied with restaurants, coffee shops and bars. The front view of the building will change, too, to make it more appealing. Simon, whose company is already responsible for catering and hospitality at Preston North End, also intends to have a nursery in one of the units as well as rooms that can be for community use, including dance studios. He also wants to market the Guild Hall as a good conference and large gala dinner venue.
But attracting big name acts and shows is also on the agenda. Agatha Christie’s hugely popular Mouse Trap will be shown at the venue this year along with the Broadway smash Avenue Q. Comedian Alan Carr has been booked to appear and Preston’s Frog and Bucket comedy club has set up home here, too. Operations manager Richard Simkin has been approached about the possibility of World Snooker returning to the Guild Hall and the very popular amateur drama staged in the venue’s Charter Theatre will be encouraged to thrive even more. There are plans to stage events outside of the Guild Hall too. But a big focus will be placed on attracting a younger audience.
Simon said: ‘Preston lost a good entertainment venue in 53 Degrees. The Guild Hall was aimed at the over forties and fifties. There is nothing wrong with that but we also need to work hard to get other people in here. Our focus will be on the younger acts on their way up and the ageing rockers on their way down.
‘For us it’s not about making one huge thing that brings in lots of money. It’s about gradually adapting things to make them work better. My range of businesses are highly successful and we aim to make the Guild Hall the jewel in our crown. As a Preston lad I don’t want to get this wrong.’
There is one group of like-minded individuals who are working together to make Preston’s past a part of its future. The Winckley Square Community Interest Company was formed in 2011 to help drive the revival of this historic part of the city. The group was the brainchild of a group of local businessmen including David Gill and Simon Turner. Now, many of the businesses that have offices in the square have representatives as part of the group.
Preston City Council was recently granted £945,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to regenerate the area outside the park’s railings as well as Cannon Street. The scheme includes work to the streetscape as well as restoration work to some of the Victorian townhouses.
Winckley Square Community Interest Company want to build on that work with plans for the green space in Winckley Square. In the next few months the group will find out whether their plans to revive the space inside the railings of Winckley Square will also get funding from the HLF.
Winckley Square is heralded as one of the finest examples of a Georgian square in the north of England.
There are more than 40 Grade II listed buildings with fantastic period architecture. The green space would once have been the gardens for the wealthy properties that lined the square. If granted, the money, the plans will include improving pathways, informal seating and open space for events.
Visitors will also be shown how the gardens would once have looked as well as telling the stories of notable residents who included wealthy banker Richard Newsham, Thomas Miller of Horrockses Miller and Co cotton empire and suffragette Edith Rigby.
The community interest company has worked with Preston Civic Society, the Lancashire Gardens Trust and Preston Historical Society to discover the history of this pretty area’s past.
Ben Williams, project manager from Groundworks Lancashire West and Wigan who as based in Winckley Square as well as being the lead architects on the project, said: ‘Winckley Square is a real gem and this is a real opportunity to make it a very special space for many people to enjoy.
‘A lot of people are putting a great deal of effort into making this happen and we think it would be fantastic for the city. We want to celebrate the history as well as bring it into the 21st century.’
Simon Turner, a founding director of the Winckley Square Community Interest Company, said: ‘So many people are working together on this and it shows that when people do come together with a shared passion then great things can happen.
‘We want to breathe new life into this very important and historical area. These are exciting times.’
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