Orbit again

For part 1, see here

The main justification for creating the “Orbital” was as a response to concerns that the Royal Preston Hospital was too out of the way, particularly as getting there required changing at least once (at that recently Grade II Listed building I don’t talk about very much any more). The route of the “Orbital” (numbered 88A for the anti-clockwise service, 88C for clockwise) is predominately through built-up housing estates and the suburban outcrops, and for those on the fringes, it does provide convenience of a sort..
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In the last post, I stopped approximately halfway through the route, the RPH itself. Set in the low reaches of Fulwood’s sprawl, the Hospital is an accidental celebration of architectural lowlights from the 1980s onwards, it having been opened in 1983. Its entrance has developed, if that’s the right word, into a congested confluence of traffic, bus stops, ambulance bays and higgledy-piggledy car park. Safe? Possibly not. To be resolved shortly? Heck no.

Preston College is nearby (now rebranded as Preston’s College, if anybody fancies writing 1,000 words on that sort of thing). The service of choice for students leaving PC in either direction is the dedicated hospital number 19, which diverts somewhat from the “Orbital” route but lessens the case for having the anti-clockwise service bobbling around. I can’t possibly snap a queue of young people at a bus-stop, so I scurry on by (although, sidebar note: if you like to know this sort of thing, it seems lads are still perfectly fine with looking like this, so I clearly don’t know anything about society.)

I am told that, when very drunk at a bar in Manchester recently, I began banging on about Preston Bus’ number 23 service with ASDA on its display screen, and that makes me want to go out and punch a cow. Or never drink again. Anyway it exists and I use it for ice-breaking anecdotes so that’s me for you. The 23 and 88s follow each other through Sherwood, newbuild estate with rabbit-warren roads, all faux-red brick and pampas grass and what-have-you. The passengers for this part of the route are a quiet and polite bunch; three young folk wearing various degrees of fashion leave at an unremarkable part of the vast estate of businesses and offices that curl around the M6 motorway, including the HQ of the Lancashire Evening Post.  What that newspaper doesn’t know about chip pan fires, car boot sales and failed planning permissions is nobody’s business.

ASDA is the final big landmark on the route, a vast supermarket bounded by car parking on every corner. Everybody alights, so I do too, as it’s better to be considered strange than completely off-the-tree. Here is where the 23 also terminates, taking on board frazzled looking shoppers. A redundant ‘Real Time’ display stands impotent beside the three shelters for the 23 the two “Orbit”s, as they do alongside numerous bus-shelters across the city. Having persuaded bus companies to sign up to real-time displays, Lancs CC needed to find cost cutting somewhere, so off they went switching them all off, and off they have remained ever since. 20131011_170555

The next stage is the most convoluted, taking in what left over bits of the city exist between ASDA and the Ribble Valley. This begins with the straight path through well-to-do suburbia, built to fill in the gaps Fulwood needed to find during the housing boom. Homes on Squires Wood, one of the rabbit warrens passed on the way, will set you back between £142,000 and ‘offers over’ £155,000. From here it’s over the M6 and faraway, or at least cutting through the many adverts for the single Starbucks Drive-Thru {{sic}} that cannot, surely, attract that much passing trade. This could be just more misunderstanding of modern society on my part of course.

Over the M6 we go again into the Ribbleton citadel. Homes on Ribbleton Avenue are currently on sale for £180k (3 bed semi) and £239,500 (4 bed detached),  The “Orbital” has to take a detour away from the leafier bits as it takes in the post-war estate of Brookfield, where the streets are set out in elongated rectangles with the familiar industrial brown-brick of the time.

The word “Deepdale” is perhaps best known for being the home of Preston North End, where football was first placed in 1878. Insert wags suggesting the food/seating/team have not improved since then here. Deepdale is amongst the most economically challenged parts of the region, not just Preston, ranking highly in the deprivation statistics. Additionally it has one of the highest numbers of Muslim residents in the city, over 3,200 at the 2011 census. Deepdale Road is one of Preston’s most congested, particularly on match days, bringing to a standstill not just the road itself but the grid-pattern terraces to the west (named St George’s Road, St Cuthbert’s Road, St Matthew’s, St Martin’s, St Anne’s and so on) and to the east (names Linnet Street, Goldfinch Street, Falcon, Dove and so on and so on).

A smattering of coat and hat wearing people remain on the bus for the final stretch, some tapping away at their smartphones. This journey has taken me many hours, as I’ve nipped on and off, but for £3.30 it should take the average normal person who wants to stay on the same bus for no reason around 70 minutes. It may serve little tiny purposes for specific passengers, rather than being the Hospital runner it was planned to be, but it is clearly well used and popular. At the bus station, where the service runs around the enforced H&S fencing and one-way-system, passengers could even take advantage of the original intention for the building and walk straight over to a regional or national service without breaking sweat. But it seems everyone has a city centre place to go to, and plod away in the damp to get there. As do I, and this is where the journey ends.

The 88A and 88C, alongside numerous other services, travel across the former Preston to Longridge railway, about which you can read more here via BlogPreston.

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On the Orbital (1)

Launched in the early 2000s as a response (partially) to concerns that the Royal Preston Hospital was too difficult to visit for people in the outer suburbs, the Preston Bus’ “Orbital” is formed by buses travelling either clockwise or anti-clockwise through the city and into the outposts.and fringes. It is popular, although specific passenger numbers are not easy to confirm.

Whilst succeeding in linking some parts of Preston with some other parts; I don’t think the “Orbital” has quite mastered  convincing people of the benefits of a journey which could last over 40 or 50 minutes (the entire loop can take ninety) and cost £3.30 if buying an all-day ticket, as Hospital visitors may find necessary to do. Logic dictates that people living on the anti-clockwise route can get to the Hospital far quicker, and far less expensively, by taking the dedicated Hospital service. Nonetheless, the “Orbital” has patched over gaps in the original services to the northern communities, particularly the new-build estates encroaching into the rurals and greenbelt, turning into a regular commuter service for some.

Taking my lead from such blogs as Diamond Geezer and London Buses:One At A Time, I chose to spend an early Friday afternoon taking the “Orbital” on its clockwise route. Unlike those blogs however, I broke up the journey in three places – I trust that one of these being for the purchase of a Morrison’s salad bar selection is considered both valid and not an “accidental Partridge.”

I don’t think anything else has to be said about THAT BUILDING other than to confirm that, yes, it has been awarded Grade II Listed Status, and that beauty is 20131011_144528in the eye of the geek (or, to quote the Leader of Preston Council, the nerdy sociopath).

Preston Bus Station is the start and end of the “Orbit”, for both clockwise and anti-clockwise services. They run very regularly, and one follows the other, to allow for the limited number of actual buses to maintain the service even when rush hour and Preston’s notoriously cramped roads conspire against them. One complete loop probably could cost less than £3.30, but my decision to break up the journeys into chunks meant there was little choice but to pay the full amount for what is a “hop on, hop off” ticket.
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From the building of which I will no longer speak (….for now) the clockwise 88C makes its way into the city centre towards the Docks.

This first jaunt should give an adequate indication of the myriad problems of travelling through Preston – stop/start, juddery, slow, plagued by congestion, traffic lights and inadequate road layout. Praise be to the heavens, mind, for something is in place to be done! Whether this will work is a point most moot, however, and critics and cynics alike consider the proposals to be inherently flawed. Shared space can work, it has been proven to do so. Not perhaps as Lancs CC envisage, particularly as they foresee each and every existing bus stop congregated outside the railway station, which I see as being just asking for trouble. But what, as so many people are wont to ask, do I know.

Two Mormons(es?) on this bus, incidentally, chose not to use their audience for rapid-fire conversion techniques. One actually fell asleep, his head slowly, slowly dropping down as the rest of us (teenage girl texting her driving instructor, two Cissie and Ada types gossiping, two others keeping themselves to themselves) bobbed about. The Mormons left only five or so minutes later (the fast asleep one waking up as a puppy might, head flicking from window to window in momentary confusion) and by the entrance to the Docks, every seat was taken.

Preston Docks was not future-proofed when it was regenerated for what was, in the 1980s at least, the brave new future of shopping and living. The only road into the Docks sucks everything onto it, cars often  backed up for a mile or longer. There are no passing points along the entire site and no public crossings, for that matter, which forces anyone from child to pensioner to play chicken at day and night. Solutions for either problem? Nothing.

One Morrisions salad later (too few slices of beetroot, too much potato) I wander to Ashton Park, where many of the trees stand taller, prouder and fatter than they were when I was a lad, throwing conkers into the road and whatever else passed for high jinks in my day. The “Orbital” from here takes in the first of the major residential parts, that of Ashton and then Larches, the latter showing all the signs of typical post-war sprawl. This 88c is standing-room only, school children and families at the back, elderly couples up front, and love’s young dream somewhere in the middle.

We pass under the Blackpool railway, one-time site of Lea Road train station. Beeching would say, I assume, that this specific example of bustitution proves his theory right, although, of course, he was not blame for that particular station closing.

Cottam’s well to do and getting by home-owners left for their chocolate box houses with earphones and page-turners close to hand. The change at Cottam has been rapid and remarkable – from grass to garages, from fields to crunchy-gravel driveways, and all within the most boom of all boom times in the British economy. From here the service runs through the comfort of Cadley, all bungalows and two-ups and the church of St Anthony of Padua. This is Fulwood, which strangers can get to by travelling up the A6 and turning left when they feel house prices shooting up. By now I was travelling almost alone, with three gossips and a headphone-guy for company. We passed Fulwood Academy, newly renamed and entirely rebuilt, looking like an office for call-centres and companies that offer ‘solutions’, all curved walls, spot lighting and silver-grey tinted windows.

From here the journey reaches, by and large, its half way point. And so, I suppose, should this post.

different kettle of fish

Tucked away on the Lancashire Evening Post website is an update on the campaign by market traders against plans to turf them out onto the street.

Whilst the body text is the usual mix of market traders outrage and Council platitudes, the interesting content fills the comment section underneath. Now I know more than most that comment sections can be filled with all manner of outrage, cynicism and distrust. However in this article, someone using the pseudonym ‘turtle dove’  has dropped all manner of hints and heavy allegations which a number of other users, me included, suggest form the latest attempt by Preston Council to ‘fix’ any consultation in their favour.

Backstory is pretty simple. Having lost the Tithebarn regeneration scheme by virtue of the economic collapse and nobody supporting it, Preston Council has been desperately trying to chase a flashed ankle regardless of the state of the person connected to it. There is still talk of a Metrolink style tram system which would connect (un)willing passengers between Deepdale and an industrial estate, a multi-million pound shuttle service which is already covered by numerous buses.

I need not go into the attempts to demolish Preston’s bus station, other than to note that the rumoured cost of improving the place has shot up with every panicked press release from Town Hall, with the additional lie (for it is a lie) that the 1,100 car parking places are under threat from concrete cancer.

The Fish market controversy is ‘classic’ Preston Council. Having faked a consultation exercise, stage two is thinly veiled blackmail. The covered market is popular, always busy and has a community spirit amongst those people for whom the stalls are their living. Preston Council’s latest wheeze is to evacuate the Markets for no good reason outside vague plans to ‘regenerate’ an area left to rot (by Preston Council) whilst Tithebarn distracted them. To persuade traders to leave the covered market for the uncovered streets, the Council has failed to outline exactly why, without any prior warning, the market building is no longer ‘fit for purpose’.

This is where ‘turtle dove’ comes in, spreading all manner of accusations for which there seems to be no independent source for his claims.

These are, in no apparent order:

They don’t say an additional 6 million pounds capital investment needs to spent on the market just to keep it open. That is the heavy burden council tax payers will have to shoulder if it is kept open. If you support keeping the market hall open then you need to be aware of the full financial implications.

And

They don’t say that the market could close tomorrow because of problems with the ventilation or wiring or the escalator. don’t say it nearly closed last year because of vermin – problems which the traders haven’t addressed.

And also

The traders are business people and are playing poker with council in an attempt to get a better deal when they transfer

And additionally

The market traders are telling the whole story. They don’t say that the Council subsidises them to the tune of £76,000 per year. Their service charge has been frozen since 1996. 

This ‘drip drip’ approach of ‘truth’ reminds me of the constant, unfounded and ultimately useless propaganda used by the Council against the Bus Station. Costs to improve the station – the largest of its kind in Britain – went up from £2m to £5m in response to constantly favourable polls in the LEP and elsewhere. The more people joined campaigns to save the station, the higher the costs, until the ruling Labour Group chose the week after local elections this year to essentially confirm its demolition next year, when there are no local elections, in face of massive opposition.

Now it’s the turn of the covered market, which is suddenly beyond all help and repair, just as the Council realises that there’s no support for their policy. Market traders in other northern towns are not given this roughshod treatment, leaving Preston isolated as the only major population centre in the region for whom at least two landmarks are considered only good enough for scrap and selling.

If Preston Council really did listen to its citizens – the ‘your city, your say’ shambles has been kicked into long grass – they’d soon learn to leave both Market and Bus Station alone. But if ‘turtle dove’ is right, and there’s all sorts of secrets we don’t know about gathering dust on Town Hall shelves, how do we even try to fight back?

 

 

 

Tithebarn

Many decades ago, some bright spark with a ‘grand vision’ for Preston decided its Ring Road should split the town into unequal segments, consequences from which are still being suffered today. Following Beeching’s Axe to all-but-one Prestonian railway station, the construction of the iconic Brutalist gem that once was Britain’s biggest Bus Station was seen as a futurist vision of how the town should look to the next generation.

The Ring Road has been a disaster. And we’re about to do it all over again.

The Tithebarn fairytale was pencil-sketched in an earlier age, one where credit was cheap and money flowed. That was the time of plenty; now is the age of austerity. There is not justification for squeezing the Tithebarn circle into today’s square hole. Hard working Prestonians should not be expected to pay the cost of yesterday’s plans being railroaded for the short-termist headlines of today.

It is the demolition of the historic bus station which is at the centre of the whole shameful decision. Not only is it such an architectural masterpiece, it also has 1,100 car parking places available for use, more than any other site in the town. Zealots cannot justify the lust for John Lewis as well as the demolition of 1,100 car parking places. “More shops, less opportunity to park!” is not much of a slogan. With the new bus station being built only 10 metres from the current site (behind a nightclub, ironically on the site of a current small car park), it’s not as though train-travel into the new Manchester-upon-Ribble is being encouraged either.

Demolishing the Station in favour of a John Lewis is a depressing indictment of our times. Low and fixed-income residents of Avenham and Deepdale will get the message; from your bedroom window observe progress you cannot afford glow in glorious glass-and-chrome. Such cheque-chasing short-termist nonsense is almost abuse of power. Where do Prestonians go if the Mini-Manchester being forced upon them is not their vision of the Market Town they call home? What of history, heritage? What of taking each part of Preston in turn, to deal with priorities at the point of need?

Why the rush to demolish England’s youngest city? How much will this cost Prestonians when the expected rush of High Street names fail to materialise?

How will the rip-it-up-to-start-again policy solve the current issue whereby dozens of shopping units stand empty today? It’s a fact that investors are using Tithebarn as a direct reason AGAINST investing in Preston. Why would they change thier minds now?

The blueprint for Tithebarn was a vision nobody could guarantee, and today the onus is on the zealots to prove it will go ahead exactly as planned. If those desperate for modernisation for the sake of it want Preston to be demolished so quickly, and demand Manchester-on-Ribble so readily, I suggest one of two actions. Either move to Manchester, where they will see the “island of glass in a sea of debt”, or demand a binding Referendum on the WHOLE CITY, to see if their profit hungry vision is shared by people living in Larches, Ingol, Tanterton, Ribbleton, Plungington or Callon.

Tithebarn is a capitalist wet-dream. Some of us are far more level-headed and reasonable, hoping the zealots wake up.

Prestonians have never, ever, not once, been asked if they want their history and heritage demolished for a mini-Manchester they cannot afford. So let’s have a referendum.

Let us make the case for saving our Bus Station, saving our Town, securing our identity.

I urge the zealots to make the case for a Referendum. Let the whole of Preston decide.

City licking

Awarding city status to Preston has had the long term effects similar to giving the OBE to a dinnerlady; welcome recognition with no tangible improvement.

Preston is a great place, and I defend it whenever up against the usual insults (nobody gets within pen throwing distance of criticising the Bus Station when I’m in ear-shot, and don’t get me started on the Football Museum…).

However, most Prestonians with an ounce of realism to them knows the market town outside their walls has not made anything like the significant strides towards fitting the presumed look or feel of a “city”. And furthermore, these people welcome that fact. I certainly do. Preston is not Manchester, nor should our councillors and unelected “vision board consultants” pretend otherwise.

A new report suggests that Preston is “boring” before the neon strip kicks in at nine, and that the town…place…has not much to attract families.

There is quite a lot I agree with.

Preston has always had a great and vibrant nightlife. My memories of boozy college nights and similarly liquid weekends after work all go back to pubs and clubs around Preston. The Black Horse is one of the best pubs I’ve ever been to, and not just for the Double Hop. Pub Quiz anoraks must know why it is one of the only buildings of its kind, too…?

One suggested improvement is a “late and live” style initiative to attract people into the city. I shudder at the management speak used, but agree with the sentiment. Preston used to have far more live music venues for people with only a couple of bank-notes in the backpocket; they have almost all closed or had a change of management. The Guild Hall should not be the only place in the city to see live theatre. The Frog and Bucket has been a surprise hit – I admit to suggesting it would close down without much notice within weeks – although its future is somewhat compromised by the mythical Tithebarn rejuvenation project.

Preston has a lot going for it; from the Continental pub’s theatre and music, to 53º with is superstar roll call of live acts, the easily accessible green bits including (just, boundary fans!) Beacon Fell, the Millennium Canal Link, and apparently a Championship level football club….

There is an elephant in the room, of course. Improvements to one part of the town cannot be made without looking at the wider picture. Tithebarn – the multi-million pound fairy story cooked up by “development agencies” – would be a disaster for those on low and middle incomes living in the immediate surrounding areas for whom John Lewis and high-end restaurant eating comes pretty low on the list of priorities. Demolishing 1,100 car parking places in addition to the 80-gate bus station would do nothing to encourage families to visit. All these “improvements” remain high on the list of Preston Council’s vision for the future; all of them are completely blinkered, short-termist nonsense.

Preston needs far more than shiny buildings if it truly wants to fit into the new city clothes. A transport system fit for the last century would be a start. Acknowledging that thousands of people would prefer money spent outside the city centre wouldn’t go amiss either.

Preston is a great place to live and work and drink, but years of political short-termism has dragged progress to a complete standstill. Like Mavis Dinnerlady OBE with her daily routine, Preston seems satisfied and comfortable without any major cosmetic changes. I would much prefer to bring a new sense of renewal to Preston in stages, bit by bit, sector by sector. Mavis would not serve Masterchef dishes the day after meeting the Queen; Preston should not start swinging the demolition ball the day after this “boring” report.

Supermarket Creep

Within the boundaries of Preston, the phrase “Tithebarn Project” is something of a shibboleth. Not sure how many thousands will fall at the banks of the Ribble, although if any further delay is suffered by the scheme I dare suggest there will be a queue lining up to voluntarily plunge off the Old Tram Bridge.

At the centre of the on-going regeneration plans, now juddering into their seventh or eighth year of troubled growing pains, is the destruction of Preston Bus Station and its replacement by department store John Lewis. The argument against the former, and for that matter very much against the latter, has been repeated so often I think my fingers would break themselves rather than repeat the points made so many times; I will only say that such a move would be one of the least progressive steps in local government since the dawn of time. Or even before that.

Something resembling a curveball hit the Town Hall collection of 3D models and computer diagrams of “Prestanchester” yesterday with the £230 plan to finally do something about the dire transport system here. Okay, it’s an aspiration (like most things in Preston, there is many a “vision” for the future), and how sad to think it’s matching pretty much what everyone has considered good for the place for generations. In 1972 journalists filled the LEP with “visions” of the subsequent 1992 Guild being opened by monorails and skywalks. We’re barely one step closer to that in the second decade of the 21st century. It’s almost enough to be quite depressing.

Preston should not be forced into changing into a mini-Manchester over night. The new flashy apartments thrown up since city status show all the signs of hasty profit chasing. Their balconies resemble old chip-pan baskets.

Our Town Hall luminaries – elected and otherwise – ignore long-term needs for short-term headlines. Commuters in northern Preston are forced to leave for work at half-6 to attempt avoiding the logjams on the main routes, all of which could have been resolved had small railway stations or tram lines been installed twenty or thirty years ago. We’re playing catch-up because Preston has been strangled by politics and politicians for too long.

Instead of progress, we’re having to chase profit. John Lewis will be the great consumerist icon for the City Councillors who prefer to hear the ringing of tills over the pinging of bus bells. And who would have it any other way? A wise old Councillor reminded me with a heavy sigh, “Railway stations don’t pay council tax”

I hope – beyond all reason – that the tram system proposal is successful. I am also crossing my fingers in hope – beyond all sense – that the 20th Century Society is able to preserve Preston Bus Station for the benefit of all Prestonians.

I realise – with Lancastrian realism – that all this hope will come to nothing. Our Councillors want regeneration to mean more shops, cafes, expensive apartments and “visions”. For the city with its Ring Road built right through the middle of the main shopping street, it all seems pretty appropriate.

bog books, pitbulls, bus stations

With Max Clifford such a big name in PR, why is the general consensus that he is a complete twunt?

Sorry, that is quite beside the point. Just getting it off my chest.

So, now, then, being a bloke, eh? For most tabloids in the 90s, it seemed easy to divide men of a certain age into two groups; the Loaded generation with all the chest-beating (and away fans clobbering) that went with it; or the Homebase loyalty card crew, happy to explain why azaelias and roses need different sized climbing frames. Then before Johnny Vaughn could even consider another career saving comeback, the century changed, and such slapdash divisions appear to have vanished completely.

Well, okay, flicking through Men’s Health gives the impression that the editorial team have found a convienient wormhole to 1996 to fill any leftover double page spreads. “How do you rate in bed?” articles in 2010, I ask? I thought Men’s Health was the magazine to which you upgraded after becoming aware of the beer gut you perfected while reading Nuts.

Anyway, ‘bog books’, then. While bar-flying a few weeks back, the general consensus was that no man ever outgrows the need for – as it was so expertly phrased – “an arm’s reach library”. If you have a significant other, it is obviously best advised not to keep a top shelf classic inbetween the hand-towels. That rule aside, pretty much anything goes, although I must stress that struggling to come to terms with a Polly Toynbee classics whilst otherwise struggling is only for real experts in the ‘behind closed doors’ field.

But yes, as though my magic, a segway from gentlemanly secrets to rightwing pin-up Sarah Palin. Not my particular kind of lady – well, slackjawed rent-a-quotes aren’t my thing, truth be told – but seemingly very fondly thought of amongst American teabaggers.

Go on, click the link. Dare’s you.

Palin has been setting up her Presidency bid since failing so badly in 2008. It’s a non stop rollercoaster for the hockey-mom/pitbull hybrid. I was merely quite bemused by the sight of the walking sloganiser standing behind a podium marked the word “GAYLORD”. Given she was talking to a bunch of teabaggers – go on, click it – I wasn’t surprised to see the BBC move the on-screen caption as far up the image as they could. They wouldn’t have to use any on-screen captions if the same company sponsered the Labour Conference this year…in at least two cases. Maybe three.

The fact that Palin seems to be the only credible voice of the American right fills me with despair. Exactly how she has done this seems to be the result of following the advice that ‘she who rants loudest and dumbest gets the Fox slots at Prime Time’. One only assumes that eventually her brain will run out of words, leaving the next Tea Party convention stuck with Scott Brown running over blacked-up actors with his truck.

No, wait…That sounds like something they’d actually consider doing…

The 20th Century Society are to appeal against Ben “boy” Bradshaw’s decision not to list Preston Bus Station. Not that I want to go on a pro-bus station rant at this present time, I fully support the appeal. The decision to scrap Preston’s iconic bus station in favour of a John Lewis just stinks to high heaven of short-term profit chasing and long-term ignorance. The new station would be smaller than the on in Sunderland. SUNDERLAND! SMALLER THAN! Is there any other reason to give for the retention of the one we’ve got than that?