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.

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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.