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.