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Friday01 August 2014

Is the impending demolition of Preston bus station justified?

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Yes, says Peter Rankin, because refurbishment would be a false economy; while Clare Price argues it is a national icon that could be imaginatively remodelled

Preston Bus Station

Preston Bus Station

“YES”

Peter Rankin
Leader of Preston City Council

In many ways, we should be having this debate in an accounting publication because that is what we are talking about. Money, and lots of it.

Without doubt, Preston Bus Station is a “marmite” building. People either love it or hate it. I am not a fan. It is too big — the size of two football pitches and nine storeys high. The car park ramps are difficult to use and the under-passes are unfriendly.

My wife, on the other hand, loves the design of the building — but she is afraid to use it. But in many ways, all this is irrelevant. It is brass tacks and cold, hard economics that are driving this recommendation.

The public sector is being squeezed. In the last two years, the council’s government funding has been cut by 40%. Even deeper cuts are heading our way.

As council leader I have to protect vital frontline public services. We have a building that is costing taxpayers nearly £300,000 a year to run and has a repair bill of at least £5.4 million. Refurbishment would cost between £17 million and £23.1 million. Demolition and rebuild would cost between £10.8 million and £15.3 million.

£23 million is a huge amount of money. We could borrow it but debt repayments would add £2.2 million to the council’s annual revenue budget. The equivalent of a 24% rise in council tax.

I do not think any council leader would ask council tax payers to fork out an extra 24% for the sake of a building, albeit one that does have its admirers.

So if the public sector can’t afford it, then could the private sector? Our discussions with developers suggest not. But if there are investors out there with money available, then we would love to hear from them.

“NO”

Clare Price
Conservation adviser at the Twentieth Century Society

The demolition of Preston Bus Station is definitely not justified. The BDP-designed building has gone from local icon to national, and indeed international, recognition — it is highlighted in the World Monuments Fund Watch List — and the city would be diminished by its loss.

The Twentieth Century Society is convinced the station could be imaginatively refurbished. Its strong presence could accommodate relatively radical changes without diminishing its architectural impact.

Both English Heritage and the society have made a compelling case for it to be listed as a building of national architectural and historic interest. It also has strong local support: in a 2010 poll by the Lancashire Evening Post, it was voted Preston’s favourite building, and it formed a spectacular setting for this year’s Preston Passion.

It is a rare survivor of the transport mega-structures of the 1960s and is one of the most significant brutalist buildings in the UK.

The economic arguments for demolition have been based on inadequate evidence.

The council itself says: “It is acknowledged that, without a full structural survey, it is impossible to assess the condition and predicted lifetime of the existing structure.” (Paragraph 14.2 of the Preston City Council report to cabinet for December 17 meeting.)

Lack of investment by the council has led to the public areas appearing superficially scruffy, but this has by no means compromised its viability.

It is this aspect that has been highlighted in the council’s Your City, Your Say survey, in which many people’s views were in favour of its retention. The council’s assumption that this robust and well-detailed building would last no more than a further 20 years is ludicrous.

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Readers' comments (10)

  • Costs as quoted above:-

    Opt 1: Maintenance – £5.4m

    Opt 2: Refurbishment - £17m to £23.1m

    Opt 3: Demolition and rebuild (aka redevelopment) - £10.8m to £15.3m

    -

    Q1: Has the demolition contractor therefore waived its £15m fee in the hope of sharing the builder’s 15% (£2m) profit; or the development profit; and as a favour in return for spurring the redevelopment sector irrespectively and carelessly for its own sake rather than for the sake of betterment in the built environment; and furthermore all for the desire of 1) an exponentially cheapened replacement (surface landscaping would probably be £10m; and 2) a criminal record for losing some of the home nations’ most significant cultural heritage?

    I’d guess: yes it might want to for the job of a lifetime! Perhaps the demolition contractor ought to declare its costs/profit figure to help represent a non-collusive industry that can be trusted, i.e. when it is for the greater good of the built environment. A design review panel must also be consulted on a replacement building at the very least, yet this hasn't been done, and why not (?) After all, the council’s argument for a replacement, well..., has to be argued!]

    Q2: Is there furthermore an EIA for this redevelopment plan, presumably a mandatory hurdle for demolition, or does environmental impact not really matter here too?

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  • RIBA, for instance, has long urged its members to avoid cutting fees! Perhaps in the light of the Preston Bus Station deal, we need to now see a construction industry body equally advising their entrepreneurs not to seduce for business. People like me will ask: where’s the waived money coming from; or from what trees have grown it? And can it be spread around a bit more evenly without ruining the built environment for starters! I’d be very surprised if there’s a clandestine type of s103 planning obligation expecting the demolition fee to be waived, in which case it would be the council seducing the developer, not the other way round!

    A better charitable endeavour (equally veritable seduction) would be for the developer to help pay for the refurbishment or repairs in return for encouraging proper or genuine development and/or redevelopment opportunities elsewhere in the city, i.e. as a more forgiving collusion. Perhaps like a kind of Section 106 Agreement in reverse, if it can’t genuinely occur the other way round, the way it should.

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  • @ Q2: Is there furthermore an EIA for this redevelopment plan, presumably a mandatory hurdle for demolition, or does environmental impact not really matter here too?

    Should have ended "...here either?"

    My English improving a little as my drawing board takes a back seat, for the moment I hope!

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  • or rather, "...for the short term", not "...for the moment".

    Excuse my tired state: BD site posting smoothness driving me up the wall with constant "sorry, errors...", turning 2min posts into 20min posts and so on! Hope this goes through OK then I won't have to follow up!

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  • went through ok :) , "...for the time-being" would have been better writing, eh! as my cursor gets thrown off to the side as I try to type, ha ha

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  • rephrasing also : "A better charitable endeavour (equally veritable seduction) would be for the developer to help pay for the refurbishment or repairs in return for encouraging proper or genuine development opportunities elsewhere in the city, i.e. as a more forgiving collusion. Perhaps like a kind of Section 106 Agreement in reverse, if it can’t genuinely occur the other way round, the way it should."

    by omitting "...and/or redevelopment..." after development, too many words! Goodnight all!

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  • I've written my thoughts on the YES front, but now my thoughts on the NO front:

    The various heritage values of the building are so high that a young city, such as Preston, should want to plan things around this rather than the other way round, whether quickly or patiently.

    However, whatever’s the council to think when it’s being misguided on the urban design front by a respectable masterplanner. So far the council has done so well to ditch the wider redevelopment plans. It must now surely ditch this venture and follow the thinking of a genuine [regional capital] city. The city should be actually revelling in having such an urbane feature. The bus station will be good for the county in the future should the government ever put roads on the map (on an even keel with rail), which may well happen yet, given the very steep upward graph of car ownership in the UK! The Preston bus station come car park would be a rather veritable UK Bus-Port given its centrality: a little like Perth is to Scotland, perhaps Preston can be to the rest of the UK, provided roads do ever take off...

    If they do, in the future, if greed in rail can ever subside, what will the region’s grandchildren have to say when they’re compelled into rebuild such a necessary Goliath once again, having built one esteemed one once before?

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  • To conclude: the impetus of leverage is a good sign on the Yes front, but it must be re-applied to enable retention rather than the redevelopment of the station.

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  • Instead of wasting time worrying about whether or not a building from the 1960s should be demolished or embellished, how about concentrating on eradicating or slowing down the rising trend for approving ugly buildings or buildings totally out of scale which deface our cities and neighbourhoods? Now that would be a worthy quest. I'm not saying 'modern architecture'. I'm saying buildings that are patently ugly or out of scale with their surroundings and which destroy the fabric of the unfortunate neighbourhoods and cities where they are planted.

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  • As a Preston boy, born and bred, and my father presiding over the previous application to redevelop the city centre (director of planning) which involved the buildings demolition, I can safely say I am AGAINST its demolition.

    I agree it will be both costly and difficult to adapt and repair such a building, but the alternative loss is much worse to the historic context of Prestons architecture. There are relics covering the great tapestry of buildings - a church with one of th highest spires in the country made for surplus stone railway sleepers, one of the last back to back terrace streets which had no outside toilets, a James Stirling housing prototype and the new Brockholes wetland centre. But there are also the atrocities you find in other towns which are scarring our cityscapes forever.

    Although costly, this building MUST be retained.

    But incidentally, it is quite impractical as a bus station- being at the opposite end of town from the train station.

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