Preston Bus Station fails the celebrity glamour test
The demolition sentence on BDP’s building shows how the listings system has lost its way
Had Preston-born Andrew Flintoff bowled his first ball in the vast expanse of its threatened bus station the building might not be on demolition list. It could have become a vast indoor cricket school — an outpost of Lord’s in a city with some of the most deprived areas in England.
Buildings now stand a better chance of being saved if they’re linked to something or someone, rather than just being important in their own right. This is why previous heritage ministers have listed the seaside shelter where TS Eliot is said to have written The Waste Land, the Pimlico flat where Noël Coward produced much of his work, and the zebra crossing outside Abbey Road Studios, the musical home of the Beatles.
None of these are noteworthy buildings, but that’s not the point.
In the words of Margaret Hodge, the heritage minster who famously suggested preserving 20th century buildings as holograms, “the tingle of a fond memory can be just as potent as the sheer beauty of fine design”.
Recently the current heritage minster Ed Vaizey listed the Pennine Tower on the northbound carriageway of the M6. Again, the reason was not the building per se but because it “imbued glamour” to the golden age of motoring when car ownership became accessible to the masses. And, just for extra tingle factor, the listing description points out that the service station was known to be popular with the Beatles who regularly drove down from Liverpool to enjoy its futuristic, cosmopolitan atmosphere.
In all these cases ministers’ motives are about slotting buildings into a narrative — about British pop music, motoring, or something else where we excelled — but hardly ever does this include British post-war architecture.
Sadly, Preston Bus Station is not the first victim of a listing regime that has seriously lost its way, and it certainly won’t be the last.