City living is on the move

By Ged Henderson

27 Jul 2023

Horrocks Mill

When Preston first launched its City Living Strategy at the Harris Museum in 2017 much of the talk centred on the question of how it would attract developers and investors.

Manchester led the way when it came to delivering residential development in its centre, its skyline dominated by cranes. Investment in Liverpool was gathering pace. Could Preston join its larger neighbours in the city living club?

Fast forward to 2023 and it appears the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. The strategy has come to life, cranes have appeared on its city skyline and the momentum continues to gather pace Industry watchers see Preston as a North West development hotspot.

Last year PwC named it the region’s number one city to live and work in.

A fully updated and expanded City Living Prospectus was published in October 2020, promoting 27 sites in the city centre and inner urban areas of Preston.

The city now also has the 15-year Stoneygate regeneration plan, launched in 2019. At the heart of this framework for this historic quarter of the city centre is a new 1,600 home urban village, along with bringing empty and derelict buildings back into use.

The vision is moving forward at pace with a significant residential development scheme now brought to market.

Stoneygate Central has planning approval for 469 units over two phases ranging between six and 16-storeys.

The two-acre site occupies a prominent position within the masterplan area. The design includes large roof terraces as well as around 8,000sq ft of commercial space.

The development opportunity has been brought to market by real estate firm CBRE. Giovanni Pilla, a member of its residential capital markets team, said: “Now is a great time to invest in residential development within Preston city centre. The residential market in Preston is constantly evolving with strong investor appetite for the city.’’

City centre development plans continue to be unveiled. Onward Homes last month shared its vision for land at the historic Horrocks Mill site, between Queen Street and Church Street.

The leading North West housing association says its plans will transform a derelict brownfield site into a “thriving new community” providing much-needed affordable homes.

Onward’s proposals include up to 380 new homes and apartments in different sizes and styles, including family housing such as mews style houses and low-rise apartments.

New green open spaces will be created as well as new and improved walking routes into Preston from Queen Street and Church Street, providing better connections to the city centre.

Sandy Livingstone, executive director for property at Onward, says: “The redevelopment of the Horrocks Mill site is a clear opportunity to transform a key part of the centre of Preston, one of our great northern cities, and support the ambitious plans of the city council.

“Our plans for Horrocks Mill support our wider ambitions to deliver a transformative redevelopment of the area.”

Onward has a longstanding commitment to Preston having confirmed last year its decision to demolish the tower blocks at the nearby Queen Street and Avenham neighbourhood and replace them with modern homes that “better reflect local housing needs”. It all adds up to major investment plans.

John Chesworth, who chairs the Preston Partnership, agrees things are starting to happen in Stoneygate a lot quicker than many people thought.

He says: “When the masterplan came out it was received really favourably, people said ‘that’s great but is it really going to happen?’

“In and around the area we’ve now got The Exchange building not far off completion and Onward’s recent announcement of 380 homes at Horrocks Mill. What is important in terms of the delivery of that is the mix of housing. It is a really positive announcement.”

John believes it is a development that can unlock other opportunities as landowners in the area between the mill and St John’s Minster in the city centre start looking at what they can do.”

A successful city living strategy, getting people back into the heart of Preston, is an important part of its investment plan and John believes it is beginning to show signs of delivery.

Chris Blackburn, Preston City Council’s assistant director (head of city growth and regeneration), says the delivery of major schemes such as

Bishopgate have given the strategy impetus and showed the market it can make residential development work in the city centre.

He adds that the council is seeing planning applications for parts of Stoneygate as interest in the area mounts.

And he also points to the investment in regeneration projects such as the £45m Animate cinema and leisure scheme and the role they are playing in attracting the eyes of would-be investors, with the message that Preston is a place where things are happening.

Paul Walton, director and founder of Preston based consultancy PWA Planning, believes “momentum is building” in the city when it comes to residential investment, now schemes are being delivered.

He says: “There have been consents but they have not got off the ground. Now you can see things are starting to take off.”

Enjoyed this? Read more from Ged Henderson

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