Preston: Getting to the right level

While other parts of Lancashire were quick to respond to the government’s offer of levelling up cash the deadline passed without a Preston bid.

A total of £4.8bn was made available across the UK, to be spent by March 2024. The focus was on projects that require less than £20m of funding, with up to £50m available for larger transport projects.

Burnley put its bid together in June, the council working with local MP Antony Higginbotham to build on other schemes linked to its town centre and canal masterplan.

Down the M55, the conversion of the old post office on Abingdon Street into a boutique hotel and an upgrade of the town centre road network are among schemes Blackpool put forward.

The deadline for this first round of funding passed in June. A second round is expected, so will Preston, which is a priority one area when it comes to the fund, put in a bid?

Matthew Brown, leader of the Labour controlled city council, says that it will. However, what that bid will contain has still to be decided.

Coun Brown says the submission will take shape over the next few months, with an announcement likely before Christmas.

He says the local authority will look at schemes that will tackle the structural inequalities exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

We are looking at something we can do around improving health in the community and around housing

He says: “We are looking at something we can do around improving health in the community and around housing. That is what it needs to be. It also needs to be a robust, well thought out plan.

While Preston is still to make its move on the levelling up fund, its own ambitious plans to regenerate the city centre have continued to move forward at a pace.

Its city living strategy also continues to develop along with Prestons night-time economy as it looks to emerge strongly from the pandemic.

In August councillors approved a £40m funding package which will bring a new cinema and leisure complex to the Harris Quarter.

The Animate development will be located on the site of the former indoor market and will feature an eight-screen cinema and bowling alley along with five new restaurants and bars, a street-food hub, a car park and a new public square.

It will be financed by the Development and Funding Agreement (DFA) which will see around £3.5m invested from Preston’s £20.9m Towns Deal, a further £3.25m from the Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire City Deal, and the remainder from the city council.

The land and buildings will be owned by the council and leased to the site operators.

The council hopes the scheme will bring growth and development to the city centre as well as generating more £7m of extra economic activity each year while creating 125 full time equivalent jobs.

Coun Brown says: Developments like this show that we remain ambitious in our plans to develop the city centre and bring investment and jobs to the people of Preston supporting our local economy as we recover from the pandemic.

He also stresses it is an important piece in Prestons Community Wealth Building agenda and explains: We are developing this in municipal ownership.

The asset will be publicly owned, meaning the benefits will be enjoyed by everyone in Preston.

That approach means that local companies and people will be encouraged to get involved in the construction and development. Coun Brown adds the project will also have very strong social value benefits.

There are still matters to be decided. Work is ongoing to secure anchor operators and the council also must make decisions about the length of the leases it will offer businesses.

Subject to planning permission being granted, it is anticipated construction work on the project could begin in 2022 with the complex opening in spring 2024.

Ruth Connor, chief marketing officer at UCLan and member of the Preston Towns Fund Board, explains the importance of the scheme. She says: Animate will contribute towards a thriving daytime and night-time economy, supporting Preston's city living strategy.

It will also improve quality of life and help us with our plan to create a city where people can live, work and enjoy their leisure time all within a travel distance of 15 to 20 minutes. 

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