The Lancashire Evening Post, Monday, 31st January 2011
We'll buy historic square, says boss
Campaigner accuses Town Hall od "excuses"
By David Coates
THE leader of cash-strapped Preston Council has said it is buying up chunks of land on the city's historic Winckley Square.

Ken Hudson said the authority had agreed deals with some owners of the gardens which make up the Victorian square and would be willing to buy up any other part as it bids to get full ownership.

He said that would then pave the way for the council to re-look at plans to revive a £3m bid to revamp it.

But, conservation campaigners which fought plans to build a stage, fountains and new paths across the square have urged Town Hall bosses to drop any plans to revive the controversial proposals.

Councillor Hudson said:" If anyone in the square will sell us the land, we are still looking to buy it, despite the shortage of funding we have.

Preston Council Leader Ken Hudson
Deal: Ken Hudson
"We will try and get all the land in the square under the council's control and once we get that we will be in with a chance of being able to do something."

He added that the Trustees for Roman Catholic Purposes, which owns a significant chunk of the north west corner of the city centre square and objected to the plans, were still opposed to the wholesale revamp.

The leader said: "We had too many people who wanted to condemn the scheme and even though you could fit them in two hands, they were very vociferous."

The council mothballed the scheme in November after it was confirmed that the cash from the doomed North West Development Agency would not be coming forward.

Today, one of the scheme's main opponents, Aiden Turner-Bishop of the Preston and South Ribble Civic Trust, told the council leader to "stop making excuses" and scrap the plans completely.

He said: "It Was not just the Catholics who were against the plans, there were over 1,000 people who objected to it. "I think the council are just scratching around for someone to blame, when what they should be doing is looking at a restoration which is what most people want rather than what the council imposses."

Council chief executive Lorraine Norris told a meeting with traders on Wednesday she believed Winckley Square would "continue to evolve", but that the proposed Central Business District would take over from it as the city's office quarter.

She said: "All the work that went into Winckley Square has not gone away, it is still there."

Simon Turner, managing director of marketing firm Freshfield on the square, told the council bosses that its female employees were afraid to walk across the square after dark and accused the Town Hall of "a complete lack of communication" over its plans.

David Gill, a partner at accountants Moore and Smalley, said: "The square is a public amenity which is not suited to the 21st Century, but people would rather see the Victorian heritage of the square retained."

Earlier this month the city council revealed its plans to shave £5 million from its budget over the next two years following Government cutbacks. This includes job losses and the reduction of services.

Editors Note

Winckley Square would not be “improved” by conversion into the Disney style theme park of the Cooper Partnership proposals.

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© The Lancashire Evening Post, January 2011