Countdown is on to £40m Preston city centre regeneration
Owner Benson Elliot has unveiled its timetable for the £40 million regeneration of the Fishergate Shopping Centre and is looking forward to providing a massive financial boost for Preston’s economy and its cash-strapped council.
The revitalisation programme, which will be one of the largest private sector investments in the city centre for over two decades and will bring the popular shopping centre into the 21st century, is set to be discussed by planners within weeks.
And if the planning committee gives it the go ahead, as early as its March committee meeting, work to deliver an economy-boosting customer and visitor experience comparable to other ambitious cities in the UK will begin straight away.
The new multi-purpose Fishergate Centre will see bigger and better shops, a restaurant and food cluster and a new cinema. Benson Elliot will invest £25 million in delivering the new centre with a further £15 million invested by occupiers such as Primark, TK Maxx and Vue.
It is predicted to create an additional 250 long-term jobs and employ more than 150 construction workers during the building programme –opening and attracting visitors early in 2017.
The plans also include major improvements to this important gateway into the city centre, integrating more with the Railway Station and complementing the work already carried out to Fishergate.
The Fishergate Shopping Centre (FSC), which Benson Elliot has revealed already pays £2.7 million in rates – will pay an estimated extra £600,000 annually in increased payments as a result of a fully-occupied, regenerated centre.
The redundant TJ Hughes store in the centre will be replaced with six modern shop units, a new mall linking to a feature entrance from the car park and a family-oriented leisure offer of five restaurants.
A fully integrated cinema completes the vision – with national chain Vue already committed and signed up to the plan having agreed to close its existing multiplex at the Capitol Centre in Walton-le-Dale.
Figures released by Benson Elliot highlight the full economic benefits that the development – funded entirely by private sector investment – will deliver for Preston.
The 250 extra staff will join the 750 local workers already employed at the centre. Almost 7.5 million people visit the centre annually spending close to £60 million a year – expected to increase by as much as 30 per cent, according to the FSC figures.
Crucially, the addition of food and leisure to the existing retail offer will bring in visitors after 5pm – a key aim of Preston City Council as it strives to enliven Preston after work and at night.
Centre bosses say that without the regeneration the picture will look rather different – with less chance of both retaining and attracting big name brands to Preston and a missed opportunity to deliver a modern visitor experience.
Peter Cornforth, director of retail at Benson Elliot, said the 21st century had seen a rise in the public’s expectations of retail and leisure and it was vital that Preston moved to meet that.
He said his team had presented a solid, deliverable and highly-attractive plan to Preston City Council to boost its primary shopping area and deliver real jobs and economic benefits.
He said: “Our plans enable a positive response to the challenges facing retailers and offer the major brands at Fishergate and beyond the opportunity to plan for the future. This is vital for Preston’s future as a shopping destination.”
He added: “Customers everywhere now expect great quality stores and brands, decent places to meet and enjoy something to eat or just relax and chat over a coffee, or spend the afternoon with the kids catching a movie. That is what this project will deliver. It will bring people with spending power into the city.
“The economic benefits are really important – many councils around the country are entering a time of huge financial challenge and Preston City Council is no different.
“Putting more revenue into its coffers through increased rates will help ease that burden and allow money to be spent where it is needed in keeping services for the community open and running for everyone.
“The jobs this will create will also have a spin-off far beyond the centre, putting money into local workers’ pockets to be spent in Preston’s economy. It will also increase visitor numbers, all of whom have spending power.
“We also believe the development will send out a loud and strong message to other potential private investors that Preston is open for business and that it welcomes investment from all quarters.”
He added: “The plan is in place, the cinema operator is in place, the money is here and the feedback we’ve received from the public, city businesses and traders, city politicians and Preston’s MP has been 100 per cent in favour.
“It is great that everyone shares our vision and wants the city to prosper. This is a real opportunity for Preston to shine.”
Keith Mitchell, manager of the Fishergate Shopping Centre, added: “It’s important we provide our shoppers with places to eat, drink and relax to meet friends and family as part of their shopping trip, to enhance their overall social experience and present them with an engaging alternative to the convenience of internet shopping.
“We want to encourage people to spend and enjoy more time in the centre and the city. Reinforcing the city’s vitality and viability is crucial and this is what we plan to do.”
Benson Elliot, which was founded in 2005, has invested heavily in retail centres in towns and cities across the UK. It commitment to the Preston regeneration plan is one of its biggest projects to date and a sign of its belief in the city’s future.