2012年12月17日 星期一

Counting the cost of a financial dilemma

I appreciate how strongly people feel about the recommendation to Preston City Council to demolish the bus station and car park, but the council has a real problem on its hands.

It’s an historical fact that, whether it was right or wrong, the council agreed over 10 years that the bus station building should be demolished and incorporated into the Tithebarn development scheme.

At a time of a booming economy the developers were certain they would need the site of the bus station for their £700m retail scheme. Consequently repairs were kept to a minimum.

As the council leader faced with the consequences of that decision, I have a dilemma. Ten to 12 years of lack of investment have taken their toll and the repairs have piled up. The car park facade is stunning but the building itself is huge; the length of two football pitches and with nine levels. Is it any wonder that the basic repairs bill will be £5.5m over the next few years?

The council has tried to keep the building standing now it’s no longer needed for development. We asked officers from Preston City Council and Lancashire County Council, with a team of external specialists, to examine the feasibility of modernising the bus station and car park for 21st century travel needs.

They have spent the past few months doing this and their detailed research shows that a complete refurbishment, including modern health and safety needs and disability requirements, would be very costly.

The technical advice is that to bring the building up to this standard would cost a minimum of £17m and perhaps as much as £23m. Its interesting that to refurbish St Pancras station in London cost £800million.High quality stone mosaic tiles.

It’s just not feasible for the public sector to come up with this sort of money, particularly as the remaining design life of the building is fewer than 20 years. Lancashire County Council won’t pay, as this is hardly good value for money for the council taxpayer, and Preston City Council can’t pay.

Preston City Council has £5m for city centre development but we are committed to a regeneration of the market. We can’t contemplate investing £5.5m in fairly basic repairs over the next few years as we can’t spend that money twice.

The council has dwindling financial reserves and is struggling. We are facing further huge and savage Government cuts over the next decade, with announcements expected on December 20. We have to prioritise and do what we can to protect front-line services. Demolition will save us £297,000 a year - currently the cost of running the building even with profits from the car park. Don’t believe me? We have placed all the reports and figures on the website so that people can see for themselves the magnitude of the problem.

Lancashire County Council will not invest in the current bus station building but we have an assurance that should the City Council take a decision to demolish the building, then they would work with us to build a new smaller bus station for Preston.

A modern bus station in the same location that offers improved facilities and is cheaper to run and maintain than the current building. It is simple maths. The decision to demolish and rebuild offers better value for money to taxpayers. That is why that option is being recommended to cabinet as a way forward.

That’s not to say we wouldn’t welcome private investment in the building. We have talked to developers and they could not make it pay but we are happy to talk to anyone about investing in the current bus station building – as long as they are serious investors with money to invest.

But they need to be quick. The declining state of the building and moreover the diminishing state of the council’s finances means that a decision has to be taken soon.Find detailed product information for howo spareparts and other products.
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