In starting this blog, I got to thinking about what CSD, and sustainable development, meant not just to me, and to its members, but to the wider community. To the local area, to the region and beyond. The research which we undertake at CSD is valuable in that it has real-world application and impact. So, I thought, it is important to start with considering the world around us and how it is changing.
To this end, I started to think about the city of Preston, where CSD is based, and about its history and the local built environment. There has been a lot in the news this week about proposals to demolish and rebuild Preston bus station. A really good resource for a bit of further reading on this is www.blogpreston.co.uk On Sundays, Paul Melling (see here) posts iconic photographs of Preston to this blog, and indeed, has been kind enough to let me use his photo of the Harris Building (see About page).
The council have voted to demolish Preston bus station, citing maintenance costs and the building no longer being fit for purpose (too expensive to run, in essence). I have not yet had a chance to visit this bus station, but I will make sure to go soon. It is, I think, important to note that this controversy has reached the national and international press. Preston bus station is a truly significant example of brutalist architecture, demonstrating key themes of the style and is still in use half a century after its opening. Though this is (arguably) a building of national importance, it is not listed.
Another great example of brutalist architecture (with a very different fate) is Park Hill flats in Sheffield. Built just a few years apart from Preston bus station, Park Hill flats did eventually gain listed status, protecting this vast structure and helping to secure redevelopment interest. Park Hill was also attractive to developers, during the urban renaissance, due to its prior residential use. As opposed to the architectural and logistical difficulties one may encounter re-purposing a transport hub, proposing to re-use residential properties as slightly altered residential properties is much more straightforwards. Urban Splash, alongside the Homes and Communities Agency, are currently completing redevelopment of Park Hill flats, though the present economic climate raises questions as to whether this regeneration will be a success (see here).
It seems to me that protecting buildings of value through listed building status, alongside the adaptability of the structure to contemporary use, is essential to attract thoughtful redevelopment (not simply pulling down and starting again). We need to protect certain buildings or structures as monuments to our history and built heritage. Edwardian architecture was at a time considered ugly and hence much was pulled down – yet, is currently once more in favour. It simply isn’t appropriate to destroy built forms as a matter of personal taste. The key issue, it seems, from the council’s perspective, is that this building is financially nonviable to maintain in perpetuity. The point has been widely debated, with many claiming the numbers quoted seem unrealistic. It is a difficult argument to balance – for me, a cost benefit analysis which takes into consideration the inherent value of this architectural example would be undermined by Preston Bus station not holding listed building status.
The council are arguing that Preston bus station is unsustainable in its current form, and that out of financial necessity we must pull it down and start again. This makes me very uncomfortable. A great post which I tend to agree with can be found in the RIBA journal here. This post highlights RIBA’s support for an open competition to find a viable reuse for Preston bus station. Little (if any) consideration has been given to this option. As I mentioned above, I believe that it is protection of buildings and their adaptability to re-use which supports appropriate redevelopment. Though the bus station isn’t listed, if there were a competition to adapt this fantastic building for contemporary reuse I think a better outcome for Preston might result. I don’t think that this debate is going away any time soon, and I will be very interested to see how matters develop over the next few months.