So today I have been up in the North West. I exited the train at Preston, a town I have known for many years. My next stop was Clitheroe so I made my way to the bus station. As with anything in life, humans are quick to judge and consumers in a town are no different. On my ‘Preston journey’ I walked along the high street and through three shopping centres. My observations of Preston were both positive and negative.
If one starts with the negative then my immediate observation was Preston has too many shops and too many shopping centres. On my 10 minute walk I passed through three shopping centres, all of which had high vacancy rates and seemed at a loss as to what their purpose was. I then reached the bus station which was like stepping back in time. There are something like 60 plus gates which concertina up one side and down the other like a livestock market. Within the bus station, people mill about and there was one consumer pastime/experience on offer which was a Nora Batty style cafe where the main promotion was pie and chips. Transport hubs are the future. They have people who have time and thus an opportunity for spend. If I was to take the most extreme examples in transport hubs, then best practice would be St Pancras and worst would be Preston. Whilst I love Lancashire, I feel that the bus station does a massive disservice to Preston. First impressions count and my walk from the train station to the bus station was quite an experience.
Retail is about people and one thing Preston has is people: primarily on the high street, and a few in the shopping centres. The one thing that struck me most was the numbers of young and old people; I saw very few middle-age people. Hopefully they were all at work and have not deserted Preston. As such, I left feeling that Preston has much potential and deserves more. I know there were plans for the Tithe Barn development and John Lewis were the planned anchor. All this is history and so something must be done as the people of Preston deserve more. Preston has for centuries been a key commercial centre for the north west; for many it is their regional centre, as Manchester and Liverpool are an hour plus away.
My answer would be to shrink the city centre and bring everything together, and at the most run with one shopping centre. I would also make the transport links tie up better, as transportation is key for the success of a town centre be it for retailers, workers or visitors.
Preston deserves better!