Central Area Forum report: Flag Market redevelopment

preston's flag market is set for redevelppment

preston's flag market is set for redevelopment

On Thursday 29th January 2009 the Central Area Forum of Preston City Council met to allow the public a chance to see all the designs for Preston’s historic Flag Market in detail.

Scale models of the six designs had been produced, along with boards showing the designs and explaining the rationale behind them. There was also a scale model of the current Flag Market layout.

The Central Area Forum covers the St George’s, University, Town Centre, Moor Park, Riversway and Tulketh wards.

The presentation on the Flag Market redevelopment was made by Mike Brogan, Assistant Director (City Projects). He was the man who made the recommendations to the City Centre Committee and produced the report about the Flag Market redevelopment.

Brogan outlined the reason for the proposed redevelopment. The Flag Market is supposed to be the historic centre of Preston but due to the development of the city in the 1960s it has lost its place as the ‘centre’ due to the movement of people away from the Flag Market and towards Friargate/Fishergate instead.

He showed the assembled public and councillors through the six designs, their positives and negatives and gave a lot of background about how a redeveloped Flag Market would sit alongside the Tithebarne redevelopment.

The key development will be the levelling of the slope on the current Flag Market. This slope causes problems for running events on the space and brings extra costs to the Council and those wishing to host events as they have to find ways to level off things like ice rinks/ferris wheels/fountains etc.

Brogan is also keen to see the removal of the trees and street clutter leading from Friargate up to the Flag Market as this restricts the view of the Harris Museum. This is an excellent idea as the Harris is an impressive building and easily Preston’s best looking building and at the moment it’s hidden when you walk up from Friargate.

the moving fountain on preston's flag market was a popular choice of event with the public

the moving fountain on preston's flag market was a popular choice of event with the public

There was also some outline of the sort of events that would take place with the public consultation revealing that the movable fountain in the summer of 2006 was the most memorable and successful use of the space in the public’s mind. This was an excellent use of the space, it was fun, free and excellent for everyone all ages – plus much needed in the sweltering heat!

The obelisk that currently stands at the Cheapside/Harris end of the Flag Market would be moved back to its intended position at the head of Friargate as you approach the Flag Market. Brogan showed how the obelisk had moved three/four times already (and had even been in someone’s garden for 100 years before being recovered by the Council!) and that historic records showed its original place was where the winning design planned to move it to.

There were some questions from the public. One lady asked about why there weren’t more steps included in the plans, and why we should need to worry about steps – as in her day people just walked up and down them without any bother. Brogan explained that due to DDA compliance the space had to be accessible to those with disabilities and also in today’s litigous climate the chances of someone slipping/tripping and suing the council was high.

Another member of the public asked whether the wall in front of the Harris Museum could be removed and a better entrance created into the Harris. Brogan explained that due to the Harris being a listed building there was a very limited amount of work that could be done, but that the winning Flag Market design allowed for incorporation of creating a new entrance into the Harris building.

The next steps in the plans – as the Council wants to get them completed before 2012 – is to negotiate further with the developers and suggest tweaks to the winning design, particularly the electronic banners that a lot of people seem unkeen on, including councillors. There is potential funding available for the redevelopment from the North West Regional Development Agency (NWDA) and the Council needs to move quickly to secure the funding.

Find out more about the Central Area Forum

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Flag market redevelopment winner decided – but how decision is reached is kept secret

flag market set for a makeover

flag market set for a makeover?

UPDATE: The Freedom of Information request related to this post was successful and the full report that was given to the City Centre Committee has been released.

Read with interest today that Preston City Council has announced the winner of the Flag Market redevelopment design competition.

The winner was design one, which includes 17-foot high electronic banners and some trees.

In the story, Councillor Anthony Gornall says: “After very careful consideration and public consultation we have chosen a design which will complement the historic nature of the Flag Market but will also improve the area as a whole.”

Careful consideration? Right. So I skipped along to the Preston City Council website to try and find out a bit more about the flag market redevelopment. I found Anthony Gornall and saw he sat on the City Centre Committee. I’m guessing they would make decisions about this sort of thing. I looked up their most recent meeting (Thursday 22nd January 2009) and on the agenda was:

5.0 Improvements to the Flag Market and Environs (Paragraph 3)

Brilliant. I could read how the council had reached their decision (which is attracting all kinds of fury from Prestonian’s over on the LEP’s story comments box). No. Wait. I got this message:

Exclusion of Press and Public

To consider passing the following resolution:

That the public be excluded from this meeting during consideration of the following item of business on the grounds that there is likely to be a disclosure of exempt information which is described in paragraph of Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972 which is specified against the heading to each item, and that in all the circumstances of the case the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing it.”

So in the debate over how a public space – the flag market – is to be redeveloped, the council has decided that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweights the public interest in disclosing it. I don’t think so. Publicly elected officials discussing a report from a civil servant (which probably includes a recommendation) about a public space. If that doesn’t meet public interest, I don’t know what does.

I’ve submitted a Freedom of Information request to try and open up these discussions by the committee about how they reached their decisions – especially considering they ran a consultation in conjunction with the local newspaper to put the six designs that made it through to the final into a public vote on the newspaper’s website and in the paper itself (and in that vote, the winning design came second with 21% of the vote, compared with design #4 which won with 41% – the LEP article did not specify the number of votes).

The request went something like this:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing to request the repealing of the restriction on agenda
item 5.0 ‘Improvements to the Flag Market and Environs (Paragraph
3)’ from the meeting of Preston City Council’s City Centre
Committee on Thursday 22nd January 2009
(http://preston.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDoc…),
so that the public can see how the decision was reached by the City
Council’s City Centre Committee to award the winning design for the
flag market redevelopment.

I do not understand why the redevelopment of a public space, and
the discussion of councillors, elected representatives of the
people, should be hidden from the public. Particularly after the
council carried out such a public consultation with an online vote
conducted in partnership with the local newspaper.

If there are business/financial matters that need to remain
confidential then these should be omitted, but the discussions of
councillors and recommendations made to them by civil servants
should be viewable by the public.

Yours faithfully,

Edward Walker

You can follow it’s progress. They have until February 23rd 2009 to respond.

Join the discussion on the Flag Market Redevelopment

You can attend a meeting of the Central Area Forum (if you live in the St George’s, University, Town Centre, Moor Park, Riversway and Tulketh wards) where the plans will be presented. Confirm you’re coming on Upcoming.