Preston’s new-look city centre is proving a magnet for Christmas shoppers.
But the £3.4m layout to revitalise the city’s main retail street is being choked as visitors struggle to leave after splashing the festive cash.
“The traffic makes you feel like you don’t want to trek into Preston,” said one frustrated driver who had travelled from Manchester and ended up stuck in a 50-minute jam.
Long queues have clogged up the city centre in recent days. Ironically the congestion has come despite temporary traffic measures aimed at easing the delays.
Now County Hall chiefs have issued a plea for drivers to find alternatives – including using park and ride facilities and public transport.
The Evening Post quizzed motorists stuck in tailbacks in the city on a midweek afternoon and found several visitors who were reluctant to return.
Ian Roberts, 64, from St Annes, spent more than an hour queueing on Butler Street. He said: “It is appalling. Why does it take this long to get out of a car park?
“I’ll be avoiding Preston from now on.”
And another from Blackpool, who asked not to be named, was stuck in the same jam and admitted: “We’ve had a great day Christmas shopping, but this has just ruined it. I can’t see us coming back, unless we catch the train.”
Lancashire County Council’s new measures aimed at speeding things up were only introduced this week.
Traffic leaving the Fishergate Centre and railway station car parks is barred from turning right at the top of Butler Street. So too are drivers wanting to turn from Fishergate into Corporation Street.
There are also changes at the junction of Chapel Street and Fishergate.
Coun John Fillis, LCC cabinate member for highways and transport explained: “Preston city centre, like many other cities, gets very busy in the run up to Christmas and we’re working to improve the experience for shoppers and boost businesses, by easing congestion as much as we can.
“This plan has worked in previous years. There’s also free parking on offer in a number of places around the city centre. City centre roads will always be busy at this time of year, but it will help everyone if people make use of all the available parking capacity and avoid driving through the centre if they don’t need to.
“Businesses reported an upturn in business last Christmas following the first phase of improvements on Fishergate and I’m sure that shoppers will have an even better experience following the further investment made this year.”
And Daniel Herbert, network manager for LCC, said: “We have made some temporary changes to try and manage the traffic and will continue to monitor the situation to see how the changes are working. “Unfortunately, because of the large volume of traffic, there is little more we can do without having a knock-on effect on other roads.
“Please consider alternative ways to get into the city centre, which will help to reduce delays to your journey and help to keep traffic moving.
“We’re also urging people to take advantage of free parking at various locations around the city centre, to help spread the load across the local road network. Other car parks are available very close to the city centre, reducing the need to drive through the busiest areas around Corporation Street and Butler Street.”
But Andrew Stringer, general manager of St George’s Shopping Centre said: “We have recently experienced unprecedented congestion around Fishergate and Lune St which has led to delays while exiting the shopping centre car park. We have been liaising with local authorities over the delays and we’d welcome further dialogue on how traffic arrives and departs the city.”
Keith Mitchell, manager of the Fishergate Shopping Centre, said: “We are working with all parties to continue to offer the best experience to visitors to the city centre.
“Like the councils, police and other city centre assets, we are fully aware there are busy times for road users, particularly around Christmas time, and we are doing our bit to help manage the traffic alongside other partners and stakeholders in Preston.
“It’s a sign that the city centre is doing well and we’ll continue to play our part in making Preston’s shopper and visitor appeal attractive.
“The new traffic measures Lancashire County Council have this week put into place will help to do this as well.”
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