Robert Binns joins Adrian Phillips, Matthew Brown, Ruth Connor and John Chesworth to be part of Preston’s Town Fund board.
Preston has been awarded £20.9m from the government’s Towns Fund for a series of city centre regeneration projects, including a previously-scrapped Youth Zone.
The funding, announced as part of the Chancellor’s budget, will support redevelopment in the area surrounding the Harris, Preston Markets, the Guild Hall and the Bus Station, known as the Harris Quarter.
Preston’s Town Deal Board was formed out of the Preston Partnership, a business-led network of people with a vested interest in Preston city centre, supported by the city council. The partnership steers a more positive story for the town in the face of “press and other business things being littered with negativity,” says Robert. The partnership is also a means of sharing information between the city and its business community. An outspoken and active member of the Preston Partnership, Robert was invited to join the Town Deal Board in January 2020.
At the first board meeting, nobody held back. As conversations about the future of Preston unfolded it became clear that everyone was there with a strong sense of purpose.
“The great thing about it is that everyone does really champion what they believe in and where they’re coming from” says Robert.
Despite being driven by a range of priorities, from education to infrastructure or enterprise, there were lots of common interests amongst the Board. Discussions about the centrality of health and wellbeing in Preston ignited new ways of thinking about the future of the city.
“People generally separate the two” said Robert. “They look at economics or they’ll look at health and wellbeing; they actually don’t realise that the two are married together”. This idea united the Board in their thinking about the future of Preston.
Robert acknowledges that in the past there has at times been a disconnect between schemes being proposed and what is viable from the council perspective. Yet, “operating in partnership with the local government, it allows you to get to where you want to get to, without anybody being put out,” because plans are developed in dialogue.
Drawing in expertise, networks and communities
Robert believes the selection of people to make up the Town Deal Board has been a key part of its dynamism. Everyone on the Board has a vested interest in the city and strong-willed enough to share points of view, but not so stubborn as to lose sight of the bigger picture for Preston.