Councillors give green light to buy shopping centre
Councillors in Stafford have given the go-ahead for the council to buy the town’s Guildhall Shopping Centre.
A report at a meeting of the borough council’s cabinet yesterday said money the authority had successfully secured from central government would be used for the purchase.
Councillor Rob Kenney, the deputy leader, said the town centre had been the number one issue for people and was the council’s top priority.
He added that acquiring key property would help increase the pace of regeneration.
Only a few weeks ago the council agreed to buy the former Co-op department store on the High Street with plans for the derelict building to include a mix of retail, food court, residential and a market offer.
The Guildhall is home to around 20 retail and business units as well as office accommodation, an indoor market and disused car park.
Currently there are only a handful of shops trading inside the complex – such as The Fragrance Shop and Eurochange.
The borough council has said they would put forward a business case with potential options for the centre and the public will be asked for feedback next year before permission for planning is submitted.
Because of the huge scale of the project they will be looking for a partner to redevelop the site – while preserving businesses around the premises such as the Body Shop and jewellers, F Hinds.
A valuation report commissioned for the local authority rules out any chance of bringing the multi-storey car park back into use in the short term because of significant work required – saying it doesn’t provide “a viable option for the council".
The cabinet report said previous plans by the owners of the Guildhall to develop the site had stalled and could take many years to start or may never come to fruition.
And with the council keen to speed up the pace of major regeneration of the High Street, the best way to ensure a quality development could be brought forward, and give the public the opportunity to share their views, would be to buy the building.
Councillor Kenney added: “We want residents to be proud of their county town, we want visitors to come and shop, we want people to socialise and spend time using hospitality venues, and we want businesses to invest."
The front of the shopping centre sits at the foot of the newly refurbished Market Square in the heart of the town and adjacent to the derelict Co-op store.
Council leader Aidan Godfrey said: “This is absolutely fantastic news. I am extremely excited about the future of the High Street.
"There are so many projects – the Market Square, the Station Approach, the Co-op as well as the Station Gateway and now this. But they are not individual – they are being looked at together, as a whole project. This is ‘Project Stafford’ and it is great news for the county town.”
Other initiatives backed by the government’s Future High Street Fund include the recently completed Market Square refurbishment and work that will go ahead early next year to enhance the entrance and approach to Stafford Railway Station.
And there is significant investment being made in the county town with other projects under way or recently delivered such as the Staffordshire History Centre and the business hub at Shire Hall, which is reaching full capacity.
With plans taking shape around the Eastgate area of town and the Stafford Station Gateway – which will include a government-backed Institute of Technology for Stafford College as well as new businesses, homes, and leisure offer – and was recently in the news after it was announced it would receive around £20 million to help fund the project.