Express & Star

Stafford council reveals plans to buy Guildhall Shopping Centre in next step to regenerate the town

Stafford Borough Council is proposing to buy the Guildhall Shopping Centre as part of its ongoing plans to rejuvenate the town.

Stafford Borough Council is proposing to buy the Guildhall Shopping Centre in the town

The local authority announced on Tuesday evening that it intends to purchase the centre, which houses around 20 retail and business units.

It comes just a number of weeks after the council revealed it was 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.

Now, senior councillors are to discuss a proposal to purchase the Guildhall Shopping Centre, which also includes the multi-storey car park and office accommodation.

The borough council said it would put forward a business case with potential options for the centre and would be inviting residents to feed back on any proposals next year.

There are only a handful of shops currently trading inside the complex, including The Fragrance Shop and Eurochange.

A report to the council's cabinet on December 7 says that due to the large scale of the property, it will be looking for a partner to help redevelop the site, while preserving businesses around the premises such as the Body Shop and jewellers, F Hinds.

But 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 does not provide "a viable option for the council".

Stafford Borough Council said councillors will hear that previous plans by owners of the Guildhall to develop the site "had stalled" and could take "many years to start or may never come to fruition".

The local authority said it is "keen to speed up the pace" of regeneration of the High Street and so the "best way" to ensure a "quality development" and give residents chance to have their say would be to buy the building.

The council previously secured more than £14 million from the Government’s Future High Street Fund which will support the acquisition of the site.

Stafford Borough Council leader Aidan Godfrey said: "Improving the town centre was the number one issue for residents - and it is the top priority for this council.

"We already made a statement of intent with our plans for the former Co-op department store - and now we want to go one better and buy the Guildhall Shopping Centre.

"By taking the lead on these significant developments we can increase the pace of our regeneration plans which in turn will act as the catalyst for the evolution of the town centre."

Deputy council leader Rob Kenney, who is leading on the town centre regeneration project, added that the purchase of the shopping centre was "exactly what the council should be doing".

He 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.

"We are a proactive local authority and in the last few weeks we have demonstrated that we have big ambitions to kick start regeneration - and this is exactly what the council should be doing.

"If we are successful in acquiring the Guildhall Centre then we will be giving our residents and businesses an opportunity to share their views on what they want to see."

Other initiatives which have been backed by the Government's Future High Street Fund included the refurbishment of Market Square, with work to get underway soon to enhance the entrance and approach to Stafford Railway Station.

Further projects benefitting from investment that are in progress or were recently delivered in the town, include the Staffordshire History Centre and the business hub at Shire Hall.

Plans are also taking shape around the Eastgate area of the 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 offers.