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Article date - 14 August 2017
St Helens Council has today (Monday 14 August) unveiled its ambitious vision for the transformation of the town centre, at its latest St Helens Ambassador event with local businesses and key stakeholders.
The proposals will see the council seek to take greater control of key assets in the town centre.
Currently less than one percent of the retail space within the town centre is owned by St Helens Council, meaning that the local authority has had little or no control over what development occurs. With direct intervention, the council intends to have greater control over the type of retail and leisure facilities that are developed in the town centre in the years ahead.
Speakers at the event at St Helens College included the council’s Chief Executive Mike Palin; Chairman of St Helens RFC and Chair of the St Helens Economy Board, Eamonn McManus; Anne Pryer, Principal of Knowsley Community College, Principal Designate of St Helens College and Deputy Chief Executive of SK College Group - while Pam Smith, Chief Executive of Burnley Council, gave a talk about Burnley's Bondholders scheme - Burnley's answer to St Helens Ambassadors.
If all the proposals suggested within the strategy were to be delivered, it would cost in the region of £300 million to achieve, realised through a combination of both public and private funding streams.
Council Leader, Barrie Grunewald said: “There can be no denying that this is a substantial amount of money, and comes at a time when the council, like many others across the country, are having to make changes to services in light of the significant cuts made budget by the Government.
“However, we feel that in order to best serve local people and the borough, we need to invest some of the money we do have and work together with private investors to fund the town centre’s transformation.”
The strategy cites changing shopping habits – with a cultural shift to online shopping – and a lack of quality retail and dining options in the town centre as the main reasons behind its decline.
The strategy outlines a number of key developments which, if delivered, would be pivotal in providing the opportunity to transform the town centre.
Chief among these would be an enhanced shopping area in keeping with the changing face of the British high street, with independent shops appearing alongside well known high street brands. More family-centred restaurants and cafés would feature together with a vibrant night time economy.
Part of the town centre vision is a plan to redevelop the area around the section of Sankey Canal into a modern waterfront area, complete with bars and restaurants on lower levels and desirable canal-side apartments above, taking inspiration from stylish cities around the UK and Europe. The Sankey Canal itself is the oldest industrial canal in the world having opened four years before the Bridgewater Canal in Manchester and the strategy wants to build on the towns industrial heritage as an underutilized asset.
There’s also an ambition to enrich the borough’s already strong and nationally recognised arts and culture offer, with the potential for a dedicated arts and culture centre included in the canal-side regeneration.
Inner-city and town centre living is becoming increasingly appealing to young professionals, with easy access to the leisure and culture they want. Underused and vacant sites around the town centre boundary including Birchley Street car park and St Helens Central railway station could be redeveloped with this in mind.
Already there are signs of housing developers looking to invest in this vision, with two vacant sites – the former Tyrers department store and empty office space on Claughton Street – purchased for redevelopment into modern, luxury apartments by Luxor Estates.
Improved connectivity is also a key part of the town centre regeneration, with the strategy noting St Helens’ advantageous position at the interchange of north-south and east-west motorway and railway links.
In 2018, new franchise arrangements will see St Helens Central gain direct connectivity to destinations such as Glasgow, Newcastle and Lancaster, as well as faster direct routes into Liverpool.
Stations across the borough will also have faster journey times to Manchester too, and it’s the council’s hope to create a direct route to Manchester from St Helens Central in the years ahead.
These key developments will gradually shape the town centre into four distinct quarters, namely the Shopping Quarter, centred on Church Square; the Education Quarter, based around St Helens College, where there is an ambition to enhance the ‘campus style’ atmosphere; the Civic and Heritage Quarter, with the town hall and Gamble Building on Victoria Square at its heart, where regular events could be held; and the Growth Quarter at the canal-side redevelopment.
Councillor Grunewald added: “It’s important to remember that these plans will not happen overnight, or even over a few months, and although some activities could be delivered over the next 1–2 years, most of these proposals will gradually roll out over the next ten years.
“The town centre we have now has evolved and grown over many decades, and building a sustainable, modern, vibrant and attractive one will take time and careful planning.”
Eamonn McManus, Chairman of St Helens RFC and now Chair of the St Helens Economy Board delivered an economic update, spoke of the growing St Helens Ambassador programme, and gave insight into the role of the Economy Board.
Eamonn said: “The prime objective of St Helens' new economic strategy is to confidently and clearly expound the assets and advantages which the town currently possesses, and to complement and grow these with the realisation of investment, business, employment and population growth in the decade ahead.
“A period of economic over performance is essential and is now at hand. This will be supported and underpinned by the transformational changes in the town centre that have been discussed today.
“The Economy Board is ideally qualified and positioned to support this ambitious strategy and to garner the energy and endorsement of local people, businesses and investors within and beyond the borough.”
For full details on the town centre strategy visit www.investinsthelens.com or inquire at Planning Reception, Town Hall, Victoria Square, WA10 1HP.
Residents can provide feedback from today, but formal engagement will begin on Monday 4 September and end on Friday 13 October. Comments can be sent to email@example.com, or written and posted to ‘Freepost: YOUR VIEWS’ until 13 October.
Photo caption... Left to right: Mike Palin; Pam Smith, Chief Executive of Burnley Council; Anne Pryer; Eamonn McManus