Town Hall boss Barrie Grunewald has launched a town centre commission in a bid to revive St Helens’ ailing high street.
Former town centre manager Ged Gibbons has been appointed to head-up the taskforce with the aim of restoring the town centre as the borough’s vibrant, commercial heartbeat.
But, despite backing the new commission with a £1m improvement fund, Coun Grunewald admitted there would be no easy answers to the current town centre conundrum.
Just last week clothes retailers Burton and Dorothy Perkins pulled out of St Helens town centre in favour of Ravenhead Retail Park.
The likes of Woolworths and WHSmith have also disappeared from the high street in recent years.
Coun Grunewald, who pledged to create free parking for all on Saturdays in a bid to boost footfall, said: “We need to recognise that people’s shopping habits have changed and that the internet has added increasing complexity for the retail sector.
“We will have to have difficult conversations about how and what our town centre looks like.”
But he told the council’s annual meeting: “I am committed that we will do everything in our power to ensure that there is ongoing investment in the retail economy in the town centre.”
Coun Grunewald also pointed to the importance of key projects such as the proposed redevelopment of the Parkside site and announced an additional £50,000 had been allocated to help the St Helens foodbank.
He said: “I want to pay tribute to all of those people and organisations who are doing vital work in providing the last line of defence against hunger.
“I’d also like to applaud all members of the local churches and the voluntary sector who work tirelessly in St Helens. We owe them a great debt for the work they undertake.”
Looking to the future, Coun Grunewald also unveiled a series of new measures including the creation of a school commissioner to help drive up standards at underperforming schools.
He added: “We must all strive to make St Helens the place it should be, where we can leave it a stronger, fairer, more equal borough for the next generation. Let’s build ‘One St Helens’ – where jobs, investment and fairness are at the heart of everything we do.”