A major announcement on the regeneration of St Helens town centre is expected in the next three months, a senior council officer has said.
Roy Benyon, St Helens Council’s head of place and delivery, updated councillors on the progress of the regeneration on Wednesday.
Speaking to the environment, regeneration, housing, culture and leisure overview and scrutiny panel, Mr Benyon acknowledged that the council has failed to deliver on promises to regenerate the town centre in the past, but said the opportunity to do so now is there “more so than ever before”.
Mr Benyon said the council has a 10-year plan and revealed that much of the focus over the last 12 months has been on securing a delivery partner to help deliver the regeneration.
While he remained tight-lipped on details, Mr Benyon said the partner will be involved in delivering the physical regeneration of St Helens and Earlestown town centres, adding that it has an investment arm.
Mr Benyon said the council is looking to go public with who the delivery partner is by the end of March.
He said: “In terms of timelines, hopefully we’ll get that in the next couple of months.
“Certainly, by March we’re hoping that the announcement of that delivery partner will be announced.”
Mr Benyon assured councillors that much work is going on behind the scenes, particularly in relation to the strategic management of Church Square Shopping Centre.
The council purchased the shopping centre in 2017 for £26.6m to give it greater control of town centre.
He said that while owning and managing the shopping centre brings many challenges, it puts the council in an advantageous position.
“Certainly, many other town centres will be getting bogged down with compulsory purchase orders, we’ve not got that,” Mr Benyon said.
“We’ve literally got ownership of a good amount of the town centre now and it’s in our gift to pursue that.”
Mr Benyon said plans are still in place to move St Mary’s Indoor Market, currently based in St Mary’s shopping arcade, to a new venue.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service previously reported the council’s plans to move the market to the former M&S store but talks over the purchase appear to have stalled.
Mr Benyon said the move is currently going through a “legal process”.
He also said it is important the council handles to phasing of the regeneration work “appropriately”.
Mr Benyon said: “As you can appreciate, if we start knocking one part of the town centre down, we’ve got to make sure that we re-locate businesses to the right location.
“And all that phasing development has got to be worked out properly and carefully and again, that is all the delivery mechanism, the framework we’ve got to set going forward.
“If we do that hastily we could end up doing it wrong, but we’ve got to make sure is we’re doing it right, it’s got to be phased right.
“I think that’s going to be a key part of the delivery going forward.”
Mr Benyon said the council will soon receive £1m from the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority’s Town Centre Fund, which will be shared between St Helens and Earlestown town centres.
He also said the council will be able to utilise money from the government’s Towns Fund to help secure further investment from the private sector.
Conservative councillor Linda Mussell stressed the importance of showing the public that tangible work is going on, saying that negative perceptions could put off potential investors.
Coun Mussell said: “I think it’s really important that we do let residents know that we are working on something concrete.
“Because if you read the press and social media, which I am obsessed with, it’s clear that residents are not of the opinion that something is being done.
“They make it quite clear what their view of the town centre is, particularly around Church Square and round the Gamble Building.
“And if we don’t tell them what we’re doing then they’ll just keep on with this negative view, and that negative view will restrict or put people off investing in the town centre. It’s a vicious circle.”