“Firm progress” must be made on the regeneration of St Helens town centre in the next 12 months, the incoming leader of the council has said.
Since unveiling its ambitious regeneration plans in 2017, the only significant progress has been the £26.6 million acquisition of Church Square Shopping Centre.
In his first interview since it was announced he will take over from Derek Long as leader of St Helens Council, Coun David Baines said it is important to make people have “pride” in the borough again.
Coun Baines, who is due to be formally appointed as leader of the council later this month, said the regeneration of the borough’s towns and district centres is one of his “priorities” as leader.
“It’s something we have to see firm progress on, quick progress in the next 12 months,” Coun Baines said.
“It’s a priority for residents, it comes up on the doorstep again and again.
“Everyone I know tells me how important it is to get St Helens town centre changed.
“What everyone understands, I think, is that a lot of things that have happened to the town centre are out of our control.”
Coun Baines pointed to the loss of Woolworths in Church Street a decade ago that has particularly impacted St Helens’ high street.
He also pointed to the recent loss of Marks & Spencer, which relocated to the Ravenhead Retail Park in March.
“Those two businesses leaving in particular caused a problem, but that was out of our control,” Coun Baines said.
“What the council has done in recent years is purchased Church Square Shopping Centre.
“It is my intention to do all I can to move forward quickly with the regeneration of the town centre, to provide information for residents so they can see what’s going on and to do all I can to make sure St Helens town centre, Earlestown town centre and all the district centres see the change that people want.”
The decline in the UK high street is not a unique problem to St Helens.
Last year, an average of 16 stores closed per day compared to nine opening daily, according to PwC research compiled by the Local Data Company (LDC).
And it was announced that Debenhams, the biggest department store chain in the UK, will push ahead with plans to close 50 stores after creditors accepted a turnaround plan.
“Other places are going through the same thing, these are national trends,” Coun Baines said.
“I know that’s no comfort to any of us here in St Helens, but other places have got the same problems and are facing the same challenges.
“Now, have some places been perhaps quicker than us in responding to those challenges? Yes, I would say so.
“But does that mean we’re a lost cause? Absolutely not.
“If we do the right things and make the right choices then we can make sure our town centres, St Helens and Earlestown, are a source of pride again.”