Council buys main shopping centre as part of regeneration strategy

The former BHS store in Church Square Shopping Centre, St Helens

St Helens Council has gone shopping in the town, spending £26.6m on its main shopping centre.

It had previously tried to buy the centre in 2013, but was outbid by an investment management company acting on behalf of the Mars Pension Fund.

Four years later it has been successful as it joins an increasing trend of local authorities taking ownership of large-scale developments.

St Helens Council leader Barrie Grunewald said: “We are committed to investing in our borough, in a prudent way, to both increase our income streams and to help bring forward our town centre regeneration plans.

“This investment has taken some time to come to fruition and has not been easy but I believe it is the right thing to do for the borough as a whole.”

The 330,000 sq ft centre is home to more than 60 retailers across its St Mary’s and Lagrange Arcades.

However the town has suffered in recent years, with the loss of major retailers including Woolworths, BHS, and WH Smith, as well as homegrown department store Tyrers. It has faced pressure from the pull of Liverpool and Manchester’s retail and leisure offers.

The council wanted to take control so that it was better placed to influence what happened in the retail core of the town.

Grunewald added: “Our vision for the town centre talked about us having only one per cent of the retail space in the town and that because of this, we were limited in terms of what we could do. By taking control of Church Square Shopping Centre we can now properly plan for new town centre development.

“I hope this action will make people realise just how serious we are about turning the town centre around, as doing nothing would equate to ongoing decline. Now is the time to act.”