Market Walk buy-out will ‘secure town’s prosperity’

Market Walk, Chorley

Market Walk, Chorley

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Chorley Council has been given the green light to buy the £20m town centre Market Walk shopping precinct.

The ambitious plans got the go-ahead at a special meeting of the council.

Councillors voted 25 in favour, 18 against and one abstention.

The opposition Conservative group on the authority called for a public referendum on the issue and say residents have not been consulted.

The decision, last Monday night, was made following a recommendation from an all-party steering group, chaired by council leader Coun Alistair Bradley, which has been looking into the feasibility of buying the key site since it was put on the market by its current owners Orchard Street Investments back in September.

Coun Bradley said: “We believe we can’t miss this opportunity to bring such an important town centre asset under local control.

“It’s chance to invest in a profitable enterprise in which we already have a vested

interest.

“It means that we can look at the redevelopment of the town centre as a whole, rather than the piecemeal way we’ve had to do in the past.

“It means that we have the flexibility to attract new retailers into the town, and it means that we will have an income from the shop rentals.

“I accept that with any opportunity comes risk and that this is a major investment .

“This is why we’ve done such detailed investigations and sought expert advice.

“But it’s about managing and minimising the risk and putting controls and safeguards in place.

“Market Walk is a successful going concern and will bring in funds which can be used to invest in the town centre or in council services to benefit residents.

“Our vision is to have a strong local economy with a thriving town centre and we have already done a lot to support local businesses, create new jobs and help boost trade.”

He added: “We were concerned Market Walk would continue to be bought and sold purely as an investment.

“If this were to continue it’s likely it would be allowed to deteriorate whilst the profits are syphoned out of the borough.

“By bringing it under the control of the local authority we can ensure it remains properly managed and maintained, and hasa future as the major asset that it is for the benefit of local people.”

Tories Still against plans

The Conservative group were unanimous in their opposition to what they dub a “misconceived plan”.

Conservative leader on the council, Coun Greg Morgan said: “The Labour leadership appear to be determined to commit the tax payers of Chorley Borough to the repayment of a loan of many millions of pounds for 50 years at a cost of well in excess of one million pounds per year.

“In return for this outlay the citizens of Chorley will bear this millstone for generations to come.

“Chorley Conservatives are supportive of the encouragement of trade within the town but recognise this is best left too private enterprise who balance risk with experience, skills and knowledge.

“Beyond the short to medium term, how can anybody foresee the future development of shopping both in Chorley and beyond?

“It is a fact internet shopping over the coming Christmas will see a year on year increase of 15 per cent.

“This instance is merely an indicator of a developing trend threatening high street shopping and can only increase. This on-going change in shopping habits will undoubtedly change the nature of our historic market town in ways we cannot yet foresee.

“Fifty years ago was about 1960 and at that time, not everyone had a fridge let alone a phone and the internet had not even been dreamt of.

“Imagine trying to look forwards 50 years from now to decide what shopping in Chorley will look like then.

“When challenged about the question of consulting the people of Chorley the Labour group showed no inclination to do so and freely admitted that no consultation was either completed or planned.

“In fact, when presented with a proposal to consult Chorley tax payers on this intended purchase, this proposal was rejected on an individual basis by each Labour councillor.

“In comparison Conservative councillors recognised the need for Chorley residents to have a say and voted so.

“How can this be appropriate for such a serious issue?

“Overall the Conservatives on Chorley Borough Council are dismayed that this misguided proposal is being taken forward for short to medium term gain while risking the financial future of the borough.”