An ambitious bid to buy Market Walk shopping precinct – at a cost of up to £20m – is being made by Chorley Council.
The council is to investigate the possibility of owning the shopping precinct.
The centre has been put up for sale by its current owners Orchard Street Investments.
Council chiefs feel that by buying Market Walk, they could control a major town centre asset as they strive to boost the local economy.
Council deputy leader Peter Wilson revealed that if it did come off, the purchase could cost up to £20m – which the authority would borrow – and that it would not directly impact on residents’ council tax bills.
Coun Wilson, who is also executive member for the town centre on the council, said: “A strong local economy has been one of our key ambitions and we’ve said we will do all we can to help boost the local economy to create a vibrant town
“This opportunity has come up and we really could not let it go without at least looking into the possibility of us purchasing it.
“Yes, it would be a major investment for the council, yet it would give us control over a major town centre asset which means we could look at improving the town centre as a whole, rather than in a piecemeal way.
“Just as importantly, if not more so, we would also get an ongoing income stream which could be used to support further development of the town centre or council service for residents.”
The council is to set up an all-party steering group to investigate the risks and the advantages of buying it, taking into account the initial costs and the subsequent management of the site.
The council has approved the first step of the plan which is to set up the all-party steering group chaired by council leader Alistair Bradley to investigate the possibility of buying Market Walk and to start talks with its owners. Legal investigations will also get under way and the steering group will report any recommendations back to full council for a decision.
Coun Wilson added: “We are not entering into any commitment to buy, just into the feasibility and what it would mean for the town and for the council.
“We want to make sure that the investment is right for the borough, but we also think that having such an important site in the town centre, managed locally instead of by investors from outside the borough, would mean we could improve and revitalise the town centre as a whole for the benefit of local people.”
Coun Greg Morgan, leader of the Conservative opposition on the council said: “When we were given an opportunity to consider it we decided to oppose it because we are not property developers. But we feel obliged at least get involved on this due diligence committee to understand what they are doing.”
The council says its vision is to have a strong local economy and has put in place a package of measures to support local business, create new jobs and have a thriving community, including:
n A range of grants and incentives to support existing businesses and attract new ones;
n Purchase and transformation of the former McDonald’s into retail units;
n Changing car parking tariffs to provide free parking after 1pm on Saturdays;
n Putting plans in place to re-open Market Street to traffic to allow people to park closer to the shops;
n Supporting the night-time economy by investing in the White Hart pub, and putting on a two-day live music event in October;
n Creating a dedicated masterplan for the town centre.