With news that Marks & Spencer has pulled out, there are fears for the future of Chorley's Market Walk development.
Last month TK Maxx walked away from the scheme, leaving the proposed new building without its two key retailers.
And now the Chorley Council scheme could now be in serious jeopardy following the bombshell.
The opposition Conservative group on the authority says an immediate halt should be made to the project.
Councillor Alan Cullens, leader of the Conservative group, said; “We’ve said right from the start it should never have been started in the first place.
“We’ve now got a car park that’s got services - we’ve now got electricity and water to a car park.
“Let’s not go any further, let’s look at the whole scheme of the town centre, let’s look at these markets, let’s make the town look right and welcoming to people.”
He added; “A week on Tuesday at the corporate strategy meeting, we’re going to present an alternative strategy for the town centre.
“Stop it now - it doesn’t mean there’s not going to be something else, another way of doing it, or improving shopping.
“We’re changing as a town, we’re a commuter town as well. Why not have evening markets?
“The Flat Iron, that’s something that needs to be looked at. Today the Flat Iron is a car park. Does that work, if not revert back.”
He said the proposed extension was now “in a very difficult place” with just one main tenant, a cinema, signed up.
The council says the extension will go ahead - but there is likely to be a delay in starting the work.
Council leader Alistair Bradley said: “I can’t express how annoyed we are by the messing about we’ve had from Marks and Spencer but we are where we are and it throws up an opportunity for us to look again at the proposals and see where we go next.
“It’s incredibly frustrating but the investment that we’ve made is still relevant because we’ve been doing all the preparation work or improvements that would have had to have been made anyway to develop the shopping centre.
“Our understanding is that out of the dozens of new stores Marks and Spencer were due to open only a handful are now being progressed, which shows this is a national concern and not just one relating to Chorley.
“This is in part caused by unprecedented political events we’ve seen in the country this year, which creates a lot of uncertainty in the economy.
“It may be that they will still decide to come to Chorley but while they finish their review we don’t know exactly what their plans are.”
M&S were expected to open a food hall in the extension.
The council said the firm had ‘reconsidered’ its decision after it announced a fall in sales for the first six months of the year,
Councillor Alan Cullens said: “Consistently the Conservative Group, for the last two years, has voted against progressing the scheme due to the volatility within the national retail
sector.“Throughout the project we have forced the ruling Labour group to adhere to a contracted percentage occupancy which would have ensured the project’s success. Without our rational approach we could now have ended up with a high cost development with empty retail units.
“Our proposals to improve our town and the excellent markets have consistently been rejected by the ruling Labour administration in favour of the Market Walk scheme which has now seen millions of pounds of tax payers’ money spent with little to show for it.
“We must now fully understand what the current position is with full disclosure of how much has already been spent and what our future commitments are.
“The council owe it to the residents of our borough to give them the full facts and to understand where their hard-earned money has gone.
“We in the group wholeheartedly agree that any decision made by Marks and Spencer is not a reflection on the town of Chorley but part of the changing nature of how people shop.
“Importantly in moving forward we need to ensure we work with local traders, market stall holders and businesses to create a thriving town centre and night time economy whilst considering the changing nature of the retail world.
Councillor Bradley said the council may now have to look at alternative plans - such as moving to “a solely leisure-based development with the cinema as a focal point”.
He said: “We still have several businesses that we are in discussions so this is a delay rather than the end of the extension plans.
“It’s a chance for us to reconsider the position in light of the national picture and ensure the development is the best it can be for our traders and residents.”
In the meantime the council will be looking to reopen some of the parking spaces that are currently fenced off on the Flat Iron car park and we are going to open Woodlands as an additional free park and ride location next week to provide more parking spaces in the run up to Christmas. Earlier this year Chorley Council became the only council in the area to object to plans for the retail development at Cuerden.
The said it feared that the new 65 acre site – which includes an Ikea – would threaten the plans for Market Walk.
The council said it will be seeking £11,520,121 in compensation if the Cuerden development goes ahead.
Explaining in September why Chorley Council “cannot support the proposals” deputy leader councillor Peter Wilson said: “The council has been watching the development of plans for the
Cuerden strategic site very closely to protect the interests of the Chorley borough and the town centre in particular.
“While we want to see economic growth across Lancashire, we are concerned that the proposals developed to date, don’t properly address the impact that a development of that size could have on Chorley town centre and the traffic and highways surrounding the area.”
The developmers behind the Cuerden plans say they will add £240m to the local economy.