Ten years later and still no town centre redevelopment
“Disappointment” was the response from Congleton Town Council this week a decade after a major new shopping complex scheme in the town centre was given planning permission.
Ten years have passed and there is still no sign of work starting on giving the Bridestones centre a new lease of life, which would include a town square, restaurants and cafes.
The town council has asked Cheshire East Council and developers the Scarborough Group for a meeting in a bid to kick-start the delayed development - although a spokesman for Cheshire East Council said the plans were now on hold.
The original plans included a 93-bed hotel and large supermarket but when the planning consent expired, Scarborough Group put forward another proposal for The Mills, which involved redeveloping vacant retail units on Mill Street into a modern two-storey scheme, with the company also contributing to improving the town's market.
Boards marketing The Mills, which have lined empty shop fronts in Mill Street for some years, say “Exciting new retail and leisure destination at the heart of Congleton. Up to 43,000sqft of new retail and leisure space”.
On Tuesday, Coun Russell Chadwick, chair of the town council's business working group, said: “It is incredibly disappointing that 10 years on there has been no physical action on the site.
“Earlier this year, the town council asked for meetings with Cheshire East, which owns the lease on the Princess Street car park, and the area where the market is situated, and Scarborough, which owns the empty properties adjacent to the site on Mill Street, to try and get some positive actions to move this site forward.”
Coun Chadwick added: “We understand that there have been a large number of difficulties, but this is an important site in the middle of Congleton and we invite both parties to meet with us to find a way to move forward so that the site can be brought back into positive use and in a way that benefits the town - and not risk being in the same position in 2030.”
Coun Nick Mannion, Cheshire East Council’s Cabinet member for environment and regeneration, commented: “The council considers the vitality or our town centres to be key to the future growth and recovery of our towns and remains hopeful that this part of Congleton will, at some point in the future, become redeveloped in line with the aspirations of the borough and town councils.
“We have been informed that Scarborough Developments has placed its plans for the site on hold for the time being. We continue to be in contact with Scarborough Developments and the door remains open for discussions around any future plans and proposals.”
The Scarborough Group was asked to comment but had not responded by deadline yesterday (Wednesday).
In 2017, Cheshire East announced it was to dispose of land in Congleton town centre for The Mills development, which it described as a “major regeneration scheme to revive a dormant plan to redevelop sites in Mill Street and Princess Street, around the market square area of the town, creating a multi-level, mixed-use development, incorporating retail and leisure”.
At the time, the council's Cabinet had agreed that if the regeneration package proposed by Scarborough was to progress, a fresh planning application would be required.
Under the proposal, the council would surrender the leasehold on Princess Street car park, the freehold of which is already owned by Scarborough, and sell the freehold of the market square to achieve the long-term objectives set out several years previously for the redevelopment of the town centre.
Congleton Market, the charter of which was granted in 1272, would be retained and continue to operate throughout the redevelopment. Provisions for a new market were to be completed as part of the conditions required by the council.
Cheshire East Council's executive director of place Frank Jordan had said at the time: “Prevailing market conditions in the retail sector are challenging but the professional team working on this scheme is confident these proposals represent the best opportunity for significant investment and regeneration in the current economic cycle.
“Discussions are taking place with Congleton Town Council and other stakeholders and a full consultation and engagement exercise will be put in place throughout the planning process.
“It is expected that this proposed high-quality, mixed-use development will attract new retailers and brands, leading to an increase in footfall and a transformation of this part of Congleton.”
In 2017, Cheshire East agreed a deal with Scarborough Group to transfer the land in a move that should have enabled The Mills to progress. The council issued public notices relating to open space at Market Place, along with Stonehouse Green and Princess Street, used as car parks.
Coun Don Stockton, the then Cabinet member for regeneration and assets, had said: “We are aware that there is a considerable amount of local interest in this development and we would encourage everyone with a view on this scheme to engage in this process.
“The council is disposing of land to enable a suitable scheme to go forward but there will be certain conditions once the proposals reach the planning stage.
“The council has long held aspirations to see this part of Congleton town centre regenerated and this is an opportunity to progress those ambitions.”