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Regeneration in Stafford gets boost as council buys shopping centre

Stafford Borough Council has bought the town’s Guildhall Shopping Centre as part of major regeneration plans.

Contracts for the purchase of the ailing centre were exchanged and signed last week following several months of negotiations with owners, Mercia Retail Estate.

The council successfully secured money to fund the acquisition from central government.

Council leader, Aidan Godfrey, welcomed the deal and said it would help increase the pace of regeneration in the town centre.

“The number one issue for people in Stafford was the state of the town centre – and we have made improving it this council’s top priority.”

The green light to buy the Guildhall was given by senior councillors in December. It followed hot on the heels of an announcement that the local authority was to buy the former Co-op on Gaolgate Street with money from the government’s ‘Future High Street Fund’ (FHSF) – with plans to convert the derelict building to a food court, retail, residential and market offer.

The shopping centre has been in decline over recent years with very few shops trading inside the complex. Along with properties on Crabbery Street and St Mary’s Grove, it is home to about 20 retail and business units as well as office accommodation, an indoor market and disused car park.

A business case with potential options for the centre will be put forward with the public to be asked for feedback on any proposals.

A valuation report commissioned for the local authority rules out any chance of bringing the multi-storey car park back into use in the short term because of significant work required – saying it doesn’t provide “a viable option for the council.”

Because of the huge scale of the project the council will be looking for a partner to redevelop the site – while preserving businesses around the premises.

Councillor Rob Kenney, the Deputy Leader with responsibility for the town centre, said: “Previous plans by the owners of the Guildhall to develop the site had stalled – and we were looking at the centre being mothballed for many years before anything would start or come to fruition.

“We are keen to speed up the pace of major regeneration of the High Street – and the best way to ensure a quality development could be brought forward, and give the public the opportunity to share their views, was to buy the building.”

Councillor Kenney continued: “We want residents to be proud of their county town, we want visitors to come and shop, we want people to socialise and spend time using hospitality venues, and we want businesses to invest.”

The front of the shopping centre sits at the foot of the Market Square in the heart of the town and is near to the former Co-op store.

Council leader, Aidan Godfrey, added: “This is ‘Project Stafford’ and it is great news for the county town. I am extremely excited about the future of the High Street with so many projects taking shape.”

Other initiatives backed by the government’s FHSF include the £1m refurbishment of Market Square, which was completed last October, and work that will go ahead this year to enhance the entrance and approach to Stafford Railway Station.

There is also significant investment being made in the county town with other initiatives underway, or recently delivered, such as the £9m Staffordshire History Centre and the business hub at Shire Hall. And proposals are moving on the Stafford Station Gateway – which will include a government and private sector-backed £18m Institute of Technology for Stafford College – as well as a hotel, new businesses, homes, and leisure offer. The ‘Gateway’ was awarded £20 million towards the end of 2023 to help progress the project.

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