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Stafford Shopping Centre is new target on Council’s Christmas wish list

Stafford Borough Council is proposing to buy the town’s Guildhall Shopping Centre.

The local authority has announced it intends to purchase the centre, which is home to around 20 retail and business units, as part of ambitious transformation plans for the town.

Only a few weeks ago the borough council revealed they were to buy the former Co-op department store on the High Street with plans for the derelict building to include a mix of retail, food court, residential and a market offer.

Now,  senior councillors are to discuss a proposal to purchase the Guildhall Shopping Centre – which also includes the multi-storey car park and office accommodation. Currently there are only a handful of shops trading inside the complex.

The borough council has said they would put forward a business case with potential options for the centre and would be asking the public for feedback on any proposals next year.

A report to the council’s cabinet next week (Thursday 7 December) says that because of the huge scale of the project they will be looking for a partner to redevelop the site – while preserving businesses around the premises such as the Body Shop and jewellers, F Hinds.

But 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.”

Councillors will hear that previous plans by the owners of the Guildhall to develop the site had stalled – and could take many years to start or may never come to fruition. And with the council keen to speed up the pace of major regeneration of the High Street – the best way to ensure a quality development could be brought forward, and give the public the opportunity to share their views, would be to buy the building.

The council secured more than £14 million from the Government’s Future High Street Fund which will support the acquisition of the site.

The front of the shopping centre sits at the foot of the newly refurbished Market Square in the heart of the town – and adjacent to the derelict Co-op store.

Council leader, Aidan Godfrey, said “Improving the town centre was the number one issue for residents – and it is the top priority for this council. We already made a statement of intent with our plans for the former Co-op department store – and now we want to go one better and buy the Guildhall shopping centre.

“By taking the lead on these significant developments we can increase the pace of our regeneration plans which in turn will act as the catalyst for the evolution of the town centre.”

Deputy leader, Rob Kenney, who is leading on the town centre regeneration, said: “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.

He added: “We are a proactive local authority and in the last few weeks we have demonstrated that we have big ambitions to kick start regeneration – and this is exactly what the council should be doing.”

Cllr Kenney added: “If we are successful in acquiring the Guildhall Centre then we will be giving our residents and businesses an opportunity to share their views on what they want to see.”

Other initiatives backed by the FHSF included the Market Square refurbishment and work that will go ahead soon to enhance the entrance and approach to Stafford Railway Station.

And there is significant investment being made in the county town with other projects underway or recently delivered such as the Staffordshire History Centre and the business hub at Shire Hall, which is reaching full capacity. With plans taking shape around the Eastgate area of town and the Stafford Station Gateway – which will include a government-backed Institute of Technology for Stafford College as well as new businesses, homes, and leisure offer – and was recently in the news after it was announced it would receive around £20 million to help fund the project.

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