Respected figures in Clitheroe’s business community are calling for action to progress long-anticipated plans to revamp the town’s market.
“We’ve been talking about this now for 10 years and I think our elected officials need to step up and sort this out as soon as possible,” said local businessman Kevin Horkin. “The time for prevarication and chatter is long gone.”
A plan drawn up by Ribble Valley Borough Council, along with Barnfield Construction, originally included proposals to build a hotel, a three-storey market hall, new retail units and a 56-space car park on the historic town centre site.
However, plans for a hotel were scrapped in September in response to public opinion.
As well as a market working group on which there are nine councillors, a steering group was subsequently set up by the council’s policy and finance committee led by the Leader of the Council, Coun. Ken Hind, to take the proposed £9m redevelopment forward.
And it was hoped that a planning application for the new scheme, details of which should have been unveiled by Christmas 2017, would be submitted at the beginning of this year with construction starting now.
Frustrated with the slow progress of the scheme, Mr Horkin added: “It is also very concerning that there’s no commercial people on the working group who have business or regeneration experience. Instead it’s made up of lay people who have not got the relevant experience to say yes or no to a £9m scheme which is essential to the future of the Valley.”
Community champion and charity fundraiser Ian Lloyd is also concerned at how long discussions are taking.
“How many years does this have to go on for?
“We publicise ourselves as a ‘market town’, but because it has taken so long to get this scheme off the ground, the market and the centre of the town are suffering.”
He added that since the launch of the Clitheroe town centre masterplan in 2009, in which proposals to update the market were first mooted, planning permission for around 5,000 new houses in the Valley has been granted.
Ian, who used to run Mortimers estate agents, said back then inquiries from large multiples and retailers wanting to open a store in Clitheroe were “going through the roof”, but the only location with enough potential floor space for these retailers was, and still is, the market.
“Shoppers want a mixture of independent, plus high street stores, plus parking, but because nothing has been done with the market scheme, those people who have bought houses in the town are forced to shop in the other nearby towns where they have actually moved from in the first place,” added local business woman Mandy Dawson.
“We need a vibrant, partially covered market, with plenty of adequate parking,” Mandy said, “but the longer these discussions drag on and nothing happens, the more we as a town falls behind.”
Ian Sowerbutts, another well-known local businessman, said: “We seem to have been talking about redeveloping the market for about six years now and in that time the footfall in Clitheroe town centre has remained at best static, if not a little lower. What we need is a plan which will attract shoppers to Clitheroe, revitalise the market, and that is commercial enough to generate a profit for the developer, if it can provide some shelter from the elements as well that can only be a good thing.
“With all the new housing developments in the Ribble Valley it is imperative that during the construction phase, off street parking should be maintained and, post construction, it should be improved to cope with the increased demand of a revitalised market. Above all we need something which can be actioned in the very near future.”
He added: “The market is a vital asset in the heart of the shopping centre of Clitheroe and something which deserves to be promoted and marketed as such, but if no investment is forthcoming, Clitheroe will struggle to justify being called an historic market town. If, after all this time, the developer is unable to bring forward a plan that satisfies the planning process and is commercially viable, then I would hope that RVBC could investigate the possibility of progressing a scheme themselves.”
Traders on Clitheroe Market are also concerned that the discussions are dragging on.
Clitheroe Market trader Jane Baron, of Just Sew furnishings and textiles, who is secretary of Clitheroe Market traders’ steering group, said: “There are 48 to 54 traders on here and it’s their livelihoods that are being played with. We are just not being kept informed.
“Trade is dropping and the market is dwindling – people think that we’re closed because they’ve heard that the market is being redeveloped.
“We need further consultation about the proposals now. We need to know what’s on the table.
“Whatever they do on here (the market) can make or break the town.”
Jane added that members of the steering group have regular meetings with the council regarding general market issues, but she said that they have not been given any details apart from being told that new proposals were being put forward.
“We don’t know what these proposals are though – we’re just being kept in the dark.”
Trader Stuart Gradwell, who has had a butchers stall on the market for the past 35 years, echoed these sentiments.
“We’d just like to know what’s happening. We’re still in the dark,” said Stuart.
“We know something needs doing to the market for both ourselves (the traders) and Clitheroe in general, but whether something is actual going to happen we just don’t know now.”
Coun. Paul Elms, who is deputy leader of RVBC and chairman of the market working group, said he understood people’s frustrations, but added that detailed discussions are still taking place.
“Does it really matter how long it takes?” Coun. Elms asked. “The main priority is to get it right – if it’s going to take another six to 12 months then so be it.”
For the last six to eight months, Barnfield has been providing the working group with drawings and sketches of possible designs and, according to Coun. Elms, the latest set of designs were sent back to Barnfield along with the concerns raised by the working group’s councillors. These plans were for a smaller scheme without a hotel.
“Everyone wants to see a development of some sort and the actual detail of what’s going to be on there is still being discussed,” said Coun. Elms.
In response to Mr Horkin’s concerns about who actually sits on the working group, Coun. Elms added that members of the policy and finance committee decided that only elected members of the council, rather than local business people, could sit on the working group.
“I can understand people’s frustrations that it’s taking time, but I’d much rather get it right than it be done quickly.
“We are still committed to making something happen and we’re going to be having conversations on a wider basis now about the design.
“Any members of the Clitheroe business community who are concerned are more than welcome to contact me.”