Following Ribble Valley Borough Council's decision to bid for a slice of £675 million to rejuvenate Clitheroe town centre, its new leader, Stephen Atkinson, has invited the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse and Local Growth Jake Berry to visit Clitheroe so see for himself the challenges facing high streets.
Ribble Valley Borough Council’s policy and finance committee voted unanimously to work up an expression of interest in the Government’s Future High Street Fund announced by Chancellor Philip Hammond in his 2018 budget.
Coun. Atkinson said: “The proposed redevelopment of the Clitheroe Market site has been ongoing for a number of years, but committee felt the new Future High Streets Fund was an excellent opportunity for the town centre as a whole.
“The Government has acknowledged that town centres lie at the heart of our communities, but the way we shop and use high streets is changing. This £675 million fund aims to help high streets adapt to meet these changes and comes at an opportune time for Clitheroe, given our ambitions for improving the town centre.
“Committee decided that rather than continue with the development of Clitheroe Market in isolation the new fund provides an opportunity to consider wider improvements to the town centre, which will include the market.
“I have written to the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse and Local Growth, Jake Berry, inviting him to Clitheroe to see for himself the challenges facing town centres.
“I would like to thank Barnfield Construction for their work to date on the original Clitheroe Market scheme.”
Ribble Valley Borough Council will submit an expression of interest in the fund by March and, if selected, will submit a business case by early 2020.
Ribble Valley Labour Party has welcomed the decision by council chiefs to withdraw from redeveloping Clitheroe Market in conjunction with Barnfield Construction.
"It's a pity that it took the council a long time to recognise that the proposed development was not going to be successful," said the chairman of Ribble Valley Labour Party, Giles Bridge.
"The biggest problem with the scheme was that a key part of the town’s economy would have been handed over to the developer, meaning that the council lost control of the future of the market."
He added: "The decision to bid for money from the Government’s ‘Future High Streets Fund’ should be carried out.
"The criteria in the bid document, make it clear that for bids to be successful they must have the support of: the local authority, local residents and also the business community.
"Given the problems that arose with the previous scheme, Ribble Valley Labour Party suggests that the council should consider setting up a 'Citizens Jury' to consider what shape our bid should take. We should aim to build consensus on the proposals. The jury would be selected at random from volunteers. They would have a fresh and open-minded approach, without preconceptions or any particular agenda to push. They would hear evidence from all the interested groups and individuals and therefore take account of all the different views."
Mr Bridge continued: "We need to recognise that for our bid to be successful it must be excellent and set out a shared vision to improve and protect Clitheroe as an attractive and vibrant market town. The amount of money in the fund is limited and the selection criteria are strict.
"The bid prospectus says, 'we will not accept eligible bids covering town centre areas that are not facing significant challenges'. Whilst Clitheroe town centre faces real challenges in the future, we have to recognise that other Lancashire towns have far higher levels of unoccupied premises than we do. A successful bid will have to make the case for investment in Clitheroe, that can only be done if we seek to involve all and draft a bid that all can sign up to. The best means of doing that is through a Citizens Jury. Time is short, let’s get cracking."