Proposals that would have injected £9 million into revamping Clitheroe Market have been scrapped in favour of a new bid which has a wider vision for the town centre.
Members of Ribble Valley Borough Council’s policy and finance committee met last night and agreed to terminate the contract with Nelson-based Barnfield Construction to redevelop the historic market opting instead to apply for government funding to develop a vision for the wider town centre with the market site forming one element of the improvements.
“Given the amount of change that we’ve seen in people’s attitudes to shopping on the high street it would be very sensible to pull back at this stage and look at the Future High Streets fund,” said Coun. Alison Brown who was referring to a new pot of government funding.
Just last month, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government published a call for expressions of interest to bid for part of the £675m Future High Streets fund. This fund is intended to renew and reshape town centres and high streets in a way that improves experience, drives growth and ensures future sustainability. Expressions of interest in the fund must be submitted by March with places subsequently being shortlisted.
Supporting Coun. Brown’s sentiments, Coun. Maureen Fenton added that a whole range of expertise could be opened up by going down this route to help move the project forward.
Coun. Sue Hind said this new approach would hopefully restore community pride in the town, put Clitheroe on the tourist map as the hub of the Ribble Valley and allow it to compete with other nearby thriving tourist destinations such as Skipton.
Also supporting the new approach, Coun. Terry Hill said it was a pity that a previous town centre master plan was not carried forward for whatever reason.
“We now need to take this opportunity, but we must be determined this time to follow it through then hopefully we can end up with a market that we can be proud of and a town centre as well.”
Coun. Sue Bibby said the news about the Future High Streets funding had come at a crucial time.
“We need to do this to future proof the town centre as a thriving market town,” she added.
Coun. Mark French said: “We are finally seeing some common sense. We have got plans for the market development site which are not suitable and don’t match what the people of the town and Valley asked for.”
He went on to stress that any future plan needed to concentrate on how to develop the market site, first and foremost.
Coun. James Rogerson said he welcomed this new approach wholeheartedly and any new scheme must focus on improving connecting the town’s assets and facilities.
“We should be applauding Barnfield for putting up with us for so long and we must let them down politely,” he added.
Speaking before the meeting, the former leader of RVBC, Conservative Coun. Ken Hind welcomed the proposed u-turn.
He said: “The project can attract funding for a wider development than just the market which can include improvement of access to the market area by creating a new opening from Castle Street as well as secure the access for future generations.”
He added: “From my perspective I see major problems with the Barnfield project as it is at present. Access has not been properly secured for market traders or the public.
“The design has not been finalised. The idea that we give the site to the developers on a 999 year lease means we lose control of the site and this is an important concern as Barnfield can sell a major part of the site to a third party and the council will lose control.
“Too much retail provision in this day and age rather than restaurants, wine bars, offices and leisure will undermine the project. Our first focus should be on a new market and public open space linked into the rest of Castle Street with other new facilities added in.
“We can consider fixing a budget for the new development, and follow Councillor Sue Hind’s idea of inviting local architects to compete for the design and utilise the Government grant to build it. The idea will be to create something which is attractive, will increase footfall and a development with which we can be justly proud.
“By retaining control of the site we will not be selling the family silver and secure additional income for the council to be poured into services to the public.”
The £9 million market proposals were put on hold in September when councillors voted to take a breather from plans for the redevelopment.
In September 2017 the borough ditched plans for a new hotel as part of the redevelopment of the market in the face of public opposition.
The original scheme unveiled in July 2016 also included a three-storey market hall, new retail units and a 56-space car park on the historic site.
Despite scaling back the scheme to remove the hotel and provide a two-storey market building with an open-air top-floor space for stalls and ground-floor food court, opposition remained strong.
Local businessman Ian Sowerbutts has welcomed the new approach.
“Any project which improves the retail landscape and keeps retail businesses located in Clitheroe town centre, to increase footfall in the town centre, would be welcome.”