The long-awaited redevelopment of Barnsley town centre will finally begin next year – although it will be nowhere near as ambitious as the original plans, the Chronicle can reveal.
The council had hoped to secure some £180m from investors for a total rebuild of the heart of town centre which would have had a Debenhams department store as its flagship.
The development had been promised for almost a decade and other high street names who had already signed up included H and M and the Nando's restaurant chain. Last week, the Chronicle revealed the department store had pulled out of the scheme and this week, council leader Sir Steve Houghton confirmed it would now be funding a more modest £41 million redevelopment itself after financial backers for the original scheme failed to materialise.
But crucially, he said the smaller scheme can go ahead almost immediately - with work expected to start within a year - because this time the council is not relying on external financiers.
"This is an incredibly exciting time for Barnsley and its town centre," he said. "This scheme will provide certainty to traders and businesses, and deliver the improvements that people have been waiting for. The new scheme includes:
• Demolition of the former central offices and adjacent shops;
• Redesign and redevelopment of the Metropolitan Centre, indoor market and semi-open market in the existing building;
• Proposed purchase of the former Training and Enterprise (TEC) building and adjacent property to the north of Kendray Street with redevelopment into a leisure and retail centre;
• A new £4m central library;
• Creation of a new public square to accommodate a new open market and a space for town centre events.
Sir Steve said it was disappointing the original grand plan including the Debenhams store could not happen but that the new scheme was in line with the anticipated retail environment over the next ten to 15 years. The only question mark is over the future of the multi-storey car park, but detailed plans will be revealed in the summer.
Sir Steve said the library was an important part of the scheme. The current library is proposed to close and be moved temporarily to Wellington House, Market Street. "If that recommendation goes ahead - the decision isn't final until February 6 when all councillors will vote on the scheme - the library will move from Wellington House to a new purpose-built library at the heart of the town centre. That is budgeted for in this scheme, and we have got the money."
He added that while the council was facing severe financial difficulties due to funding cuts, the £41m would not have an impact on the day-to-day 'revenue budget' of the council. "There will be no cuts as a result of any of this. We do have the money for this scheme, but it comes from capital receipts (sale of assets) and from our prudential borrowing allocation. That money is already allocated."
The council has an annual allowance to borrow money from the public works loan board to fund long term capital projects and cannot be used to pay its the day-to-day running costs. Its allocation had been saved up over recent years, meaning the money is available immediately for the scheme.
See this week's Chronicle for more details.