New Shropshire Council leader defends decision to buy Shrewsbury shopping centres

Shropshire Council's new leader believes Shrewsbury's shopping centres would currently be "boarded up" unless the authority had purchased them three years ago.

Shropshire Council leader Lezley Picton
Shropshire Council leader Lezley Picton

Councillor Lezley Picton has defended the council's decision despite admitting it was not made lightly.

The Darwin, Pride Hill and Riverside centres were bought by the council for £51 million in January 2018, a decision which the council leader believes has been justified.

Speaking on the latest edition of Shropshire Business Live TV, she said: "I've been in Shropshire now for 22 years and I kept hearing stories about how the shopping centres are going to be redeveloped and they never did. In the last few years the landlords have also been pretty absent.

"One of the things we wanted to ensure is that we had a really vibrant economy in Shrewsbury. If you have a vibrant economy in Shrewsbury, it will spread right across the county.

"The opportunity came up to purchase them. It wasn't an opportunity we took lightly, but for me, having ownership of them means we are in control.

"I am under no illusions, if we hadn't owned them, certainly the Riverside and Pride Hill would have been boarded up.

"I don't even know what would have happened to the Darwin Centre."

Council headquarters

The Pride Hill Shopping Centre has emerged as the preferred option for a new civic centre to house Shropshire Council and some of its public sector partners from 2023, once the council has vacated and sold its current Shirehall headquarters.

The council also wants to make the Darwin Centre Shrewsbury’s main shopping centre.

"We've always said we want to increase town centre footfall and there is no better way to increase footfall than by having your civic offices in the town centre," Councillor Picton said.

"We've got an agreement in principle and there is still work to be done, but that is the plan at the moment."

Replacing former leader Peter Nutting and taking over from acting leader Steve Charmley, who is now the deputy leader, Councillor Picton said her newly-elected cabinet would work hard to rebuild a strong economy across the county.

"We're certainly formulating our vision, but the most important thing is having a healthy economy and a healthy population.

"We're doing pieces of work in all of the market towns.

"Rural areas are really important and we plan to get out and see as many town and parish councils in the next 12 months as we can.

"There are a lot of similar problems in these areas, but there are also some specific issues and we need to know what they are.

"We've got everything in Shropshire and without doubt the visitor economy is going to be one of our priorities," Councillor Picton added.

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