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All-party working group to consider future of Northwich town centre
A CROSS-party working group is to consider the future development of Northwich and Winsford town centres in the hope of combating an increase in quick credit stores.
Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWAC) members voted unanimously in favour of asking the executive to consider creating the all-party group of CWAC councillors and officers at their recent ‘state of the borough’ debate.
The executive will consider a motion highlighting the continuing challenge in rejuvenating the borough’s high streets and the need for comprehensive strategies for town and city centres.
It emphasises current restrictions on local authorities to influence and change their high streets and the proliferation of payday and other quick credit stores in retail centres.
The motion calls on council to lobby government to create a new ‘umbrella’ use class in planning regulations to ensure that there would always have to be an application before a change of use of premises.
“This could be used to separate specific types of premises from others currently in the same use class – according to local circumstances and concerns,” said opposition leader Clr Justin Madders.
He suggested CWAC ask Whitehall to consider allowing permitted development to be set at a local level which would allow for the consideration of individual local issues and boost development.
Council leader Mike Jones said: “It is fair to say that the previous system of planning and the change of use required has not worked – we see that in many of our town centres – not just in the borough but across the country.”
He said he did not believe that current government measures would allay local authority concerns about a lack of ability to control what happens on their high streets and proposed that a cross-party working group should work together on a strategy document to secure the future of town and city centres including Northwich and Winsford that would complement the existing redevelopment programmes.
Vibrant markets, free car parking, reductions in business rates and a balance between leisure and retail attractions were also suggested by members, while heritage attractions, diversity and the quality and individuality of the retail on offer were also thought vital.
Clr Madders added: “Nationally there are still one in seven retail units vacant with over 330 empty in west Cheshire alone.
“Of course, there are some units that have been filled in recent times but I would suggest they have not been occupied by businesses that are going to revitalise our town centres.
“Payday lenders, pawnbrokers, and betting shops where you can gamble hundreds of pounds in seconds – all these ventures suck the money and ultimately the life out of our high streets and are based upon exploitative business models which have no place in a civilised society.
“New planning rules are unfortunately only going to make it easier for these types of shops to sprawl along our high streets. Now they can open in cafes, restaurants, shops, boutiques and independent retailers.”
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