THE member responsible for Cheshire West and Chester Council’s purse strings has hit back at Conservative criticism over vacancy rates at Barons Quay.

At a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Cllr Lynn Riley, leader of CWAC’s Conservative opposition, praised the council’s intention to give quarterly updates on the shopping centre’s trading position in future, along with that of Winsford Cross and Northgate, in Chester.

But the member for Frodsham suggested the move was needed because the lack of take-up at the £80 million development is hitting CWAC’s finances.

“We’re very pleased to see that in 2018 we are finally getting some transparency for the trading positions on the council’s major retail schemes,” she said.

“Clearly this is of growing interest to many members of the public, as well as among those of us with political roles.

“As we all can see and understand, vacancy rates are having an impact on council budgets and adding some extra pressures to frontline services.”

Currently only Asda, Odeon and Wildwood are present at Barons Quay, while an unnamed fashion retailer – believed to be H&M – is set to follow later this year.

Cllr David Armstrong, cabinet member for legal and finance, was left disappointed by Cllr Riley’s comments.

And he suggested that the current Labour administration had been left to pick up the tab for the Tories’ project in Northwich – including borrowing figures of £3 million a year.

“When we took over the finances of this council, we inherited a major scheme which had massive vacancy rates in Northwich,” he said.

“Things were extremely challenging. They are now in a very stable position, there is a lot of progress being made, there have been outline announcements made in the press and we hope that in the future there will be even more positive announcements being made.

“We’ve put huge investments [into Northwich]. Many of the things that needed sorting out in that area have been sorted out by this administration.

“And so therefore I find it rather disingenuous to make critical comments that our vacancy rates are not as good as they should be and that we’ve not done things as well as we should in that area.”