TOWN planners in Crewe have been urged to learn the lessons of Barons Quay as they embark on a major regeneration scheme of their own.

Cheshire East Council wants to transform Royal Arcade in Crewe town centre – with the authority hoping that a new cinema, bowling alley and shops can be built in 2023.

But the development will have to compete with Grand Junction for footfall – an issue regarded as a key factor in driving up the number of vacant shops in the town centre.

Cllr Mike Hunter, Labour CEC member for Middlewich, drew parallels between the project and Northwich's regeneration at a meeting on Monday.

He said: “This has happened in Northwich, it’s happened in Crewe, it’s happened in all places where we have small out-of-town retail units – like Grand Junction, which is super successful.

Northwich Guardian:

“[Retailers] move to it because the rates are cheaper, the parking is easier, it’s a modern unit where they know they are going to get footfall. How do we square that with Royal Arcade?

“There is no point in us making a white elephant.

“You only have to go to Northwich to look at Barons Quay to see the difficulties in getting units back from out-of-town centres, into the town centre.”

Barons Quay, which cost Cheshire West and Chester Council £80 million, opened its doors in 2016.

But only one retailer – Sports Direct – has made the switch from the out-of-town Northwich Retail Park to the £80 million town centre development since then – with high street brands such as Argos, Next and Currys PC World staying at the Manchester Road site instead.

Peter Skates, director of growth and enterprise, admitted that the location of Grand Junction is ‘one of the unique problems’ for Royal Arcade – but insisted the two sites could work in harmony.

He said: “The fact that [Grand Junction] is a success also means that Crewe is a destination for shopping – it is attractive, it has the demographics around it, retailers want to be in Crewe.

“We want to look at links between how you go from Grand Junction to the town centre and back again. We need to try and embrace it, rather than turn our backs on Grand Junction.

“Barons Quay had a lot of challenges and the council took a lot of risk and liability on that. That just shows you, when it comes to the development agreement, why it has taken such a long time.”

Barons Quay got off to a slow start, with just Asda, Odeon and Wildwood open at the new development in its first two years.

But a raft of new tenants have since opened or signed up with CWAC, as the local authority has looked for a wider variety of businesses to move in away from retail.

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CWAC confirmed on Monday that four more tenants are on the way – with Puddle Ducks, Radio Northwich, Geek Retreat and Barrhead Travel signing agreements.

And the council says that Barons Quay will be 80 per cent full by the time the next wave of tenants – including The Coffee House, Sticky Paws and BEAR – open their doors.