‘Disappointment’ on both sides as Skem town centre spat continues

Jessica Middleton-Pugh

The owner of the Concourse Shopping Centre in Skelmersdale, Lancashire, is attempting to launch an appeal, after the High Court found against it in a legal challenge over a rival scheme by St Modwen.

Skelmersdale Limited Partnership, a joint venture between London & Cambridge Properties and Threadneedle Investment, has applied to the Court of Appeal to seek to overturn the High Court’s judicial review finding in January.

LCP was granted planning permission in 2014 for a £4m leisure scheme with restaurants and a 20,000 sq ft cinema at the Concourse Shopping Centre, along with a refurbishment. The partnership took legal action after West Lancashire Council gave approval to a 100,000 sq ft retail and leisure project by St Modwen, which LCP felt threatened the viability of the Concourse project.

An application has now been lodged with the Court of Appeal and a decision is expected at the end of 2016.

West Lancashire Council and the Homes & Communities Agency appointed St Modwen to redevelop the town centre in 2007. St Modwen drew up plans for a £350m development totalling 500,000 sq ft in 2008 but these were abandoned in the downturn.

St Modwen Skelmersdale

St Modwen’s Skelmersdale project totals 100,000 sq ft and is backed by West Lancashire Council and the HCA

Planning permission was granted in March 2015 for the smaller mixed-use development, including a Reel Cinema, shops, restaurants and bars.

Jo Salmon, retail portfolio manager at LCP, said that the partnership “had been given no choice” but to fight St Modwen’s project.

She said: “We are frustrated and disappointed that the council and some elected members do not appreciate the consequences of this competing scheme, when there are examples of what has happened with similar replacement developments in the region.

“The council is supporting a scheme that promotes 20% of the Concourse’s retailers relocating into a few new big boxes. If that goes ahead, we won’t survive, so we need to deliver our scheme, which will ensure the Centre’s future.”

Despite delays being caused due to the appeal process, LCP plans to start on site in the summer.

In a statement to Place North West, West Lancashire Council and St Modwen said they “remained committed to regeneration Skelmersdale town centre”.

Cllr Ian Moran, leader of the council, said: “The council is very disappointed that the owners of the Concourse Centre are seeking permission to appeal. The High Court rejected all their grounds of appeal and upheld the Council’s decision to grant planning permission for the r-development of Skelmersdale town centre. The action taken by the Concourse owners will cause unnecessary delay to the project which has the backing of the Council and its partners St. Modwen and the HCA.

“We will continue to put forward our legal case in a robust manner should the matter proceed further.”

Cllr Frank McKenna, Labour representative for Birch Green, and chief executive of networking organisation Downtown in Business, said that the people of Skelmersdale had been “betrayed” by LCP’s decision to mount a further appeal.

Cllr McKenna said: “I am bitterly disappointed and surprised by the decision of LCP to cause a further delay to the much needed and long overdue regeneration of Skem town centre.

“The recent High Court ruling very clearly and firmly found against all of the objections raised by the Concourse owners. I am confident that we will win the next round of this unnecessary battle, but it creates more delay and more frustration for the residents of the borough.

“Given the fact that LCP also had legal costs awarded against them following the High Court hearing, I have to say that if I were one of their directors I would be asking if that six figure sum would have been better invested in refurbishing the Concourse facility itself. This further action will simply add to their costs, but crucially leave our town in limbo for another significant period of time.

“The retailers, hospitality operators and business investors who we are trying to persuade to share our vision of a vibrant, modern, twenty first century town are also being courted by other locations across the UK. Without a firm timescale in place it is impossible for us to get contracts signed, and the danger is that those who are interested will go elsewhere.”

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Keep at it West Lancs. Skem needs the competition and the people deserve better facilities.

By Gwydion