The council has started discussions with developer St Modwen to buy a proposed retail scheme in Kirkby town centre, with leader Graham Morgan arguing Knowsley had “waited too long” for work to begin.
St Modwen bought the site from Tesco in 2015 and secured planning permission for a Morrison’s supermarket along with a 20,000 sq ft Home Bargains and a KFC.
However, there has been little sign of work starting on site, despite demolition completing and the developer lining up contractor GMI to deliver the scheme, as revealed by Place North West last year.
Now, the council has started conversations with St Modwen to purchase the site, described as a “big shift and big decision” by Knowsley’s leader Cllr Morgan.
The council’s intention is to deliver the scheme as planned with the existing tenants on board, with Morgan pointing out Knowsley would not be “starting from scratch”. However, funding has not yet been set aside; the council is currently working with a team of advisors to assess the market value of St Modwen’s assets and plans to make a formal offer once this work has been completed.
“This Council has been calling on the private sector to regenerate Kirkby town centre for a long time, but enough is enough. We have worked tirelessly to encourage and support the private sector to deliver on their plans for Kirkby,” said Morgan.
“However, despite our best efforts, the redevelopment of the town centre still hasn’t happened and it’s quite clear that we need to find a different model. The people of Kirkby deserve more than this.
“We have worked closely to encourage St. Modwen to push on with their plans but, despite major names already being signed up, they remain extremely cautious and have still not confirmed a start date. We have waited too long and it’s time to move on.
“We have said before that we will look at all of the options available to us and that’s what we have done. We have never owned the shopping centre in Kirkby so buying it would be a big shift for us and a big decision to make.
“It would come with significant risks and challenges but we have concluded that the best chance we have to get this scheme completed would be to buy St. Modwen’s assets and deliver the rest of the improvements promised by them.”
A spokesperson for St. Modwen said: “I can confirm that Knowsley Council and St. Modwen are in talks regarding Knowsley Council making an offer for St. Modwen’s interest in Kirkby Town Centre. The discussions, which are still ongoing, are positive and productive, with both organisations hopeful of providing an update with even more details once, and if terms are agreed.
“The agreement would see Knowsley Council and St. Modwen work in partnership to unlock and speed up the future development and allow St. Modwen to deliver on its promise to the residents of Kirkby and the surrounding community. Knowsley Council has been actively looking to support the scheme and is pleased with the discussions to date and what it means for the prospects for Kirkby.
“Morrisons is aware of the discussions and is supportive of the development, having previously signed an agreement for lease. Knowsley Council and St. Modwen will continue to work proactively and look to make further, near-term announcements as progress is made.”
Elsewhere in Merseyside, St Modwen has also put its Crosby village development up for sale; this went on the market in March with an asking price of £6.4m.