London & Cambridge Properties is set to mount a legal challenge against a recently approved St Modwen project in Skelmersdale town centre, which LCP says threatens the viability of its nearby Concourse Shopping Centre.
LCP was granted planning permission in December for a £4m refurbishment and extension of the Concourse to allow for a 20,000 sq ft multi-screen cinema operated by The Light, alongside six restaurant outlets.
LCP said that it sent a letter to West Lancashire Council on Monday 29 June which sets out several points of law that challenge the granting of planning consent in March to St Modwen for what it believes would be a competing scheme.
St Modwen intends to deliver a mixed-use project on a 14-acre site between the college and Skelmersdale town centre, with 50,000 sq ft of retail, as well as 50,000 sq ft of leisure including a six-screen cinema operated by Reel, alongside restaurants and bars.
St Modwen is working in partnership with the Homes & Communities Agency and West Lancashire Council on the development.
The letter from LCP to the council is a pre-action protocol and identifies the specific legal grounds on which it disputes the planning consent to St Modwen and seeks to establish if the council can address them to avoid litigation.
If the local authority does not do that, LCP said it will apply to the courts for judicial review.
LCP is delivering the Concourse project on behalf of joint venture partners Skelmersdale Limited Partnership and Threadneedle Investments.
Jo Salmon, LCP’s retail portfolio manager, said that the developer was left with no option but to take action because legal counsel believed the consent for the St Modwen scheme is “unlawful, unenforceable and ineffective”.
She said: “We are doing this because we have to preserve the future of the Concourse Shopping Centre and Skelmersdale town centre.
“We are challenging the scheme on a number of legal and technical points and it is our hope that the council can rectify these issues but if that is not possible, then we have no choice but to apply to the courts for judicial review.”
According to Salmon, the council and its retained retail consultant Peter Brett Associates had already acknowledged in planning documents the potential harm that would be caused to the Concourse Centre if the St Modwen proposals went ahead. St Modwen is promoting a scheme that includes Aldi, Home Bargains and Poundland, which currently occupy 20% of Concourse’s existing retail space.
Salmon said: “In addition to bringing a quality cinema and restaurants to Skelmersdale, our scheme will ensure all our existing businesses will be strengthened, we will be able to entice new retailers to the town, it will breathe new life into the Concourse.
“If the competing scheme was to go ahead, there will no new retailers coming to the town, just relocation of our existing stores, which will lead to fewer shoppers in the centre, further weakening of the town’s core, more vacant units and less choice for customers. This would be detrimental to the town, the businesses, the employees and our shoppers. This cannot be allowed to happen.”
Paul Batho, projects director at St Modwen, said: “We are disappointed that this action is being pursued by the owners of the Concourse Shopping Centre but we remain committed to delivering our scheme, which will deliver significant benefits to Skelmersdale as a whole and enjoys strong local support. We hope that the matter is resolved quickly in order for us to progress with the delivery of our scheme which is the right scheme for the people of Skelmersdale.”
West Lancashire Council was not immediately available for comment at the time of publication.