The local authority is to pay Mars Pension Fund £26.6m for the centre, as it looks to bring forward regeneration plans, having previously controlled just 1% of retail stock in the town.
St Helens released for consultation its St Helens: Transforming our Town vision document in August. Leader Cllr Barrie Grunewald said: “We are committed to investing in our borough, in a prudent way, to both increase our income streams and to help bring forward our town centre regeneration plans.
“This investment has taken some time to come to fruition and has not been easy but I believe it is the right thing to do for the borough as a whole.
“By taking control of Church Square we can now properly plan for town centre development. I hope this action will make people realise just how serious we are about turning the town centre around, as doing nothing would equate to ongoing decline. Now is the time to act.”
The deal reflects the trend for local authorities, faced with funding cuts, to seek to boost their income-generating abilities. Warrington Council has bought the Birchwood business park and Trafford has engaged CBRE to build up an investment portfolio, while Salford has committed long-term funding to blue-chip office developments.
Mike Palin, St Helens Council’s chief executive, said: “This purchase has been made on an investment basis whereby the cost of managing the asset and paying down the borrowing is less than the income anticipated.
“This means the investment has a positive impact as well as giving us the control required to bring forward regeneration plans for the town centre as a whole.”
The council said it will write to all current tenants making them aware of the ownership change, and will work with professional advisors on options for improving the centre.