Inquiry call over shops row
INDEPENDENT councillors have backed calls for an inquiry into whether Stoke-on-Trent can support a second major shopping centre.
The Sentinel revealed yesterday how the Potteries Shopping Centre is pressing ahead with a slimmed-down £15 million upgrade – adding a cinema, restaurants and creating 180 jobs – despite the city council's refusal to sell land needed for a full extension.
The authority refused to release the land as it is backing Realis Estates' plans to build the £350 million City Sentral shopping centre on the site of the East West precinct.
Capital Shopping Centres (CSC), which owns the Potteries centre, insists City Sentral will never be built and bosses say a report they commissioned proves there is no demand for more city centre shops. They have called for an independent inquiry into the council's approach to city centre regeneration.
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Non-aligned Hanley councillor Paul Breeze said: "I would support an inquiry. I am extremely angry at what the council has done to CSC. The council land they want to develop is in abysmal condition and it is a key gateway to Hanley. CSC has money it is ready to spend on regenerating the city centre and the council has told them to get lost. I don't understand it."
The Potteries Shopping Centre will include an eight-screen cinema and six restaurants but the expansion plans have been scaled back after the council's refusal to sell the required land in Brewery Street and Bryan Street. It means one restaurant won't be included in the new plan, while another will be much smaller and there are no shops.
Mr Breeze, below, has written an open letter to city council chief executive John van de Laarschot and leader Mohammed Pervez, demanding they rethink their decision.
He added: "Given the very real serious uncertainty that the proposed Realis Estates' City Sentral development will go ahead as originally envisaged at all, doesn't it make much more sense for the council to face the brutal reality of these circumstances and release the land to allow the full Potteries development to go ahead?"
Councillor Dave Conway, leader of the opposition City Independents, added: "An independent inquiry is a good idea because at the moment, I think all of this is going to end in tears. All the indications are that City Sentral is never going to happen."
"The Potteries Shopping Centre has money to spend – and we are supposed to be open for business."
Mike Butterworth, chief executive of CSC, has also indicated the firm will look to invest the money in one of its 14 other shopping centres if it continues to be 'hamstrung' by the council. He added: "There will come a time when we have to ask – why don't we spend our money in, for instance, Nottingham?"
Realis Estates insists it is on track to build the new shopping and leisure complex, but it has acknowledged that its original billed opening of 2015 may not be achieved.