Stoke-on-Trent City Council is holding back Potteries Shopping Centre expansion through City Sentral support, say owners
EXPANSION plans at a shopping centre have been delayed by a total of seven years because of a council's support for a rival development, it was claimed today.
Capital Shopping Centres (CSC) said it began talks with Stoke-on-Trent City Council over a major extension to add 300 jobs and dozens more shops to the Potteries Shopping Centre in 2005.
But the authority refused to support the scheme because of its aspirations for a new shopping centre to replace the East West precinct.
CSC revealed it is pressing ahead with a scaled-back extension, including restaurants and a cinema but without any shops on land at the back of the complex, bordering Potteries Way.
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The move comes despite the council's refusal to sell land required for the full expansion it won planning permission for in January.
The centre's managers insist the £350 million City Sentral complex due to be built on the East West site by Realis Estates is already doomed – and meeting the planned 2015 opening date will be 'physically impossible.'
The firm claims Stoke-on-Trent City Council's evidence of demand for a new shopping centre predates the recession and a national retail slump. It has now called for an independent inquiry to establish whether the authority's evidence for backing City Sentral is flawed.
Mike Butterworth, chief executive at CSC, said: "It's quite galling. We are criticised for not doing anything to expand the centre, but we have been trying for an awfully long time. Seven years on and we're in the same situation.
"Things are being held back by the council for a scheme that is supposedly imminently about to happen.
"The East West scheme wasn't delivered then, when it seemed viable, and the chances of having it delivered now are a snowball's chance in hell.
"If they've got evidence that there is demand for more retail then the right thing to do is to have a genuinely independent inquiry.
"It's what most councils would do because their current policies for the city centre are not working."
CSC insists the time required for Realis to buy up remaining land, design and submit a detailed planning application, attract businesses to fill units and build the shopping centre make its 2015 opening target unfeasible.
Mr Butterworth added: "It is physically impossible to have it open in 2015. We know a thing or two about this and I think they're looking at four years before they can get on site and then two-and-a-half years to build it.
"If it was to happen I think it's six or seven years away and that's if they go hell-for-leather from now. To say 2015 is just silly and I'd be embarrassed if it was me."
Martin Breeden, CSC's director of asset management, said the slimmed-down expansion will help the Potteries Shopping Centre remain competitive.
He said: "This is what we've done with our other centres but so far we haven't been able to do it in Stoke-on-Trent.
"There's a lack of casual dining restaurants in the city. We don't have a Nando's or a Pizza Express in the city centre.
"We need to have a broader offer. You can get more people coming out on a Sunday, to eat and go shopping, and give them different reasons to go out.
"Shops are still the key element, but this gives extra reasons and lengthens the shopping day. It will bring people from the outlying areas to come and enjoy what isn't there at the moment.
"You can't take the 3,000 jobs here for granted. If you don't move forward shoppers are going to find something elsewhere or go online."
Construction of the Potteries Shopping Centre extension is scheduled to begin next summer with an opening date of February 2015.
It can proceed under the terms of planning permission granted in January for a bigger expansion on land the city council is now refusing to sell.
Shopping centre general manager Paul Francis said: "This is not as big as we wanted but it is what we need to do.
"The public support for the plans was phenomenal. About 95 per cent of the people we spoke to approved."
Rival City Sentral, which is set to provide 80 shops, 1,000 parking spaces, restaurants, an 80-bedroom hotel and a cinema, is the centrepiece of the city council's ambitious plans for the city centre.
Marks & Spencer and Vue Cinemas have committed to the scheme, while Realis said it is in talks with firms like TK Maxx, Superdry and Nando's.
City councillor Ruth Rosenau, cabinet member for regeneration, below, said: "The city centre is underprovided for in retail terms.
"In line with our Mandate for Change, City Sentral will provide competition and encourage the sort of retail offer a city the size of Stoke-on-Trent should have – preventing shoppers taking their trade to other major centres.
"City Sentral will act as a catalyst for the wider regeneration plans which will benefit the whole city."