The future of the £90m redevelopment of Macclesfield town centre has been thrown into doubt after a major retailer pulled out of the scheme.
Cheshire East Council says it is reviewing its relationship with development partner Wilson Bowden after the news that Debenhams will no longer be part of the ‘Silk Street’ regeneration project.
The controversial proposals – which also include a cinema alongside 19 other retail units, a 718-space multi-storey car park and new town square – finally got planning approval in June 2013, almost a decade after first being drawn up.
The council and developers said implementing the plan was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to rescue the town centre from economic decline, and could boost spending in Macclesfield by more than £40 million as well as creating 1,300 new jobs.
Yet now the retail element of the project could be dead in the water after a spokesperson for Debenhams, which was set to be the ‘anchor’ store in any new development, confirmed it would no longer be involved.
Cheshire East has said in light of that decision it is now making additional funding available to deliver the leisure element of the proposals - a new cinema and restaurants on the current site of the Churchill Way car park
Coun Michael Jones, leader of Cheshire East Council, said: “The decision by Debenhams comes as no surprise.
“I remain committed to the redevelopment of Macclesfield and the whole-town vision for key locations such as the Market Place, Mill Street and the Silk Quarter.
“It is clear that the leisure elements of the scheme have always received overwhelming support.
“I have asked my officers to review our position with Wilson Bowden while we focus on these elements of the Silk Street scheme, which we hope now to deliver sooner than originally envisaged.
“Importantly, Cineworld has confirmed that it remains committed to investing in Macclesfield.
“To make this happen, I will be adding more resource to our regeneration team in Macclesfield, with a new director of projects and a design board made up of local stakeholders, whose role will be to ensure that the developments sits well with the vision for the town’s future.
“Cheshire East Council is also doubling its own financial commitment to £1m of capital funding.
“I want to assure residents and businesses that we see Macclesfield as vital to economic growth and prosperity in Cheshire East.
“The regeneration of the town centre remains a top priority for the Council, which is why we are moving quickly to accelerate the leisure elements of Silk Street, while we review options to deliver the remainder of the scheme.”
Will Robinson, retail director at Wilson Bowden Developments, said that his company will continue to work with the council to try and take the scheme forward.
He said: “The decision of Debenhams is no surprise bearing in mind the current retail market.
“We still think there is a scheme to move forward and we will be reviewing things with the local authority who we have a good relationship with.
“They are a pro-active council and we continue to be committed to bringing the scheme for the town centre in light of this decision, there’s still a lot of options.
“We are still working with the council on the leisure scheme which is just one option we’re reviewing.”