Macclesfield town centre’s future packs the Parish Church

St Michael’s Parish Church was packed on Thursday night with local residents and business owners attending a meeting organised by local MP David Rutley to consider the future of the town centre in the light of Debenham’s much-anticipated decision to pull out of the Wilson Bowden town centre redevelopment plan.

Debenham’s decision, which had been anticipated for several months by most of us, has forced Cheshire East council to review its contract with the developers.

Mr Rutley, accompanied on stage by Caroline Simpson, director of Economic Growth and Prosperity for Cheshire East Council, and Clare Hayward, chair of the Make it Macclesfield Economic Forum advised the audience that the perceived setback should really be viewed as an opportunity –  citing the situation at Alderley Park – the former AstraZeneca headquarters which has been transformed into a thriving bioscience business park.

Caroline Simpson made every effort to reassure the gathered residents and traders that the council was working hard behind the scenes to encourage regeneration and hinted that the contract with Wilson Bowden was being reviewed.

She said that the Council had allocated £1m to revamp the town centre with a particular focus on the Mill Street area and an additional £25m was to be spent on highway improvement.

She added that planning processes were also being sped up in an effort to regenerate brownfield sites.

£15m was being committed by the Council to fund developments – rather than waiting for the private sector to respond and a £58,000-a-year project director was being recruited to manage the regeneration of the town.

Although she couldn’t say where, she also told the audience that the Council had secured two key sites – which formed part of the planned town centre redevelopment.

The audience were also told that a Design Panel was being created, under the chairmanship of local property expert Nick Hynes, to advise the Council on options and opportunities for the town centre.

Questions were raised by several members of the audience relating to the planned movement of the Senior Citizen’s Hall, the creation of a new cinema and car parking.

Wake Up Macc campaigner Peter Fowler, celebrated the demise of the town redevelopment scheme, which went down well and had the vast majority of the audience cheering and applauding their approval.

He went on to say that he was concerned that those on the stage, making the decisions on the town centre’s future, would be the same ones who supported the Silk Street scheme – presumably alluding to Make it Macclesfield chairperson Clare Hayward, who’s unequivocal endorsement at the Planning Meeting was likely instrumental in securing planning approval and foisting the much-criticised and discredited scheme on Macclesfield.

A number of candidates for the forthcoming Macclesfield Town Council election also seized the opportunity to comment, and no doubt, engage in a little electioneering.

Finally, Mr Rutley appealed to all sectors of Macclesfield to volunteer their support and involvement in the Design Panel and Make it Macclesfield group.

The day following the meeting I was in contact with a local property developer who advised me, not unsurprisingly, that the loss of Debenhams and subsequent demise of the scheme had already generated interest from a number of retailers anxious to come into the town.

I personally could not be more happy to see the end of the Wilson Bowden scheme. When I first encountered their Mark I presentation I stated that the scheme would provide a wonderful opportunity for speculators and the property developers but would do nothing whatsoever Macclesfield.

Wilson Bowden’s subsequent stream of revisions only served to depress me – and the majority of Make it Macclesfield members I spoke to – even more.

I’m confident that Macclesfield’s many creative entrepreneurs will at this very moment be burning the midnight oil to bring about the much-needed revival of our once-thriving town centre.

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