'Town centre needs leader who can bridge divide between council and retailers'

St Helens town centre faces numerous challenges and is one of the biggest concerns for Star readers

Ged Gibbons

First published in News

A LEADER who can bridge the divide between retailers and the council is needed to create a clear vision that will revive St Helens town centre.

That is the view of Ged Gibbons, who was town centre manager in St Helens for several years until being seconded to work on Liverpool’s Capital of Culture programme in 2007.

He did not return to the role after being offered a job in the city’s business district following his temporary position.

St Helens Council never appointed another town centre manager and there are those who believe that a lack of leadership has left the area rudderless while battling against a recession, growth of internet shopping and competition from giant shopping complexes.

With concern about the town centre one of the main topics of debate among Star readers, the newspaper sought the opinion of Mr Gibbons on what direction he thinks it should take.

He said: “I’ve been away from St Helens for some time now but one thing I’m aware of is that the partnership between retailers, business and St Helens Council isn’t what it was.

“If you are going to get people into the town centre you need to pull together and have the right team in place with direction.

“Someone needs to be there to bridge the divide between the public sector and the private sector – a lot of people have decades of experience of working in one area, such as local government, but they have never had the time to understand how the private sector works – and vice-versa.”

When Mr Gibbons held the reins of the town centre, a partnership committee – including retailers, police, business leaders and members of the council – would meet to discuss ways of driving improvement and tackling problems.

That partnership no longer exists and the Star understands there is tension between key figures in the private sector and the council over issues such as parking and events.

Mr Gibbons, 55, who now works freelance advising town centres and business districts across Europe, said: “You need to have an understanding of where St Helens is and where you want to go – and you need the right people.

“I would consider reinstating the town centre manager’s role and partnership – and I would seriously consider reviewing car parking charges.

“I would also look to set up a business improvement district, which would involve businesses forming a partnership and putting money into a collective pool that can then be invested in making improvements in the town centre.

“From there a special town centre business plan can be created.”

The Labour party, which controls St Helens Council, announced pre election pledges this week that include creating a town centre taskforce to drive retailer growth and free parking on Saturdays.

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