COUNCIL leader Derek Long insists the regeneration of St Helens town centre is on track - although it will take years for the transformation to become visible.

The health of St Helens town centre has been a hot talking point with the announcement by Marks & Spencer to relocate to Ravenhead Retail park adding the newest blow to the high street.

Cllr Long stresses that St Helens is experiencing the same pressures as other towns and says the authority is on track with its “vision” to transform the town centre.

Last year the council unveiled its ambitious vision for the town centre and made a £26m purchase of Church Square Shopping Centre in a move for the authority to take “greater control”.

Cllr Long said to the Star: “Currently centres are adjusting to a retail revolution. We, as all other places, have to adjust to something which is essentially undoing the last 150 years. As it undoes this we have to find ways of adjusting to it.”

He adds the purchase of Church Square Shopping Centre is “a crucial step” of the process.

“Firstly we have to have a vision which was launched last year. The second crucial step is to take control. Before we bought Church Square we owned about one per cent of the town centre and had no huge ability to influence what went on.

“It is not a line on a balance sheet, to us it is fundamental to the future of this borough.”

Stressing it is a “long-term” process, Cllr Long insists that progress is being made “behind the scenes” even if it will take time for this to become visible.

“It has taken 150 years for the town centre to get to this point, it will take many years for it to adjust fully to the retail revolution,” he added.

“There are things that we can’t talk about at the moment that are going on behind the scenes.

“It takes some years to be an overnight success but success is clearly where we are headed towards.

“There is a message behind that for people who are unsure of where we are up to.

“Positivity creates more positivity.

“You need to mix up what happens in a town centre.

“There will be retail and leisure and cultural operators all brought together.

“I know of metrics which analyse town centres across the country and all are having the same pressures.

“What is different in St Helens is not the problem but the solution.”