CAMPAIGNERS have welcomed the move to demolish a multi-storey car park to make use of Sankey Canal as a more prominent feature of the town centre.

As the Star has previously reported, St Helens Council's cabinet agreed plans to use £1m of funding from central government in advance of a Town Deal to demolish the car park.

The council regards the car park as a “key site for transformation”.

They believe demolishing it will create opportunities to make the Sankey Canal more visible for the rest of the town centre and also as an attractive redevelopment site.

Formal permission was granted for the demolition plans in December and contractors PP O’Connor have been appointed to complete the demolition, which is due to start this month.

Campaigners who have called for the restoration of the canal have welcomed the move and cited the area's potential for good footfall being close to the World of Glass.

They say that the canal is currently relatively hidden from public view and therefore under-appreciated by the community.

The car park’s demolition will free up the prime waterfront site for future development as the Town Deal Board works towards its submission for up to £25m from government to support its vision for redeveloping St Helens town centre.

The demolition will not impact on businesses still open close by and will have no effect on the symptom free testing site at nearby St Mary’s Market.

READ > Plans for £54m Glass Futures centre of exellence submitted

Colin Greenall, chairman of the Sankey Canal Restoration Society (SCARS), said: “The opening up of urban waterways and their green corridors for walking and cycling right into a town centre as St Helens are doing is one way of helping society cope with the well being of populations.

"There are currently two pressing problems made worse by the Covid pandemic, that of growing levels of diabetes and inactive children especially in socio-economic deprived areas and canals like the Sankey passing close to inner city areas provide a cost effective means of families taking exercise and improving health.”

Meanwhile, Jim Forkin, chairman of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA -Chester and Merseyside) added: “This is great news for the borough and I hope they can follow the example of towns like Stroud on the Cotswold Canal where cooperation between the various organisations involved with their waterway is bringing great benefits to the town.

“To attract footfall to traditional town centres they will have to adopt different roles with radical new ideas centres for entertainment, education and leisure and those towns with a waterway at their centre need to maximise the good fortune the canal builders gifted to them.

"In developing that appeal to the public, St Helens are definitely on the right course but any future development must in the context of their waterway and industrial heritage.

"In the future a connection to the main waterway links and some visiting narrow boats or Leeds and Liverpool canal barges would be a real bonus."

Cllr McCauley

Cllr McCauley

Council cabinet member for regeneration and planning, Cllr Richard McCauley said: “The demolition will bring an important waterfront site into the town centre, creating a catalyst for commercial, leisure or housing development and is consistent with our heritage strategy and ambitions for the canal.”

Whilst sections of the canal, claimed to be the first canal of the Industrial Revolution when opened in 1757, have been filled in and bridges lowered much of the line remains in water, there are still hopes by campaigners that full restoration can take place.

St Helens Star:

Cllr Baines

David Baines, St Helens Borough Council leader added: “We are lucky in St Helens to have a canal, we are one of the few towns around that have got a canal in the heart of the town centre.

“We’ve got the fantastic World of Glass, we’ve got the fantastic canal-side café, and that’s the closest you can get to it really in a nice environment.

“We want to change that, so doing this will open up that whole area and kick-start the regeneration of that part of St Helens town centre.”