A NEW market, park area, hotel and redesigned bus station form a key part of draft proposals being laid out for the transformation of St Helens town centre.

The fresh plans – which have replaced a vision that fell by the wayside several years ago – would see the Hardshaw Centre and part of St Mary's Market flattened and redeveloped.

The initial phase of the plans aim to reduce the overall retail space and replace it with a new mixed-use development including a new market, a hotel and flexible commercial Grade A office space.

That area would be created where the Hardshaw Centre currently stands.

There would also be a redesigned bus station and improved connectivity, with the creation of a new public realm area.

St Helens Star: A vision for how St Helens town centre could look under the plans

A CGI shows a vision of a new public realm near Church Square, with a new glass-fronted St Helens Market on land where the former Argos store currently stands

A new green park – titled Discovery Park – would also be created in the centre of the town, believed to be on land where St Mary's Market currently stands.

A key message from the council leader David Baines is that the redevelopment will seek to create a "child and family-friendly" experience.

A regeneration of Earlestown town centre is also central to the plans, with the aim of creating a thriving and vibrant high street and marketplace.

The proposals aim to partially cover the market, improve the rail station and create a transport hub.

St Helens Star:

Proposals for Earlestown centre on the market square

The local authority, which has published the plans today, has described the vision as "game-changing" and a once-in-a-lifetime redevelopment opportunity.

In the case of St Helens, it would be the most significant redevelopment of the town centre for half a century.

And, while aware there is a degree of public cynicism because previous "ambitious plans" have failed to come to fruition, local authority bosses stress this occasion is different because the partnership deal signed with the English Cities Fund mean the proposals are deliverable.

The ECF has led a number of regeneration schemes across the UK – perhaps most notably in Salford.

St Helens Star:

An image of how the bus station and a new development could take shape

To ensure the plans can move forward the council will first have to finalise a deal to buy the Hardshaw Centre.

However, senior councillors are confident a planning application will go in for the first phase in January.

The vision aims to dovetail with projects set out in the Towns Deal Fund Bid, which include the Gamble Building being restored.

The draft plans will subject to consultation and could change depending on feedback from businesses and towns people.

What the council has said:

In a statement St Helens Borough Council said: "The proposed plans will facilitate transformational change that will build upon each of the town centres existing assets and uniqueness, delivering high quality, sustainable regeneration – transforming these key centres into exciting, vibrant places for residents and visitors to enjoy.

"Both town centres are the subject of separate draft Masterplan Development Frameworks, which set out multi-million-pound vision and principles for each.

"The Frameworks have been prepared by St Helens Borough Council in partnership with regeneration experts, the English Cities Fund (ECF), and have been published ahead of a special cabinet meeting to discuss the proposals on Wednesday, October 20.

"Delivery of the ambitions for St Helens town centre are expected to span the next 20 years, with an initial Phase 1 planning application anticipated to be submitted early next year."

The plans for St Helens

The proposals for St Helens town centre divide the town centre into four zones, each of which will play a role in the wider transformation of the town centre.

These zones are; the Central Retail Zone; the Civic and Heritage Zone; the Discovery Zone; and the Education and Entertainment Zone.

The plans aim to reduce the overall retail space and replace it with a new mixed-use development including a new market (including a glass-fronted food and drink section similar to what has been created in Warrington and a place for stall-holders) a hotel, new "cutting edge" flexible commercial Grade A office space, a redesigned bus station and improved connectivity, the creation of a new public realm and a new green park called ‘Discovery Park’ in the centre of the town.

The plans also aim to provide space for new "high-quality homes for families".

Retailers or businesses in buildings that potentially face demolition would be offered relocation options to other units in St Helens town centre.

The plans for Earlestown

In Earlestown, the draft masterplan framework seeks to return the area to its former glory as a market town by creating a thriving and vibrant high street and marketplace.

The council says it is "envisaged this will be achieved through a variety of measures, including reopening the Town Hall and re-defining Market Square as a place for people, with a multi-use offer".

St Helens Star:

A CGI of Earlestown's proposals

Ambitions include accessibility improvements at Earlestown rail station and the creation of a new transport hub adjacent.

An initial Phase 1 planning application for Earlestown town centre is expected to be submitted in early 2022.

What is the English Cities Fund

ECF is a national strategic joint venture set up by Homes England, Legal & General and developer, Muse Developments.

Since 2001, ECF has been delivering urban regeneration projects across the UK.

Following its expansion in 2018, it continues to take on large, complex sites, to create "inspiring new places."

Leon Guyett, development director at ECF, said the project is an "incredibly exciting and transformational set of proposals".

He added: The English Cities Fund has a track record of delivering town centre regeneration projects across the country, from Salford to Newham, and we look forward to bringing our expertise and knowledge to the [the] St Helens borough over the next twenty years.”

What the council leader is saying

In a statement Councillor David Baines, leader at St Helens Borough Council, said: “I am delighted to finally unveil these transformational masterplans for both St Helens and Earlestown town centres.

"The proposals will deliver once-in-a-lifetime redevelopment at the heart of our towns.

"We want our town centres to be child and family-friendly, safe and sustainable thriving places for local businesses, shoppers, visitors, and residents, and that’s what these plans will help to deliver.

"The plans will now go to a special meeting of Cabinet on the October 20, and then a period of public consultation and a series of events across the borough will begin from November 1 for six weeks.

"We want as many residents, businesses and community groups as possible to have their say and to help shape the plans before planning applications are submitted early in the new year.”

How to have your say

Public consultations on the draft development masterplan frameworks will be launched on Monday, November 1.

Residents, communities and local businesses can have their say on the plans and will include a series of engagement events across the borough during the six-week consultation period, as well as a number of ways to engage online.