A COUNCIL task force could be created to consider the future development of city centres and town centres in West Cheshire.
Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) officers and councillors would make up the cross-party working group, which executive members will be asked to approve.
The proposal won unanimous support following a ‘state of the borough’ debate inthe full council meeting on October 17.
Labour leader Justin Madders has put forward a motion highlighting continuing challenges in rejuvenating high streets and the need for comprehensive strategies for town centres and city centres.
His motion emphasises the current restrictions on councils to influence and change high streets and the proliferation of pay day loan and quick credit stores in retail centres.
Cllr Madders wants CWaC to lobby the government to create a new ‘umbrella’ class in planning regulations to ensure there would always have to be an application before a change of use of premises.
He said: “This could be used to separate specific types of premises from others currently in the same use class – according to local circumstances and concerns.”
Council leader Mike Jones said he did not believe current government measures would allay council concerns about a lack of ability to control ‘what happens on our high streets’.
He said: “It’s fair to say that the previous system of planning and the change of use required has not worked – we see that in many of our town centres – not just in the borough but across the country.”
Cllr Jones proposed that a cross-party working group of councillors and officers should work together on a strategy to secure the future of town and city centres in West Cheshire.
He said such a strategy would help complement the ongoing redevelopment in Chester, Ellesmere Port, Northwich and Winsford.
Councillors made a number of suggestions during the debate including the encouragement of vibrant markets, free car parking, reductions in business rates and the creation of the right balance between leisure and retail attractions.
Promotion of business improvement districts, heritage attractions, ease of accessibility for the disabled, the range of retail on offer and encouraging people to live and work in town centres were also highlighted.
Cllr Madders had earlier outlined the challenges facing high streets in West Cheshire and across the UK.
He said: “Nationally, there are still one in seven retail units vacant with over 330 empty in West Cheshire alone. These vacancies are not restricted to any one part of the borough – they are across the board.
“Of course, there are some units that have been filled in recent times but I’d suggest they have not been occupied by businesses that are going to revitalise our town centres.”
Research shows that charity shops and pawnbrokers had seen the biggest increase in numbers last year. Nationally there are 20 per cent more payday loan shops than a year ago, 13 per cent more pawnbrokers and 3.3 per cent more betting shops.
Cllr Madders said: “Payday lenders, pawnbrokers, and betting shops where you can gamble hundreds of pounds in seconds – all these ventures suck the money and ultimately the life out of our high streets. They are based on exploitative business models which have no place in a civilised society.
“New planning rules are going to make it easier for these types of shops to sprawl along our high streets. Now they can open in cafes and shops.”