Dealing with empty shops: Warrington Borough Council

The council’s initial ambition was regeneration of the town centre, which recognised the retail demise and growing vacancy, surplus retail and the opportunity for residential development on brownfield land in the town centre.


The challenge

The council’s initial ambition was regeneration of the town centre, which recognised the retail demise and growing vacancy, surplus retail and the opportunity for residential development on brownfield land in the town centre. The key challenge was also defined as having a Victorian hospital and health service that was strained, and that was unequipped for a modern and growing town and population.


Powers used

  • Powers of investment.
  • Civic leadership.

The solution

Warrington was one of the first towns to submit a finalised Town Deal plan, based on extensive public engagement about what would make a difference in and around the town centre. The £22 million plan has been spearheaded by the Town Deal Board and has seven main proposals including a health and wellbeing hub using vacant retail space and housing a number of services such as assessments for older people and mental health services.

The council had established the principles and challenges for the proposal, including a focus on the town centre, the challenges of surplus retail and growing vacancy, but found it was important to establish the need and service definition before identifying the building.

Anchor organisations are leading on each plan proposal, and Warrington Hospital are leading on the health and wellbeing hub. They are currently writing a detailed business case and outputs definition and are working on choosing the location of the hub. The council would like to see the hub in an area with high footfall, but this is challenging due to the fact that footfall is constantly changing as retail space is being reconfigured. The hub will be situated in a vacant property in which it’s possible for partners to sign up to a revenue commitment for a minimum of five years.


Lessons learned

It pays for a council to have an update register of potential projects that are ready to progress if government funding is made available, to either develop the business case or to actually deliver the approved project. Government funding often has two specific characteristics, firstly the invitation to apply for it has very tight deadlines and secondly, when awarded, the condition is usually to have the money spent as quickly as possible; so having that register of worked-up projects is becoming more important.