Next Wednesday, Shropshire Council’s cabinet will discuss plans for redeveloping the riverside area of Shrewsbury on Smithfield Road. This follows a public consultation a year ago, which highlighted the need to prioritise pedestrian and cycling access and to tackle climate change.
The proposals from Shropshire Council involve spending £77m building 270 homes, a multi-agency hub and offices with 500 spaces for workers, the Pride Hill Leisure Centre (cinema etc.), offices, a hotel and a Transport Hub – a multistorey car park with 400 spaces plus bike racks to you and me. I wonder how many of spaces will be reserved for cabinet members and council directors as they are currently at Shirehall?
Smithfield Road will be closed and become a green park alongside the River Severn. Traffic will be diverted along Raven Meadows, which the public documents call New Smithfield Road.
The Riverside Centre and the Pride Hill Shopping Centre will be demolished.
The council, which is rapidly running out of money, will have to raise the £77 million it needs for this scheme through loans. That could cost council tax payers more than £4 million in interest payments. And, it goes without saying the council’s limited funds are going into Shrewsbury yet again. If this goes ahead, the rest of Shropshire will be starved of investment by the council for a generation.
Respondents to last year’s consultation were concerned that there no replacement for the bus station in the concept plans, concerns also raised by Bus Users Shropshire and Sustainable Transport Shropshire. The need for a bus station is mentioned in the council paperwork. It is absent from the public plans. Deputy council leader Ed Potter told BBC Radio Shropshire this morning that the plans clearly show a new bus station in the last phase of the development, Phase Three. He failed to mention, or perhaps didn’t know, that the potential location of the bus station is only shown in a council document marked “Official – sensitive”.
The public cabinet document, the Smithfield Riverside Development Framework (SDF), shows the current bus station site as a potential surface car park during Phase 2 or Phase 3 of the development. Indeed, the SDF shows little relationship to what the council is planning. There is no bus station on the indicative plan, though it is mentioned in the accompanying text.
I don’t oppose major redevelopment of Shrewsbury town centre but this set of papers is a mess. I do not believe that they form a basis for rational and informed decision making. The cabinet should tell Ed Potter, who holds the portfolio for economic development, to withdraw them and come back with a more consistent, less confusing set of proposals in March. The revised papers should the go to full council in May.
I don’t expect the cabinet to do this. The current administration has a habit of rushing through half though out and badly prepared proposals. That’s what led to the purchase of the shopping centres at the top of the market at £51 million.
The council also need a development partner for Shrewsbury town centre. A company that has experience in area wide development and is prepared to share the financial risks. That it has no partner speaks volumes about the risks Shropshire Council is now expecting council taxpayers to shoulder.
If this goes ahead, the rest of Shropshire will be starved of investment by the council for a generation.