District council begins process to appoint agent for Queen and Bear street site and Seven Brethren schemes.

MAJOR plans for the redevelopment of Barnstaple town centre are off the back burner and on the fast track agenda in a bid to dig North Devon out of the economic doldrums, according to senior councillors.

North Devon Council has taken the next step with long-standing plans for revitalising the Queen Street, Bear Street and Seven Brethren areas as it prepares to appoint a commercial agent to market the sites to developers.

Ambitions to develop both sites with a mix of retail, leisure and housing have simmered for several years but now the current administration says it is keen to get cracking and help kick start the local economy.

Six potential agents have been shortlisted and asked to submit formal tenders, with a view to appointment by mid April. The work to find suitable developers will then begin.

“Developing these sites will bring much needed investment into the town, as well as boosting the shopping and leisure choice,” said Councillor Malcolm Prowse, Executive Member for Economic Regeneration.

“In the past people have felt the planning process could only react, so we are very keen to turn that around and plan for our future – to make it happen and happen quickly.”

Four years ago detailed proposals for the Queen Street and Bear Street site were unveiled by Wilson Bowden Developments, but came to nothing following the economic downturn.

The council’s planning brief proposes “a mixed retail and leisure development, to include a department store and housing.”

The site includes the council owned multi storey car park plus the adjoining district council car parks, a little over four acres. The multi storey will be demolished this month and a new temporary car park will be created.

Mr Prowse told the Gazette the council had been approached by “two major players” in the national retail industry that were interested in the site and would be “in it for the long haul”.

“People are fed up with being bombarded by huge scale supermarket type proposals – there is a balance in these sites for national business, as with most high streets, but also for local traders too,” he said.

Council Leader, Councillor Brian Greenslade, said he felt they were striking at the right time:

“We can act as a catalyst to get things moving. It is one of our top priorities for regeneration and we are giving it all the push we can, because the earlier we can make it happen, the better it will be for the community,” he said.

“The inquiries by national companies show a level of interest in Barnstaple similar to before the economic slump. We need to plan our own recovery and that will give people confidence.”

Consultants will begin an independent retail and leisure study for North Devon and Torridge next month. Due for completion in June, it will be used to help steer development of the town centre sites and determine what shopping and leisure facilities are needed.