A COUNCIL leader has been forced to defend plans to pay £375,000 of taxpayers' cash to a shopping centre to tempt retail giant Primark into opening in the borough.

Cllr Mark Townsend, Burnley Council leader, said the cash was part of the 'bigger picture' and designed to build a 'sustainable and thriving' town centre.

But critics said the 'sweetener' which helped tempt the discount clothing store into Burnley's Charter Walk was a step too far when council staff were being made redundant and council tax was being raised.

Council bosses said the £375,000 was a one-off payment to Charter Walk's owner, Addington Captial, which would be spending the cash preparing the new store.

But former Burnley MP, Cllr Gordon Birtwistle, said the council should not be giving taxpayers' money to 'wealthy private companies'.

Cllr Townsend said: "The money was given to support Addington in the redevelopment of the town centre.

"It's changing the store to help get a big space ready for Primark.

"The money has come from an underspend from last year, the money could not be put into council services because it would not be available again.

"It's a lump sum which is isn't available year on year, we have to take this as a fantastic opportunity to revitalise the town centre and bring a quality retailer like Primark to Burnley.

"We've had lots of feedback from residents who have said they are very much looking forward to the store coming.

"I think we have been prudent with this as other local authorities have tried to take over the town centre whereas we are doing things differently."

But Cllr Birtwistle, the borough's Lib Dem leader, said: "£375,000 is an incredible amount of money and it should be spent elsewhere.

"We've had job losses, we've had services suffer but the council want to give all that money to the owners of the shopping centre to bring in a private company.

"The council argues that Primark would bring in more shoppers to Burnley, but it's not going to help fill in the empty shops in the town centre."

Primark announced it would be heading to the town back in 2015.

It was originally scheduled to open this year in Curzon Street, near to Next, in a unit formerly occupied by Wilko. This has now been put back to spring 2018.

An opening date has yet to be confirmed.

Wilko stayed in Burnley and took out a 10-year lease after it relocated to 24 The Mall, Charter Walk.

Cllr Birtwistle said: "Addington is a PLC and judging by its accounts it's very wealthy, it doesn't need taxpayers' cash.

"The money could be used to save 10 jobs at the council, or reduce council tax, it shouldn't be handed out.

"In my view taxpayers should not be paying this out when they will not get any return."

Charter Walk houses other big high street names such as GAME, Pandora, River Island, Thorntons and Virgin Media.

The shopping centre had a major revamp in 2011, which doubled the size of many units.

Cllr David Heginbotham, Tory leader on Burnley Council, said: "You need to speculate money to accumulate money.

"Putting this money into the centre to get Primark would bring jobs into Burnley, when every town is crying out for work.

"The more money in the town centre the stronger the council will be financially.

"I would ask where else would we spend this money? What else could we do with it?

"£375,000 is the price of a house in some parts of the borough, nowadays it is a small sum of money.

"More people working means more council tax so the council can improve its services that way."

Cllr Townsend said: "Firstly Gordon has changed his tune as when this was initially brought up at a full council meeting in July 2016 it was agreed unanimously.

"We have a stake in the town centre and we have a partnership with Addington and we want to make footfall improvements and attract new and larger shops to the town centre.

"It's not just about footfall though, we want to make sure we have financial prospects so Burnley is looking good going forward.

"This is part of a much bigger picture, the pedestrianisation of the town centre, which is looking fantastic, and will be completed soon."

Spokesmen for Primark and Addington Capital were unavailable to comment.