THE next step has been taken to redevelop the former Blackburn Markets site.

Blackburn with Darwen Council’s executive board approved proposals to enter into a 12-month exclusivity agreement with developers looking to turn the site into a high-end retail development.

Maple Grove, part of the Eric Wright Group, has been appointed as preferred developer for the 3.76 acre site bounded by Brown Street and Penny Street, between the new bus station and the Buzz Bingo Hall, in a deal initially worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Cllr Phil Riley, executive member for regeneration, said: “The important thing is Maple Grove has got a year of exclusivity on the site.

“If they get us the right things for the site, it will progress.

“We are keen to see brand names and a development that will enhance the offering in the town centre.”

If Maple Grove cannot secure tenants during the exclusivity period, both they and the council will have the right to withdraw from the agreement.

And if tenants are secured, the council will have the right to assess the quality to ensure the scheme fulfils the town centre vision and aspirations to attract higher quality retail.

Andrew Dewhurst, director at Maple Grove Developments, said: "We’re very pleased to have been chosen as preferred developer.

"This is a large and prominent town centre site and the decision taken by Blackburn with Darwen Council allows us to move forward with our designs in liaison with specific retailers.

"On the back of the Cathedral Quarter development we again look forward to working closely with the council to bring forward another major regeneration project."

The old market hall was demolished in 2013 after it moved into the new £8million hall under The Mall in 2011.

It is now a car park and event space which has hosted a fun fair and car boot sales.

Originally earmarked for a Sainsbury’s superstore, efforts to redevelop it with a high-quality anchor tenant stalled in 2016.

In October the council re-marketed the site receiving two bids.

One was for a retail-led development of three units with car parking and public space and the second for an Asian wedding-themed cultural quarter.

Denise Park, deputy chief executive of Blackburn with Darwen Council, said: "The council are pleased to announce that Maple Grove has been selected as our preferred partner for the development of a new retail led mixed use scheme on a 3.76 acre town centre site at Brown Street in Blackburn. "Maple Grove was selected following a competitive tender and the council looks forward to working with the developer developing a quality retail scheme which supports the town centre."

A town centre supplementary planning document adopted by the council last year proposed a mix of retail, residential, offices, land leisure uses alongside restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars as the preferred option for the site.

It suggested any regeneration could help link together the bus station and Mall with the soon-to-be vacant Thwaites Brewery site and the Cathedral Square development.

The executive board approved proceeding with the former as the bidder ‘not only offered the highest price and produced a more attractive comprehensive redevelopment proposal but also already has a successful proven track record with the council’.

Eric Wright Group has been involved in several high profile developments in partnership with the council, including the new bus station, One Cathedral Square, Wainwright Way and the new £1.3million public space in Darwen.