PLANS have been proposed for an ambitious transformation of the Accrington Arndale that could see part of the centre demolished to make way for new homes.

The proposals were lodged by Arndale owner the Jesta Group which believes this could be the best way to regenerate a town centre that has been struggling in recent years, with businesses hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

The firm wants a mix of housing and retail on the site and would like to redevelop remaining parts of the shopping centre.

Hyndburn Council said the company is a vital stakeholder and that working with them could be key to further plans to revive the town.

Council leader Miles Parkinson MBE said: “The Arndale Centre in Accrington is a major part of the jigsaw in our plan to remake town centres, not just in Accrington but across the borough.

“That’s going to happen with the help of our retail task force. It’s about helping investors to see the road map to making the town centre relevant to residents and retailers again.”

Cllr Parkinson said that repurposing retail areas for housing had been suggested by residents during a recent visit to the town by retailer Sir John Timpson, founder of Timpsons shoe repairs, who has since recommended demolishing the shopping centre and redeveloping the site.

Councillor Parkinson said: “When we walked around with Sir John and residents were giving suggestions many were saying that in areas where retail was no longer relevant that they could be re-zoned for housing.

“I think the public would support quality provision.”

This could take the form of sheltered accommodation for older people, with the town centre an ideal location due to the proximity of public services and transport links, and the need particularly pressing due to what council leaders have defined as an ageing population.

Such a move would also acknowledge changing consumer trends, with the pandemic having accelerated moves to online shopping and meaning that larger shopping centres like the Arndale, which was opened 34 years ago, are no longer as relevant to customers as they once were.

Councillor Parkinson said: “This is the aspiration we have and it’s about working with individuals, businesses and housing associations.”

He added: “The vision for Accrington and many other town centres is that the space is also then opened up for independent traders who give something you can’t get from national companies in terms of quality and service.”

Jesta Group however, have said that the level of business rates they are expected to pay in the borough have caused problems, but Councillor Parkinson hopes that an agreement will still be reached, pointing out that though the council has the responsibility of collecting the rates, they do not set them.

Council leaders and the retail task force will meet virtually next month to consider the proposals.

Jesta Group has been approached for comment.