Is Primark in the market for city store?

The current entrance to Lancaster Market.
The current entrance to Lancaster Market.

Lancaster’s market hall is set to become the city’s biggest retail store under new £10m plans to redevelop it.

London-based Allied Lancaster Ltd, owner of Marketgate Shopping Centre, is seeking permission to create a 40,000 sq ft two-storey unit for an “anchor tenant”, which will see the part demolition of the former indoor market in Common Garden Street.

Rumours that clothing giant Primark could be that anchor tenant have so far been unconfirmed – although the council said a name should be revealed “within four weeks”.

Darren Sharpe, from Allied, said: “If it was Primark, or something similar, then we would be very happy.”

Lancaster City Council closed the market last year due to spiralling costs, leaving traders out in the cold.

But it is now in the final stages of negotiating a deal with Allied to surrender its lease, which would have lasted until 2094, with costs expected to amount to several million pounds.

The council said it welcomed the plans and that the deal would benefit tax payers in the long run.

The plans include the closure of the building’s entrance in Common Garden Street and a new entrance created within the covered area of the shopping centre.

The glass atrium in Common Garden Street would be “infilled” to create more floor space.

The northern section of Gillison’s Lane, between Sir Simon’s Arcade and Marketgate, is to be blocked off, while the southern section off Common Garden Street will remain, although it will be realigned.

To compensate for the loss of the northern section of Gillison’s Lane, a new pedestrian route from Marketgate is proposed as part of the scheme.

The plans are expected to go before councillors early next year.

Mr Sharpe added: “It’s great that we can re-invigorate this end of the city.

“In terms of retail development it’s very tough at the moment, but the city lacks the large stores, which is one of the reasons why we chose this type of development for the site.”

It is hoped that the new store would help to stop loss of trade to other towns and cities in the region like Blackpool, Preston and Kendal. Over the last year, the council has been negotiating a deal with Allied to surrender its 99 year lease of the building, which it entered into with the original owners of the shopping centre, in 1994.

Allied bought the whole site in 2008.

Unfortunately there was no get out clause, and as costs rose to around £650,000 per year for the council, the market became untenable as neither independent traders or the council could hope to pay the rent.

Coun Jon Barry, cabinet member with responsibility for markets, said: “The closure of the market was a sad event. However, I am glad that many of the former market tenants have also found new premises to trade from in the city, bringing empty shop units back into use.

“The decision to buy the council out of the lease was partly financial – because the tax payer will benefit in the longterm – and partly because we did not want to see the market building empty.

“The submission of plans for redevelopment is a welcome step forward.”

Coun Barry added that because a tenant had not yet been confirmed “figures for the surrender of the lease are still commercially sensitive.”

He added: “This is because we do not want to risk leaving the city with an empty building and with it the potential to bring in both jobs and investment to the district.

“Arrangements are in hand to report publicly on the surrender, however, once matters are finalised. This will allow us to show that withdrawing from the market will save money in the coming years and over the long term.”

The planning application will now go out to public consultation and is likely to go before Lancaster City Council’s Planning Committee early in 2014.