LONG-AWAITED construction of a market hall on The Moor is finally due to start next spring after two major hurdles were overcome this week.
A revised scheme for 200 stalls and six shops facing the precinct was approved by councillors, and a deal in principle was announced with the property arm of Scottish Widows, which is now being encouraged to redevelop other parts of the land it controls on and around The Moor.
The upper part of the precinct is set to be revamped at the same time as the markets, with new paving, lighting and seats in line with the refurbishment that has already been carried out on the lower section.
“Things are really stepping up a gear,” said council leader Julie Dore.
It is intended the market hall - a replacement for the Castle building at Castlegate - will be open by late 2013, ending years of delays and frustration and, the council hopes, indicating that the city centre is recovering from the recession.
Council approval for updated proposals to develop a site that has already been cleared opposite Atkinson’s department store and the agreement with Scottish Widows Investment Property Trust put The Moor project back on track. It follows an announcement that a deal has been signed with developers Hammerson to press ahead with the £600m Sevenstone retail quarter.
It is not the finishing line for the new markets but it is not far off as the legal details are now hammered out.
“Terms have been agreed in principle, and solicitors are to be instructed,” said Ranald Phillips, director of Centenary Ashcroft, which has been appointed as asset and development manager by Scottish Widows to roll out a long-term strategy for the regeneration of the whole area, totalling 24 acres.
“We are very enthusiastic about the project and we are hoping everything will be finalised so a start can be made on site in spring next year.”
Mr Phillips said he was aware they there had been “false dawns” in the past but Scottish Widows were serious investors and recognised the potential of The Moor.
Coun Dore said: “The market on The Moor plays a pivotal role in the city’s redevelopment. Although I’m disappointed that this project has stalled for the past few years under the Lib Dems’ stewardship of the council, it’s great news that we’re now forging ahead.
“The new market will help provide jobs and a hub for independent business. We are moving forward to start on site next year and deliver a new state of the art indoor market.
“This news as well as progress on Sevenstone shows that things are really happening again in the city centre. We look forward to working with the Castle Market traders to make this new venture a success.”
Stallholders have been promised a new home for years only to remain stuck in a rundown building during the difficult trading climate. Their frustrations have been increased by the council’s ending of a rent subsidy that reflected the poor conditions at Castlegate.
If this really is the breakthrough, Scottish Widows, who now have a lease on The Moor of 250 years, are expected to combine it with redeveloping another part of The Moor, the block at the corner with Furnival Gate, opposite Debenhams.
As well as shops, the council hopes to see new offices and housing in the area.
Scottish Widows purchased The Moor estate from RREEF, the property arm of Deutsche Bank, in February last year.