Plans to return Earlestown’s historic town hall to working life as a community hub have been brought forward into the first phase of the town centre regeneration project following the award of £20m from the government’s Levelling Up Fund (LUF).
The Grade II Listed building’s interior restoration will now be delivered alongside improvements to the town’s historic market square, which will include for the creation of a permanent market canopy over part of the square that has been inspired by the iconic nine arches of the Sankey Viaduct. Improvements are also to be made to Earlestown rail station, together with extensive public realm upgrades across the town centre.
Closed since 2008, the town hall will be restored to provide a range of new commercial and community spaces and facilities. These include flexible workspaces and meeting rooms, a refurbished main hall and stage, and potentially a new café with community courtyard garden, capable of hosting small outdoor events and providing a quiet sanctuary for peaceful relaxation.
The announcement comes as external work on the building comes to an end following 12 months of painstaking restoration. Every aspect of the town hall’s exterior has been touched by the works, including cleaning and restoring the mechanisms and clockface of the town hall’s original Potts of Leeds clock.
Throughout the LUF bid process, St Helens Borough Council and its development partner The English Cities Fund (ECF) have evolved proposals for enhancing the town’s market square, home to one of the oldest working markets in the country.
In the latest proposals, the new market canopy has been relocated to the Haydock Street side of the square, to allow for more flexible use of the market square and create unobstructed views of the historic obelisk and restored town hall.
ECF will now work closely with market traders, local businesses and the wider community to finalise its designs to create a welcoming high quality, distinctive and multi-purpose market square, which will be complemented by extensive public realm improvements along Bridge Street, Market Street, Oxford Street and Queen Street. This placemaking approach to regenerating Earlestown will provide a better environment and facilities for traders and shoppers alike, while encouraging more people to spend time in Earlestown throughout the week.
More information on the evolving designs will be showcased to the public in early summer, with details of community engagement events set to be announced soon.
The plans are being driven by an ambition to return Earlestown to its rightful status as a thriving market town. They are among the first phases of a 20-year, borough-wide, strategic partnership between St Helens Borough Council and ECF.
The ECF partnership will submit its detailed designs for planning permission before the end of 2023, with work expected to start on the ground in summer 2024. The work to support transport improvements at Earlestown Rail Station, which has the world’s oldest rail junction and station building still in passenger service, is being progressed by St Helens Borough Council with rail industry partners.
Councillor David Baines, leader of St Helens Borough Council, said: “I am thrilled that securing an unprecedented £20m of government investment in Earlestown has enabled us to bring our plans for the internal restoration of the town hall forward into the first phase of work. This will mean the much loved town hall can return to playing its rightful role in the life of the town much more quickly.
“The huge amount of work that went into our successful LUF bid has also enabled some exciting developments in the concept designs for how we can future proof and grow Earlestown’s historic market. The necessary stages of design and pre-development work are currently being brought forward by The English Cities Fund as our appointed development managers and will be subject to a community consultation process to ensure traders, residents and businesses can input into the evolving design.”
Max Bentham, development director at The English Cities Fund, said: “Our work in Earlestown will strengthen the town and market’s offering to help it thrive, by creating spaces that residents and local businesses can use and be proud of.
“The market square is the jewel in the crown of Earlestown and there is a huge opportunity to enhance its infrastructure and appearance with beautifully curated public spaces, tree-lined streets and green planting.
“Earlestown’s community of market traders and businesses are a key stakeholder in the project and as we move from ‘concept’ to ‘detailed design’, it is essential that we incorporate their views. We’re looking forward to a productive collaboration to finalise our designs for the market square and wider public realm improvements to ensure they deliver our ambition of providing quality infrastructure and spaces for shoppers, residents and traders alike.”
St Helens Borough Council and The English Cities Fund entered into a 20-year partnership focused on the transformation of St Helens Borough with the first key focus being the transformation of Earlestown and St Helens town centres.
The English Cities Fund is a development company set up by three of the UK’s leading regeneration and investment organisations. The fund brings together the combined expertise and ambition of Homes England, the Government’s homes agency; investors Legal & General; and urban regeneration specialists Muse Developments.