Decade-long plans to regenerate Oldham Mumps with a new retail development have been axed – council bosses say the site could now be used for housing instead.
A contract agreed in 2019 with Lidl to deliver a food store and a 68-bed hotel on the Prince’s Gate site has now been formally terminated. Although chiefs said Lidl was willing to pay the agreed sale price and develop the food store, due to market volatility they could not commit to the hotel development – which would have been operated by a hotel chain.
However the terms of the contract meant that the entire project had to be delivered in full – and any variation posed the risk of a legal challenge. Consequently the cabinet has now agreed to end the agreement and go back to the drawing board for the Mumps site, which has been the subject of nearly a decade of plans to rejuvenate it.
Council leader Amanda Chadderton said the decision was ‘disappointing’ but also an ‘opportunity’ to re-evaluate the use of the land.
Details about the future of the Prince’s Gate site were discussed in a confidential part of the cabinet meeting, however the report states that an options paper is being prepared to consider uses, which could include ‘further retail, employment, housing or commercial opportunities’. Coun Chadderton told councillors: “It’s come to light due to a number of factors, the war in Ukraine, the pandemic, Brexit and a number of other things that unfortunately Lidl are not able to fulfil that contract on the terms that we agreed when we entered into it.
“The only route out of it now is to terminate the contract. It is disappointing but I think if we look back, when we first started talking about Prince’s Gate it was 2014 and the proposed Marks and Spencer’s development, I think nine years on aspiration and our plans for the town centre have changed quite significantly.
“We’re in a completely different place, we can see already the changes and the plans we’ve got for Spindles, Tommyfield Market, the old public library and this site that we sit on today as well.
“I think it’s also true that our aspiration for housing in the town centre is radically different than what it was nine years ago, and while it’s disappointing that this has happened, I think actually it gives us an opportunity to reflect on what is the best use of that site going forward and how can we utilise quite a key site.
“Officers over the coming months and weeks are going to spend some time thinking about what that site can be used for.
“It is a significant site for us and it will be redeveloped but it just won’t be redeveloped under this contract.”
She added the termination of the contract had not cost the council ‘millions of pounds’ and those suggestions were ‘wholly untrue’. The council is now looking for its third plan for the site since 2014, when then-leader Jim McMahon announced that Marks and Spencer was coming to the borough as an ‘anchor tenant’ on the Mumps site and hailed it as a ‘gamechanger’, with an opening planned for 2017.
But in 2016, after the council had invited bids from construction firms for the £60m retail development, the M&S plans were scrapped amidst the retailer reporting plummeting sales and profits. Three years later the contract was drawn up with Lidl to redevelop the site with the promise of both a food store and a hotel. The local authority is planning to build up to 2,000 homes in the town centre as part of its wider regeneration plans.