A CONTROVERSIAL bid by Renfrewshire Council to save the historic Arnotts building has failed.
The Paisley Daily Express revealed earlier this year that council chiefs had hatched secret plans to buy the old department store in an effort to breathe new life into the town centre.
They made an offer for the eyesore building and planned to transform it into a mix of residential and retail units before selling the new development once its long-term future had been secured.
But the Express can now reveal that the site’s owners have rejected the council’s multi-million pound bid.
It’s understood that, instead, they hope to sell the B-listed Arnotts building to a private developer.
Now disappointed council bosses are stepping up the pressure on the owners to sort out the site’s future as soon as possible “for the good of the town”.
Council leader Derek Mackay has written to the estates company, operated by supermarket giant Asda, which owns the building to call for a meeting over his concerns that there are “no definite plans” for a site which is “vital to the commercial future of Paisley.”
He will also be raising with the Scottish Government the issue of town centres which are blighted by property owners who leave large sites empty for years and provide no details about when proposed development work will take place.
Councillor Mackay told the Express: “A few months ago, when the council got involved in bidding for the Arnotts site, we gave two pledges. We said we would put forward a proposal which outlined realistic options for business and residential development to take forward the regeneration of the town centre and would deliver a prudent and viable bid which fairly reflected the value of the site but did not expose the council to unnecessary financial risk.
“We delivered on both those pledges.
“Certainly, it’s disappointing that our bid hasn’t been accepted. However, our main priority remains helping to secure development there to preserve the heritage and enhance the future of the town centre.
“We understand the owners are taking up an interest shown from another company.
“The site lies opposite Paisley Abbey and within an Outstanding Conservation Area. It contains three listed buildings which are presently boarded up.
“One of the issues Renfrewshire Council is worried about is the knock-on effect on the regeneration of Paisley town centre from the continued uncertainty and delay over the Arnotts site.
“We want to do all we can to bring about a long-term solution. I have written to Asda to say that I want to meet with their senior management and also the company which ends up buying the site.
“We want to see a comprehensive development solution to this key site. I am convinced that, with the right will and the right commitment from all the parties involved, that can still be achieved.”
In a report leaked to the Express earlier this year, two top council officials had warned the proposed deal for the local authority to buy the site could be a gamble – with taxpayers’ cash being used as ‘stake money’.
It was feared it may have cost the council more to take over the site than they would get back when they sold it at a later date.
The Arnotts building – designed by one of Paisley’s most respected architects, JS Steel Maitland – was closed to shoppers in 2003 and has been lying empty ever since.
Developers Macdonald Estates drew up ambitious multi-million pound plans to transform the site into a large food store, luxury flats and offices after they bought the building.
But their efforts to tempt a major retailer to the site failed and, last year, they sold it to McLagen Investments, the property arm of Asda.
However, the new owners have also failed to develop the Gauze Street building and it has become a target for vandals and firebugs.
Councillor Mackay said: “We are seeing a whole range of tangible improvements starting to pay dividends in Paisley town centre. Those include efforts to attract new development, protect the town’s heritage, enhance the environment and improve transport and traffic access.
“There’s a lot going on and the town as a whole can’t afford for this situation to drag on for several more years.”