DOUBT has been cast on the future uptake of retail lettings at Barnsley town centre’s almost-finished £200m regeneration due to the ‘likely collapse’ of businesses - but council bosses have urged shoppers to back the scheme and do their bit to help the town’s economic recovery.

The local authority’s annual risk register - which catalogues issues which could pose problems to ambitions so they can be monitored and subjected to necessary action by council staff - was discussed by a governance committee on Wednesday.

The Glass Works remains one of a handful of leisure and shopping destinations under construction in the country and will feature a 2,000-seater, 13-screen Cineworld, 25 new shops, seven family restaurants and a Superbowl UK complex.

However, a report said: “The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will exacerbate the challenges of the town centre’s retail sector which could impact on the uptake of retail lettings.

“There are clear financial and reputation implications should the project not be delivered on time and fail to have the intended economic and social outcomes.

“There is likely to be a continued or accelerated downturn in the retail and visitor economy sector and the collapse of businesses, adding to the pressure on the council and partners’ services.

“Additional pressures from events such as Covid-19, plus the added impact of the year-on-year reduction in funding available to the authority, inevitably creates pressures on the financial position which can undermine the council’s ability to fulfil its strategic priorities and longer-term aspirations.”

Council leader Sir Steve Houghton told the Chronicle it was necessary to include the Glass Works on the risk register given the current climate - but revealed its current occupancy rate of between 65 and 70 per cent showed retailers’ confidence in the scheme.

“It may look gloomy including it on the risk register at first glance as we are still in the pandemic and many shops remain closed, but it means we can continually assess its progress,” he said.

“The pandemic has obviously been far from ideal but the fact we’re already at a very good occupancy rate despite that shows positives.

“We’re excited for its completion and shoppers should be, too.

“We’ve attracted many big-name retailers to Barnsley town centre and it’s important that residents spend their money here to show their support to businesses after a tough year.”

Major brands have already signed up including Next, Sports Direct, USC, TK Maxx, Nando’s and Deichmann.

Overall, the scheme is set to create around 1,100 jobs in the town by 2025 - jobs that will help aid Barnsley’s post-Covid economic recovery plan.

Coun Tim Cheetham, cabinet spokesman for place, added: “The pandemic has undoubtedly increased the challenges faced by the retail sector and high streets.

“However, we remain optimistic for the Glass Works and the wider town centre.

“The Centre for Cities recovery tracker, which shows how quickly high streets in the UK are returning to their previous levels of activity, ranks Barnsley in the top ten of the spend index which is a very positive sign.

“We’re fully aware that there may be testing times ahead and we’re taking a pragmatic approach to ensure our plans and strategies allow us to be adaptable and responsive to the environment.

“We are not resting on our laurels - there are ongoing projects to improve the wider town centre.

“The Glass Works will open in September and the retailers are looking forward to opening their doors in Barnsley.

“The success and sustainability of the town centre is paramount, we’re not afraid to think outside of the box to ensure that we are ahead of the curve and continuously exploring new and innovative opportunities.”