SHROPSHIRE Council hopes to sell its headquarters for £10 million to fund the transformation of the Pride Hill shopping centre into a leisure complex, the council’s leader has said.

Councillor Peter Nutting has revealed that talks are already underway with “two interested parties” over the sale of Shirehall, which the council wants to vacate by 2023 to relocate to the town centre.

The money will go towards a major project to overhaul the Pride Hill Centre, turning it into a ‘leisure anchor’ which could include a cinema, bowling alley and glass-topped restaurant overlooking the town.

A report by the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) last week revealed the cost of repurposing the shopping centre is estimated at around £16 million, leaving the council with  £11 million shortfall after a £5 million grant from the government’s post-coronavirus Getting Building Fund (GBF).

But Cllr Nutting said the Shirehall windfall would go most of the way to covering the cost of the scheme, which will also include turning the lower levels of the building into a cultural and civic hub.

It has previously been suggested that some council services could be based in one of the council-owned centres once the authority moves out of its headquarters, and Cllr Nutting said this was still on the cards.

He said: “What people need to think is that when they’re looking at the shopping centre there is the underneath part where all the deliveries go. There is a lot of space we can use for various things and I think the council will fit in comfortably.

“The level you go in at Pride Hill will be commercial and we are talking to various entertainment groups about what could go in there.

“We are looking at a cinema and there could be a bowling alley, that type of operation.

“We are keen that it does draw people into the town particularly for the evening economy.

“We do see it as a real change of direction.”

To allow the project to go ahead, retailers are being asked to give up their units in the Pride Hill Centre and move into the Darwin Centre, which the council wants to see become Shrewsbury’s main retail destination.

Cllr Nutting said: “Some of the shops have already moved and we expect the Darwin Centre to be near capacity in the next few months.”

Turning to Shirehall, he said discussions with potential buyers had begun and it was most likely that the site would be sold in its current form, leaving the successful developer to make their own decisions.

Debate has raged in recent weeks over the building’s future, with the revelation that the council has applied for ‘immunity from listing’ from Historic England and a rival campaign – Save Our Shirehall (SOS) – launched to try to protect the building from possible demolition.

Cllr Nutting said: “We are talking to various people about the future of the site and at the moment I think we will sell it as is and let them decide what to do with it.

“I don’t think we should try and pre-judge. It is possible, I think, to convert the building but it would be expensive – and I’m not sure I want to see it there.

“That is partly why we have asked for this exemption, so people have got freedom over what to do with it.”

He added he would prefer to see the site cleared for housing.

“A nice residential development there would work very well,” he said. “But let’s see where these discussions go and what their ideas are.”