COUNCIL chiefs have dismissed a claim they have asked for a blank cheque to be written over the proposed redevelopment of the Paisley Centre.

The local authority has agreed to work with Beyond Retail, owner of the town centre mall, to develop a business case for the overhaul of the site, which includes plans for a hotel, 80 high-quality apartments and medical centre.

But a senior officer insisted the council’s level of commitment to the project is “still to be determined” at Tuesday’s economy and regeneration policy board.

It comes as a report presented at the meeting outlined how the council could intervene in parts of the proposal, which was described as “commercially unviable”.

This would involve leasing the 129-bed hotel planned for New Street – which would be operated by a national brand – for a 35-year period before assuming ownership of the building.

The document, authored by Alasdair Morrison, the council’s head of economy and development, explained: “The annual lease payments would be funded from the operating profits of the hotel facility which would flow to the council with any excess being retainable by the council to establish a fund to manage the commercial and financial risk over the long-term period of the lease.”

The business case will need to ensure the project requires no capital funding or direct investment by the council.

However, Councillor Andy Doig, an independent representative for Johnstone North and the surrounding villages, sounded the alarm over the contents of the paper.

“I really think the fundamental premise of this report is entirely and utterly flawed,” he said.

“The officers are putting the cart before the horse here.

“The kind of detailed figures and statistics that other opposition members have asked for should be in this report in principle.

“We’re being asked to write a blank cheque here in principle without a shred of statistical evidence.

“The hotel market in Paisley town centre has never been able to wash its face.”

Councillor Andy Steel, SNP board convener and representative for Johnstone South and Elderslie, responded: “Passionately argued as always, Councillor Doig, I just fundamentally disagree with you.

“We’re not writing a cheque at all, let alone a blank one.”

That sentiment was echoed by Mr Morrison. He said: “You might expect me to also side with the convener’s viewpoint there in that, to give members assurances, there definitely is no blank cheque being asked to be signed here.

“The level of commitment that the council, if any, would undertake in this scheme to redevelop the Paisley Centre is still to be determined.

“That’s what we’re advocating that members move forward with in order to give the opportunity for Beyond Retail to develop a detailed business case for the scheme as currently proposed with the different elements within it.”

Councillor John McNaughtan, an SNP representative for Paisley East and Central, welcomed the report.

He said: “I think that rarely are we presented with proposals of such a scale as this which could, as has been said, transform the operation of Paisley town centre.

“It’s an ambitious development and we’ve clearly supported it to date with the in-principle planning consent.

“Clearly, there’s a balance to be struck at this stage … I think officers have struck the right balance with this report.”

The board agreed the council would work with Beyond Retail on a business case for the proposed redevelopment.

Councillor Doig, however, asked the convener for his dissent to be recorded.

In a statement after the meeting, Mr Morrison said: “These next steps will ensure the necessary due diligence is carried out before a business case for future redevelopment plans is brought back to councillors to consider.”

Richard Ford, partner at Reith Lambert, who represent Beyond Retail, said: “We are delighted by the endorsement from members of Renfrewshire Council’s economy and regeneration policy board to work in conjunction with Beyond Retail to further develop a business case for the redevelopment of the Paisley Centre.

“This marks a crucial first step towards the redevelopment, holding the promise of invigorating the town centre’s regeneration and potentially unlocking tens of millions of pounds worth of private investment for the town.”