NORTHAMPTON THREAT – ECONOMIC VIABILITY?
The most worrying words used in the story of Legal and General’s objection to the “Out of Town” retail development at Rushden are the words “economically viable” because for a long time it is the phrase that has caused the most fear and apprehension to the last and present administration within the agreement between Northampton Borough Council and Legal and General.
If my memory serves me right what is in the agreement is a line that allows Legal and General to either delay submitting a detailed planning application for up to 2 years and/or to withdraw if the project isn’t considered economically viable.
It may well be that Legal and General are pulling out all of the stops to submit an outline planning application by the end of this year with a start date of 2014 and that the objection to the Rushden development is just a routine statement of objection that is not to be taken seriously.
But what if they are serious about the risk to the Grosvenor Centre redevelopment and expansion if the Rushden Development goes ahead and if so when will they decide that it is no longer economically viable?
The impact of the decision on Northampton is enormous, for example we know that if the existing Bus Station does not have to be demolished to make way for the Grosvenor extension then for the modest sum of £30 million borrowed over 30 years it could be refurbished and generate over £780 million of income to the town over the next 40 years.
If Legal and General make the decision to withdraw after the bus station has been demolished will they compensate the people of Northampton for the loss?
If a decision is taken before the demolition of the Bus Station then of course the Fishmarket site once again comes available for the retail development that the County and Borough Council agreed to move to the Central Library site in order for the Fishmarket to be available for the new Bus Interchange.
The removal of retail development around the Central Library would then have an impact on the County Councils business plan for the Angel Street Development which was another factor in the Central Library area being included for retail re-development because it would realise income to support the Angel Street project.
In effect the whole of the Central Area Action Plan for Northampton would be put into jeopardy should the Grosvenor Development not go ahead and why a Plan B has to be considered.
There is a way forward if Legal and General withdraw but it will be made a whole lot more difficult if the decision on economic viability is not taken early enough to use existing resources and assets.
The biggest danger is that Legal and General will submit an outline planning application, delay the start of any on site construction for 2 years or more through to 2017 and beyond and then decides at that time not to proceed with the redevelopment and expansion of the Grosvenor Centre.
I don’t know if Cllr David Mackintosh the Conservative Leader of the Council or his cabinet knew about the fears expressed by Legal and General over the threat to the Grosvenor redevelopment when he said about the Central Library, “a lot can change before 2021” which is why there has been no comment from him on the subject but it is strange that there has been no comment on such an important issue.
The other issue of course is that the administration pledged to deliver “out of town” retail development to support the Saints and Cobblers and if Legal and General are talking up the threat to the Grosvenor development from a plan 15 miles away it is safe to assume that they will increase the pressure against any retail developments within 3 miles of the Town Centre.
What is clear is that the Northampton Borough and Northamptonshire County Council leaders should be seeking clarification from Legal and General before going ahead with their current plans based on the Grosvenor development being completed by 2017.
They should be demanding a clear, unambiguous and written confirmation from Legal and General that the redevelopment and expansion of the Grosvenor Centre will go ahead and that they will not seek to prevent electoral promises to support our sports clubs from being implemented.
Without such assurances it is difficult to see how the current Central Area Action Plan and Town Centre regeneration can go ahead in its current form which will only serve to put doubt into anyone who is considering investing in Northampton.
It will also stoke up those who for some time, including one of our current MP’s have claimed that the Borough Council and people of Northampton are being held hostage by Legal and General.
The threat as outlined by the Legal and General spokesman is of immense interest to the future of Northampton and has to be taken very seriously by everyone involved if the town is going to be the 21st Century thriving place we all want to see and not become like so many of towns up and down the country who have died or are dying.