Town Centre First Policy and the Grosvenor Extension
I attended an excellent and very professional presentation on the future of the Grosvenor Centre Development on Monday (14th May) night which clarified a number of issues relating to the Legal and General position and revealed a number of important issues and change of position of the Borough Council Conservative administration.
Let’s start with the Bus Station.
Legal and General and their advisors/consultants went to great pains to explain that the current Grey Friars Bus Station and the decision to vacate it and build a new Bus Interchange on the Fishmarket site, (though to be fair any site rather than where it currently sits would probably have been acceptable) was pivotal to the Grosvenor Extension and has allowed them to work to develop an outline planning application.
Which begs the question that if the site is so pivotal to the whole of the project why Councillor David Mackintosh the Conservative Leader of the Borough Council said only a fortnight ago that,
“People are confused about Grey Friars and the Fishmarket which are not linked”
It is patently obvious to anyone that they are inextricably linked something that has now been confirmed by the Legal and General planning and development advisors.
Another issue that is of concern to other organisations, most notably out sports clubs was the reference on at least three occasions to the Localism Bill and especially planning which confirms again the Governments “Town Centre First Policy” and the need to prioritize Town Centre First developments over out-of-town developments.
It is an issue that caused the previous administration a great deal of trouble and fundamentally the position hasn’t changed with the current legislation, so having made great play of saying that the ‘Town Centre First Policy’ is no longer the Borough Council policy last May it has come full circle and clearly is.
This may well have serious implications for the development of retail to support the Saints and Cobblers the impact of which I’m sure will become clearer with time.
It was extremely positive that Legal and General are determined to engage with the people of Northampton in meaningful debate, discussion and consultation over the plans, and if history is anything to go by they have always been willing to explain in detail their position and take into account feedback.
Cynics may well say it is still a pipe dream and won’t happen, and who knows they may well be right, but I would encourage everyone who wants to see a vibrant Northampton to get involved in the consultation process.
I have no doubt that the Liberal Democrats and it has to be said especially former Borough Councillor Richard Church are going to feel vindicated in the position they took during the period 2007 -2011 and will unquestionably be broadcasting it from the rooftops.
They will claim that the Town Centre First Policy was always a result of legislation and that the Conservatives have completely reversed their own manifesto pledge.
They will also point to the fact that weakness that the proposals of building not starting until 2015 with a completion date of 2018 being a year later than was forecast 12 months ago.
In the short period as a Leader of the Council I had very constructive and positive meetings with the then Director responsible for the Grosvenor development and had assurances that it would be completed by 2017, unfortunately this appears to have changed in the last 6 months which begs the question what happened to the ‘Tough Talking’.
But as the saying goes “we are where we are” and have to support and look forward and try to make it happen for the very simple reason that the Conservative administration have now well and truly put all of their eggs in one basket with no fall-back position, or plan B.
One area of concern will always be the economy and the problem if the Government don’t recognise the need to change direction of their failing economic policy and start promoting growth.
It is essential the Grosvenor Development, (which after all is going to cost in the region of £250 million of private sector funding) has to be commercially viable, which given the statement from the Governor of the Bank of England today that inflation will remain high for at least the next 18 months with a downgraded prospect of growth to 0.8% brings the viability into question.
Legal and General of course are in a good position because they can delay the start by up to 2 years so as an optimist whilst it wouldn’t be good for Northampton at least everything should be in place for when the economy eventually starts to recover, though it may not be until after the 2015 General Election.
The proposals and time frame to a 2018 completion date is predicated on there being growth in the economy with retail picking up as consumers start to spend again and allowing a seamless straight line route from obtaining full planning permission through to demolition and construction.
The problem is what happens if the economy doesn’t pick up in 2014?
Will there be an inevitable delay in starting construction in 2015, and how long will it be delayed?
This will bring with it other issues around the existing bus station site which I understand won’t be demolished until a definite decision on when construction on the extension will take place which would leave the town with an empty bus station and all of the associated problems it will bring.
It makes sense of course not to demolish the existing bus station until Legal and General are in a position to award a single demolition contract for all of the buildings that will need to be removed to make space for the extension.
If the start of building is delayed then a decision will have to be made to either continue to pay for the bus station maintenance or demolish it and leave a space, which of course if the new bus interchange proves not to be working may well cause some major problems for those politicians who have taken the decision without listening to the public.
Northampton is now about to enter a real consultation phase that will determine not only the regeneration of the town centre but the whole of the Borough.
I urge people to get involved, better to be included and have your say rather than as we have seen in the past and the present having things done to you by those who are completely out of touch with the people of Northampton.
Your choice, speak up and have your say.