Grosvenor Crisis – Made at the Guildhall?

Impact of NOT going ahead is enormous

Grosvenor Crisis – Made at the Guildhall?

Let me make it very clear that I amongst many thousands of people in Northampton take absolutely no satisfaction in the current Grosvenor crisis which not only threatens the regeneration of the Centre itself but has a huge knock-on impact on the whole of the Borough.

It may help people to understand the concerns expressed by Terry Wire the Leader of the Borough Council Labour Group if I provide a time-frame to go by.

On Monday 14th May I along with all Borough Council Councillors was invited to attend a briefing by top Legal and General representatives on how and when the redevelopment of the Grosvenor centre would be taken forward, and I emphasis ‘How and When’.

It was a meeting that followed on from a briefing and discussions between Legal and General and the Borough Council administration so there was no doubt that they already knew what was going to be presented.

It was a meeting that as I said in my blog of the 16th May was excellent, professional and really positive and to summarise we were told that Legal & General were fully committed to going ahead with submitting a planning application this year with the redevelopment being completed by 2018.

Yes there was a disappointment that it had been put back a year and the Chronicle and Echo expressed the frustration on their front page in last week’s edition,

But and it is a big but we did at least have a commitment and firm timeline for the project.

The question now is what has happened in the last four weeks for Legal and General to now be saying, as reported in the Chronicle and Echo,

“Legal and General has been very disappointed, however, by the lack of public support that it has received from the Council, in its attempts to bring forward a scheme that best meets the needs of the town and which is economically viable”

Even more disturbing were two statements by the senior Legal and General spokesman on BBC Radio Northampton this morning, (13 June 2012) that there had been a

“Lack of political support from the Borough Council in recent times”,

and that

“We raised our concerns about the viability of the project with the Council at the end of May”

This raises the questions amongst many of,

‘What changed between the 14th of May when everything was positive and the 31st May when concerns were raised’?

‘How exactly has the “lack of political support for Legal and General” expressed itself to the degree that they are now reconsidering their position’?

Poor business and politics to simply point the finger of blame

The problem of course is that the Borough Council in being so quick to immediately “point the finger of blame” at Legal and General has now created a division with a major financial investor and stakeholder in Northampton in what may well be seen as a clumsy attempt to absolve themselves of any responsibility.

The problem is that we now appear to be left in a situation of Northampton being stuck permanently between ‘a rock and a hard place’ with no room to manoeuvre.

I can’t help wondering if the lack of ambition for Northampton to seek Unitary and City status and the administrations confusion over whether they support the growth agenda or not, and a lack of clarity of what out-of-town developments are supported and what are being objected too has had a bearing on the Legal and General position.

I’m sure everyone from all political groups will be pleased that the Leader of the Council has ‘asked for urgent talks with Legal and General’, but I’m also sure some will ask why now?

Shouldn’t the administration have been in constant dialogue with Legal and General and surely they were aware of the concerns raised at the end of May which for most people would have been enough to sound the warning bells to the extent that those responsible for the regeneration of the Grosvenor Centre and Town Centre would have been in immediate touch with Legal and General.

Or is it that the importance of what Legal and General were saying wasn’t understood by those who are responsible?

Either way the people of Northampton may well start to ask if it is a failure to recognise and engage with Legal and General that has led to the current situation and what, judging by the interviews on BBC Northampton has led to a lack of confidence in the political leadership which not only threatens to put the project back years but endangers it altogether.

The whole issue now calls into question the strategy and competence of Northampton Borough Council which is a great shame because the officers of the Council are highly professional and have worked hard to bring the development to fruition.

Now is not a time to take and make knee jerk decisions, it is time to pause and to think again.

I’m pleased that Terry Wire the Leader of the Labour Borough Council Group is going to also seek a meeting with L & G to get the reasons directly as they say from the ‘horses-mouth’ which is a sensible approach given that confidence in the administration by a major investor seems to have dissipated over the past four weeks.

In financial of course the decision doesn’t only involve the £250m – £300m investment by Legal and General but over the next 40 years in the region of £1.5billion.

It is why the current situation is as serious as it can get and why Labour will be investigating why and how we have arrived at the very sad position Northampton now finds itself.

What I am sure of is that pointing the finger of blame at each other in the media is not the way to convince a major investor you are serious about working with them, or in convincing Northampton you are committed to the town.

All it does is send out a very transparent and clear message to potential investors in Northampton that there is a lack of maturity and uncertainty of ambition which other places don’t portray and where support and a welcome is assured.

This is a crisis sown in the Guildhall that if not resolved is going to be reaped by the whole of Northampton and may well see the town spiral into terminal decline as a retail centre.

It is certainly not the “Putting Northampton Back on Track” that people voted for in May 2011 and is why Labour are “Listening to Northampton”