Objections to Out of Town Developments – The Fiasco Continues
The situation faced by Northampton around the conduct and way in which since 2007 the Borough Council administrations have worked, or as seems to be the case, not worked in genuine partnership with Legal and General now raises once again very serious questions about where we are with progress on the regeneration of the Town Centre.
Throughout the whole period and especially during the Liberal Democrat 2007 -2011 administration there was the perception that Legal and General were not so much a partner but actually leading the agenda through their resistance amounting to a veto on anything that was suggested as development other than the Grosvenor Centre.
It was a situation that prevented the development and regeneration of Franklin Gardens and Sixfields and led to an almost ‘blanket objection’ policy to any and all out-of-town developments.
It also led to the Liberal Democrats being overwhelmingly defeated in the 2011 election by opposition parties who promised to take a stronger line with Legal and General and scrap the Town Centre First policy and support appropriate Out of Town developments.
How things appear to have changed in recent months.
Clearly as everyone knows the nature of shopping has changed dramatically and especially with the huge increase in internet shopping that has now made it essential that the shopping offer in Northampton as with all Town Centres has to provide not only shopping but perhaps more importantly a ‘shopping – social experience’ to attract people.
Sadly Northampton in spite of the excellent work being carried out by the Northampton Town Centre BID has yet to provide such an offer; mainly it has to be acknowledged because of the delays around the regeneration of the Grosvenor Centre and the increase in the number of empty shops and businesses over the last year.
What should not be a surprise is the latest twist in the story because concerns were raised in 2010 when it was discovered that Legal and General had bought a significant part of the Sixfields Leisure area for in the region of £20 million without notifying the Liberal Democrat administration at the time.
Questions were asked at the time about what the purpose of the purchase was given that we were being constantly told that the Grosvenor Redevelopment was the Legal and General priority.
The whole issue was quite frankly not so much a disappointment but a mess which the opposition quite correctly said needed to be sorted out.
It was a major issue where both Labour and the Conservatives said before the 2011 election they would insist Legal and General had to deliver.
Earlier this year as people now know Legal and General within two weeks of telling Councillors that the redevelopment of the Grosvenor was definitely going ahead then announced without apparently telling the Leader of the Council that they were stopping the development.
This was against a background of both Legal and General, and the Borough Council administration posting objections to Out of Town Developments from TESCO and Waitrose within the Borough to the Rushden Lakes.
The problem with the recent announcement from Legal and General is that if they understand the need for the Town Centre offer to alter to meet the changing shopping needs then the ‘Sixfields Development is not retail’ argument just doesn’t stack up.
Surely if they are serious about their commitment to Northampton then they would get on with including the proposed Sixfields development into the Town Centre within a new redeveloped Grosvenor Centre?
What is an even greater issue is why once again the Leader of the Borough Council and Cabinet Member responsible for the regeneration of Northampton didn’t apparently know about what Legal and General were proposing in Sixfields.
Whatever happened to the two weekly meetings between the Leadership of the Conservative administration and Legal and General that we were told had been put in place after the embarrassment of not knowing that work on the Grosvenor Centre had stopped, and if they are taking place why didn’t Legal and General tell them of their plans.
Surely it will if it goes ahead ‘has an impact on the Town Centre’? the argument that is constantly used when objecting to all other out-of-town developments.
Or is it that the lack of confidence in the support being offered by the ‘Borough Council in recent times’ still remains.
What the latest act in this ongoing interminable saga seems to demonstrate is that the whole issue of Northampton’s regeneration and redevelopment in partnership with Legal and General has slipped back into the quagmire we have seen all too often for the last 5 years.
What is even clearer is that any objections to out of town developments of retail or recreation will understandably be ignored and disregarded by the appropriate planning committees.
The Legal and General Sixfields announcement has once again demonstrated a lack of partnership working and indication that the Borough Council Conservative administration has failed to keep themselves up to speed on events which calls into question serious issues of political competence in bringing forward the much needed redevelopment and regeneration of Northampton.