Grosvenor Centre Silence – Another Wasted Year

Has Legal and General abandoned Northampton?
Has Legal and General abandoned Northampton?

Grosvenor Centre Silence – Another Wasted Year

Listen carefully – for the sound of silence that surrounds the Conservatives lack of progress on the redevelopment of the Grosvenor Centre – is a silence that is deafening.

Let’s briefly recap,

The Conservative Manifesto Pledge was clear and unequivocal stating that

“Within the first weeks of office a Conservative administration will demand a firm commitment to a specific start date from Legal and General or walk away from the agreement”

Immediately following the election in May 2011 I met with the senior management of Legal and General and obtained a promise that, given assurances of the support offered by the Northampton Borough Council administration, the redevelopment would start at the end of 2013.

In November 2011 Cllr Mackintosh, the new Leader of the Council and Cllr Hadland went to London to meet Legal and General and returned saying that they were very confident that the Grosvenor project would go ahead as planned.

Effectively this was Cllr David Mackintosh’s “I have here a piece of paper signed by Legal and General” moment?

On the 14th May 2012 there was a briefing to all Councillors by Legal & General and their development advisors that the project was on target to submit a planning application in November 2012 with an expectation that it would receive planning permission in May 2013. This would be followed by a very comprehensive consultation process and then a single demolition contract to be awarded including Grey Friars Bus Station and other buildings to provide access to and the site for the extension.

On the 11th June 2012  there was an announcement by Legal and General that progress on submitting a planning application was had been stopped because of concerns that it was no longer economically viable and that they had been disappointed in not “receiving political support from the Borough Council Conservative administration in recent times”  

As those who have followed this issue for a number of years will remember the announcement from Legal and General was immediately followed by a statement by Cllr Mackintosh on BBC Drive time that he was,

“Very frustrated and will be demanding an urgent meeting with Legal & General to find out what is going on”

“It is a decision taken by Legal and General that has let Northampton down, and which we didn’t know about”

What was more revealing was in an exchange with JoeP during the interview

JOEP “we have tried to get a statement from Legal and General but couldn’t get someone to talk to”

Cllr Mackintosh “good luck with that because we haven’t been able to contact them either”

Which of course raised the question of whatever happened to the “we have a close working relationship with Legal & General”?

Simon Russian of Legal and General was very clear when he said, (BBC Morning interview)

“We informed the Council of our concerns about the projects economic viability at the end of May” (17 days after telling us on the 14th that is was all on schedule).

“We have not received support from the Borough Council administration in recent times”, and

“This is a decision that has been taken on economic viability ground and it is wrong for the Leader of the Borough Council to point the finger and blame everything on Legal and General”

There was no denial from NBC that this was raised with them at the end of May so either Cllr Mackintosh didn’t tell the truth when he said he didn’t know or he and Cllr Hadland had taken their eye of the ball.

More importantly perhaps was the impact of the personal attacks on Legal and General by the Leader of the Council which demonstrated his lack of maturity and ability to work with partners.

It also raised the question of where Cllr Hadland and the rest of the Cabinet had been in this entire where the decision that threatened a £250million investment (that’s a quarter of a billion pounds) and if it doesn’t go ahead a loss of £1.62 billion over the next 40 years to Northampton was being considered?

So what has happened in the last 12 months?

Presumably there have been 26 meetings between the Leader of the Council, Cllr Hadland and Legal and General if we are to believe that they were now having fortnightly meetings.

Given the fact that on no occasion since have either of the Councillors mentioned the meetings in their fulsome ‘aren’t we great’ Cabinet reports to Full Council we can only presume that if the meetings have taken place the results have been less than positive.

Labour did elicit from Cllr Mackintosh in December last year a firm statement that Legal and general would be presenting their latest proposals in January.

We are now entering June and the announcement has not been made which leaves Northampton once again in a state of uncertainty.

I’m told that there are a number of issues that the Conservatives are scared to admit to which not an exhaustive list is or in no particular order are,

That Legal and General aren’t prepared to invest any more money into developing redevelopment plans for the Grosvenor Centre before they know the outcome of the Rushden Lakes planning inspection.

That if the Rushden Lakes Development is approved then the Grosvenor Centre project will be shelved for an indefinite period.

That Legal and General will oppose any retail development of Sixfields on the grounds that it will impact on the town centre. This of course may well impact on the Cobblers plans for the redevelopment of the stadium.

That Legal and General are also opposed to the ASDA or any other retail development that will support the Saints stadium development.

The silence can perhaps be summed up by the fact that in all of the Conservative literature during the recent election there wasn’t a single mention of the Grosvenor Town Centre Development?

It appears from all of the information available that the Grosvenor Centre proposals have reached a point of no return and I can’t help thinking that the Legal and General statement in June 2012 that

“We have not received support from the Borough Council administration in recent times” along with the immature personal attacks on them by the Leader of the Council may well be what is remembered if and when Legal and General walk away.

It is to be hoped for Northampton that they don’t.