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‘Demolition of bus station and offices is necessary’ claims Northampton Borough Council leader during site tour

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The entrance to the bus station, which many insist just needs a lick of paint, greets visitors with its usual stench of urine, graffitied walls and looming dark tunnel.

But if you look closer you can see the concrete ceiling being corroded by leaking water, in some places caught by trays, and breaking away from the structure, as well as missing floor panels.

Electronic information screens no longer work, adding to the dated look of the cold, dank and frankly depressing bus station.

As the leader of Northampton Borough Council, David Mackintosh, put it: “This is the gateway to our town for visitors arriving by bus – hardly inviting.”

The Chronicle & Echo was invited to tour around the bus station, along with the three abandoned floors above it which once housed the Greyfriars Car Park and two floors of office space, last used by Barclaycard 15 years ago.

The aim of the tour was to see just how run down the entire building was and understand how it would cost more than £30 million to make it a bus station, office and car park of quality standard.

The bus station itself costs around £500,000 a year in superficial repair works just to keep it operational, but the council said it would cost £8 million to bring it up to a quality standard – more than the cost of the new bus interchange proposed at the Fishmarket site.

The money would be spent on making it weather proof, meeting health and safety standards, restructuring the roof, and insulating it.

Councillor Mackintosh said: “We need to expand the retail space on offer to attract more businesses, at the moment there is no way a business would choose to set up in the town centre over the Enterprise Zone.

“People always talk of wanting a better quality of shop, but at the moment they just don’t want to be here once you take them through this grotty building into our shopping centre. Would you want to invest your business here?

“There has never been a more challenging time for the council, but in a time of economic downturn, with changes to our services left, right, and centre, we are still pushing ahead with the regeneration of the town centre.

The floor above the bus station is the Greyfriars Car Park, which closed for good in 2007 when water leaked through to the car park roof from the offices above, forming an acid which began dripping on to cars. To repair this floor would cost just under £1.5 million.

The top two floors of the building were an eerie step back in time, with the impression in some rooms that the Barclaycard staff had simply got up and left one day. The huge office space has laid empty since 1997, after Barclaycard decided to move out of the town centre for bigger premises, with the gardens left to overgrow and even some paperwork remaining untouched.

Despite extensively marketing the site for a period, it seems the council eventually gave up and succumbed to abandoning the space which in the last 15 years has only been used by police for training and, illegally, by the homeless for a few nights.

A ‘to let’ sign sits outside the building but no serious offers have ever come forward.

Derek Simpson, the town centre manager, said: “This was built back in the ‘70s but now it just isn’t meeting any employers’ standards. It’s just not useable, there is no insulation and while the space is huge it doesn’t meet the needs of modern, hi-tech companies anymore.”

The council says an investment of £21,450,000 would be needed to overhaul the premises to once again make it attractive to a business.

Councillor Mackintosh added: “If it had been me in the council, I would have moved heaven and earth to keep Barclaycard in the town centre.

“The council had an obligation to encourage people to come here but we had nobody interested in the space. If people had been interested then we would have refurbished the space, but it just isn’t useable.”

While it is clear to see that the building is in a terrible state, what is very unclear is how a 35 year-old building could be allowed to fall into such a condition.

“I understand that people say it was only built in the ‘70s and we want to knock it down already, but a lot has changed since then in terms of demand and also health and safety standards. The building is in this state because of a combination of bad decision making by the council.

“I think the council failed in some way, but whether more money should have been invested to maintain it, I can’t say, because I can only talk about now.

“We would never now say ‘let’s build a bus station in the town centre with a garage to store buses in’.

“Now we propose to move the garage out of town where buses can stay overnight – that is why only a much smaller space is needed at the new site.”

Answering the obvious question that in another 35 years’ time we could be facing the same situation, Councillor Mackintosh added: “When Greyfriars was built it was responding to the needs of the town back then, bringing in visitors to the Grosvenor Centre.

“We are responding to all our needs around increasing footfall to the town centre and the Market Square, and allowing the expansion of the Grosvenor Centre which will include more parking for the town.

“Another option is to simply not have one – but that’s not something we have considered.”

But regardless of the grotty and corroding state of the entire building, Councillor Mackintosh said the bus station had to go.

He concluded: “I think if the building was of a better quality it would be a harder decision and we would have a harder time convincing the public to knock it down, but we would still come to the same conclusion.

“It would be a nail in the coffin for the future development of our town if we didn’t knock down the bus station and allow the Grosvenor Centre to expand.

“I want to stop talking about a new bus station and a new Grosvenor Centre and see some action.”

Plans for the £6.5million new bus station on the site of the Fishmarket are due to go before Northampton Borough Council in the coming months.

 

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