The borough council leader has pledged to gain cross-party support before pressing ahead with retail plans for the Greyfriars site, now the authority has severed ties with Legal & General.
The borough’s Liberal Democrat group signed a development agreement with Legal & General, the current Grosvenor Centre owners, to expand the town’s shopping offer on to the former bus depot site when it was in charge of the authority in 2009.
But the firm never moved forward with the £250m plans, in latter years because it feared a 31-acre bid for shopping and leisure at Rushden Lakes would make any scheme financially un-viable.
Yesterday, the leader of the borough council, Councillor David Mackintosh (Con, Rectory Farm) announced the authority had terminated the development agreement with Legal & General - 14 years to the day since the firm first promised to ‘double’ the size of the Grosvenor Centre with a £300m investment.
But at last night’s council meeting the leader of the authority was urged to gain full party support - and the support of the public through consultation - before pressing ahead with a development plan of its own.
Councillor Les Marriott (Lab, Semilong) said: “My big fear is that this the redevelopment of Greyfriars will be rushed in time for the elections next May.
“The new bus station was rushed and look at the problems we had there.
“This site is too important for the town centre for us to get it wrong.
“It needs an all-party sign-up to find a way to bring forward this site.”
Councillor Mackintosh agreed this would have to be the case.
“We are going to open this up so we can have a proper public debate about what we want to see on this site,” he said.
But debate raged as to which political party was to blame for the 14-year delay in bringing a retail development forward for the town.
Councillor Mackintosh condemned the Liberal Democrat group for signing a development agreement with Legal & General in the first place, the terms of which did not make it a requirement to begin a development by a given time.
But Lib Dem leader Sally Beardsworth, said: “It’s such a shame that when we left this administration we had signed a contract and it was going to go forward.
“We were going to have £300m invested in the town and that would have made a huge difference. Now that has gone.
“You might look always at the short term effect of things, and I think you have alienated a lot of people in this town.”
In an at times fraught exchange, Councillor Mackintosh responded: “If the Lib Dems think Legal & General were ever going ahead with this development, you are the only ones in this town that did.”