The leader of Northampton Borough Council has “terminated” a development agreement with Legal & General for the Greyfriars bus station site, it has been announced.
Councillor David Mackintosh said this morning that the borough council had ended the deal signed with Legal & General in 2009, when the Liberal Democrats were in charge of the local authority.
He said: “Today we have announced that the development agreement for the Greyfriars site with Legal&General has been terminated after years of delays.
“This allows us to move ahead and develop major new retail and leisure on the Greyfriars site starting new year after demolition by Christmas.
“Development agreement with Legal&General was signed by Lib Dems in 2009 and has tied our hands. Now we can move forward with new plans.”
In a statement from Northampton Borough Council, the authority said the demolition of the old bus station and office complex is ‘well underway’ and the site will be levelled and ready to market to developers and retailers by the beginning of December 2014.
“The development agreement that was signed in 2009 obliged Legal & General, subject to a series of preconditions including occupier commitment and financial viability, to attempt to extend the Grosvenor Centre back onto the site of the demolished Greyfriars bus station. It also obliged Legal and General to refurbish the Grosvenor Centre as part of any scheme, and those are works that are being carried out now and due for completion in early 2015. The agreement obliged the borough council to enable the extension by providing a modern bus facility and upgrading the car park, both of which have now been carried out.
“But the Greyfriars development has not moved ahead and was delayed further while the Borough Council and Legal & General opposed the Rushden Lakes project. When permission for Rushden Lakes was granted in June, the Borough Council and Legal & General met again and, following further consideration, have agreed to end their commitment to jointly redevelop Greyfriars.
“Legal & General will continue with their £10 million investment into the Grosvenor Centre. This is led by a new line-up of popular retailers, starting with Next and Primark, who are opening major stores in the centre in October and November respectively, and the refurbishment of the malls and toilets, which are well underway and due for completion in early 2015. In addition, Legal & General is expected to lodge a planning application shortly to remodel both the Market Square and Abington Street entrances.
“Northampton Borough Council will continue with the demolition of Greyfriars and will prepare the four-acre site for development, while seeking a developer to draw up plans for a major retail and leisure scheme. It is hoped that planning permission could be obtained and work ready to start on the site in autumn 2015,” the spokesman added.
Councillor David Mackintosh added: “I am pleased the Borough Council is now able to move forward with this development on our own. It is time to deliver the improvements that people have been waiting for many years to see, which will strengthen Northampton’s retail offer and keep more spend in the town.
“Legal & General will remain an important partner for us because of their ownership of the Grosvenor Centre but we have agreed to move forward separately.
“This is an exciting time for Northampton. The Northampton Alive programme of regeneration is changing the face of the town, creating opportunity, jobs and prosperity. Greyfriars is a great site and gives us a really exciting opportunity to move forward very quickly with a retail and leisure development, which will create additional jobs in construction and retail and add to the great mix of business, culture, heritage and retail that we already have as a town.”
Simon Russian, head of retail development at Legal & General, said: “We admire what Northampton Borough Council has achieved in regenerating the town centre through new infrastructure and new investment and we look forward to working with them in the future to deliver investment into the Grosvenor Centre and the wider town centre.
“At the Rushden Lakes planning inquiry we were very clear that we could not move forward with the Grosvenor Centre extension if permission was given, and, in a fast changing retail environment, we have refocused our efforts on repositioning the Grosvenor Centre’s retail offer. That has started with the exciting introduction of the full line Primark and Next stores which will be open for Christmas. These are major long term commitments to Northampton town centre, and we are also pleased to announce that Boots have committed to a major refit of their store, which is one of the biggest in the region. This project will commence shortly and will transform one of the biggest stores in the town centre.”
Conservative MP for Northampton South Brian Binley, who has been a long term critic of Legal & General’s failure to extend the Grosvenor Centre, said he was sure they would be a lot of interest in the Greyfriars site.
He said: “I recognise Legal & General are a stakeholder in the town and I recognise they retain what exists at the moment in the Grosvenor Centre.
“I’m sure they will do as good a job as possible in making the centre as attractive as possible.
“However, what is clear is that they did not have the entrepreneurial spirit or responsibility to the stakeholders to improve the retail offer.
“There is now an opportunity to get on with that to ensure the town is able to compete with any other town locally.
“I’ve always said Legal & General need to get on with it or get out and they are doing a bit of both. That is a good decision as the town can move forward as they continue to be involved.”