'We'll take our £23m elsewhere': Developer's frustration at council after Northampton Market Walk student flat plan is refused

The developer has expressed its frustration after the council labelled its designs "stark, dominating, overpowering, obtrusive and incongruous"

By Alastair Ulke
Tuesday, 1st December 2020, 11:26 am
Image by Corstorphine + Wright. A developer has expressed frustration at having a plan for Market Walk be refused by the council.
Image by Corstorphine + Wright. A developer has expressed frustration at having a plan for Market Walk be refused by the council.

A developer whose plans to turn Northampton's Market Walk shopping centre into student flats was dismissed this year has threatened to take its money elsewhere.

Last week, the Chronicle & Echo reported on how the borough council had refused a proposal to build three storeys on top of the former Peacock Place shopping centre and turn it into 355 student flats.

In an unusually scathing letter by the council's planning board, the refusal told developers Urban Village Group Ltd their idea was "stark, dominating, overpowering, obtrusive and incongruous".Now, the firm from Birmingham has expressed its frustration with the refusal by suggesting they are ready to take the £23m they set aside for the scheme elsewhere.

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The scheme aimed to build a three storey extension to Market Walk and create up to 355 student flats.

Operations manager Liz Foley told the Chron: "Urban Village has spent a considerable amount of time and resource developing a scheme thus far.

"We have been successful in obtaining a £23m development facility to provide investment within [Northampton].

"However our efforts to date have thus far been obstructed by the untimely planning process and un-cohesive approach from the planners in Northampton.

"We obviously have other areas and developments that these funds can be deployed to and it looks at this point as though the authority are not welcoming of such a scheme in the area.

An unusually scathing letter by the council called the plan "unaceptable... stark, dominating, overpowering, obtrusive and incongruous."

"Therefore will likely need to move these funds into an alternative scheme in another area."

In the same email, Ms Foley outlined that Urban Village was redrafting its plans for the student flats proposal with a mind to reapply for permission.

It comes after a survey by the Chron found there will only be three stores left in the ailing shopping centre when the national lockdown lifts on December 2.

In the unusually scathing letter of reply in July, the council denied planning permission by writing that the rooms would be "unacceptable" for the students living there.

A Chron survey found only three stores will reopen at the ailing shopping centre when restrictions lift on December 2.

The letter by head of planning Peter Baguley read: "The proposed extension... would result in a stark, dominating, overpowering, obtrusive and incongruous appearance through the scale, massing, proportions and design used.

"The proposal would result in the provision of unacceptable living conditions for the majority of the future occupants through the provision of bedrooms that are offered poor natural light levels, poor outlook, and poor privacy levels."

Ms Foley criticized the council's dismissal of the original design as "factually incorrect".

Market Walk was approved for a 'flexible change of use' plan in May this year that means it could be converted into just about anything if developers come forward with reasonable proposals.

Meanwhile, the council is championing several other large scale planning proposals to turn the town's largest vacant units into accommodation.

This in includes a rubber-stamped scheme to turn the former Belgrave Hosue into 124 'worker flats'.

Others include an idea to turn both the empty Marks & Spencer and BHS units on Abington Street into flats.

Market Square is also outlined to become a "hub" for the town through the Government's £12m Town Fund, with plans for a water feature, seating and new market stalls.