Council demands ‘urgent talks’ over claims plans for new Grosvenor Centre are ‘not viable’

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Council leaders have asked Legal & General for urgent talks following claims that plans for the development of the Grosvenor Centre have been beset with ‘viability issues’.

Legal & General have informed the council that they are not moving forward with the current planning application because the economic conditions mean that the current scheme may not be viable.

Leader of Northampton Borough Council, Councillor David Mackintosh, expressed his disappointment at the continued delays, which were exclusively revealed in last Thursday’s Chronicle & Echo, and said: “It is very frustrating that the Grosvenor Centre project is being delayed yet again. We have done all we have been asked to do in support of the redevelopment scheme but now we hear that this has still not been enough.

“I understand the challenges of the current economic climate, but there has never been a better time to invest in Northampton. We are in the top 10 for private sector jobs growth and for our overall employment rate. We have high levels of investment in growth from both public and private sector partners – if now is not the right time to develop the Grosvenor Centre, when will be?”

The Borough Council will now hold urgent talks with Legal & General to discuss the situation and ask for a firm commitment to making real progress on the development scheme. The authority has said it will look at all options to move the project forward.

Councillor Mackintosh said: “We are committed to retail regeneration in Northampton town centre and want shops that match our aspiration to be a top destination for shopping.

“I will work with Legal & General to overcome any issues if I can, and I am prepared to consider options open to the Council that would make retail development in the town centre a certainty.”

Major regeneration projects already underway in Northampton as part of Northampton Alive include the Waterside Enterprise Zone and developments at St John’s, Castle Station, the Innovation Centre and at Avon Nunn Mills.

In a statement released on Tuesday night, a spokesman for Legal & General said: “Legal & General is fully committed to its investment in Northampton, in particular the Grovesnor Centre and the major role that it sees itself playing in Northampton town centre’s much needed retail-led regeneration. However, given the ongoing challenges of the economic climate, it is currently taking the opportunity to reassess its plans and the timing of redevelopment works.

“In particular, in light of the recent spate of retailer administrations, as well as the threat of recently proposed out-of-town schemes, Legal & General recognises that the extension to the Grosvenor Centre needs to be reassessed to ensure that it provides an attractive retailing offer for Northampton as well as a scheme which is economically viable.

“Legal & General has been very disappointed, however, by the lack of public support that it has received from the Council, in its attempts to bring forward a scheme that best meets the needs of the town and which is economically viable.”

Simon Russian, head of Retail Development at Legal & General Property, added: “Contrary to reports and comments that have been made in the press, the blame for the delays in the attempts to bring forward the scheme cannot all be laid at the door of Legal & General. We are very disappointed and frustrated that the council are so quick to point the finger of blame for our desire to reassess the scheme in light of economic conditions which are outside of our control.

“It is important that people understand that we are not just another faceless corporate, but instead that, given that our primary role is to look after money of the man on the street, from individual policies to larger pension pots, we take our moral investment responsibilities incredibly seriously. If we pursue an unviable scheme, we are not only wasting public money and time, and failing to meet the needs of the people of Northampton, but also wasting cash from investors just like them.

“We continue to believe in the regeneration of Northampton’s town centre through strengthening the retail provision of the Grosvenor Centre. We need to therefore be positive about the dynamics of Northampton and what our skills can bring, but also realistic and level headed in achieving our goals.

“Over the coming months, LGP will therefore undertake a further review of the scale and phasing of the redevelopment scheme it is looking to bring forward, and may indeed consider delivering something in a shorter timescale than first planned albeit on a more viable scale.”