Millions of pounds worth of investment needed to make Northampton's Greyfriars site ready for development again, council reveals
A new report has revealed that Northampton's Greyfriars land will not be suitable for development until major work is done to make the site more appealing.
Some two years after plans for a cinema multiplex, flats and restaurants on the four-acre patch of land fell through - Northampton Borough Council has released details of a new feasibility study for the site.
Chartered surveyor and property consultant Montagu Evans was commissioned to look into potential uses for the land and recommend what the council should do to bring it back into use.
But it found that even the most preferred option - building apartments and housing there - would see its developers lose out to the tune of £3 million unless major infrastructure work is completed beforehand.
Speaking about the report yesterday, leader of the council Jonathan Nunn, said the former bus depot site is simply too isolated from the rest of the town to be attractive to a developer.
The report, he added, has strengthened the council's will to plan new walkthroughs from the Market Square or Abington Street to Greyfriars before marketing it for sale again.
He said: "We now firmly believe it needs to be easier to walk between Market Square and Greyfriars.
"Our aspiration to close Greyfriars road is now stronger than ever before.
"I think we now know that the site has to be accessible to the town.
"It's got to be pleasant and attractive.
"It has got to give some addition to the town, it's got to be something that wasn't there before.
"There is a significant mountain to climb before we can deliver what we want to deliver."
Earlier this year, town leaders submitted a bid for the Government's Future High Streets Fund - producing a masterplan of how it might make the town more attractive with a £25 million windfall.
Among it was a proposal to build a linear park in Greyfriars - surrounded by residential development.
Though this would take a considerable amount of public money to make a reality - Councillor Nunn believes it needs to happen.
“It will likely cost upwards of ten million pounds in public funding to make development on this site possible," he said. "The Greyfriars site needs to be easily accessible and form an integral part of the town centre, and of good quality.
"Previous ideas have not addressed these important needs, and it’s clear that although local people want something to happen on Greyfriars, they want it to be of a high calibre.
“Greyfriars is far too strategically important to the town centre for us to leave its fate to the open market."
Economic growth and regeneration manager for the council Kevin Langley said the authority continues to receive offers from developers to build on the site. But, to date, no proposals have been considered acceptable.
"It's a usable site," he said. "Something like a self-storage depot could go in there easily. But that will add nothing to the town centre.
"We want to change the nature of the town centre - we want this development to add something."
Montagu Evans predicted that any developer considering a mixed-use scheme, including residential and leisure, would make losses of between £12 million and £44 million with the land in its current state.
The council will, however, be considering 'short-term' uses for the site while the infrastructure work takes place - including using the land as a car park.
The vision to improve the walkway links from Market Square or Abington Street through to Greyfriars - which could involve knocking through part of the Grosvenor Centre - is set to form part of the borough council's finalised masterplan for the town, set for release next week.