James Greenway, Director at Henry Boot, has send me the following hughly interesting piece with permisson to publish in full, giving the developers side of the story. Also, he will (schedule permitting) be attending the public meeting I am setting up at John Clifford School on Thursday, 17th January http://www.facebook.com/events/474680275923439/ . Over to James:
To: Matt Goold
Re: Beeston Square
Following our meeting at the consultation event held on 4 January, I now write as requested with a little more information regarding our involvement in The Square Shopping Centre at Beeston.
We purchased the Centre in late 2003 with a view to developing out within a period of 2 years.
Just as we were about to finalise our initial proposals there was talk in the local media of NET extending the tram line through Beeston. At that point there were many routes concerned one being a route which took out the entirety of the “Argos block of accommodation” and the other which saw the tram stops being placed on Station Road and Middle Street. We then commenced working with the Council (Peter Stone, former Head of Planning) to look at which tram alignment suited Beeston the best.
There was a clear desire from the Council and ourselves to locate the tram stops closest to the town centre to ensure that people did not have to walk to the edge of town to locate the transport interchange.
The next 7 years were taken up liaising with NET and dealing with the recession which put the NET proposals into jeopardy on more than one occasion. Not knowing if a tram was about to demolish half the centre clearly made it impossible for us to plan ahead and look at any new development indeed the local authority at that time said they would resist any application by ourselves due to grounds of prematurity as they clearly wanted the tram to be crystallised before we were then allowed to progress.
During the corresponding periods Braemore Developments developed out their residential scheme adjacent as well as Tesco and perhaps it is our fault that we did not take a more aggressive line with the planners instead choosing to work with the local authority rather than against them. However during the last three years we have worked with the Council and their appointed representative at Cushman & Wakefield in London to try and put together a development agreement which would see the entirety of the site including the current Square Shopping Centre, bus station, multi-storey car park and fire station developed out into one cohesive development. Negotiations were proceeding well, however as soon as we got into the legal process the advice that was given to the Council was at odds with our own and negotiations faltered.
The constantly changing retail market post recession has meant we have constantly had to redesign our proposals and when we eventually tried again to deal with the Council and the representative at Cushman & Wakefield regarding a more efficient scheme we were again told that our proposals were not appropriate despite several assurances from Members and retail consultants that our plans were appropriate. At the start of 2012 we therefore decided to work with what we did own and to some extent ignore the Council’s other ownerships as our investment had suffered serious decline due to the NET issue and we felt a development was urgently required to arrest this decline. The years of NET’s prevarication and slipping deadlines has done nothing to help the retail environment within The Square with many units becoming vacant and new tenants refusing to sign up given the uncertainty they faced. In April 2012 NET took possession of the majority of the units within the Argos block and this has further resulted in poor trade for the centre and retail units having to look
out onto empty units which does nothing to enhance our ability to either let the units or get retailers to view them in a positive light. We therefore thought it a necessity to formulate a plan which would revive the centre and whilst we have had to work with a number of current tenants we are able to obtain vacant possession of a block of The Square which has resulted in the plans you viewed on 4 January.
In the recent past we have tried to work with Wilkinsons to relocate them within the centre, however this was not possible and Wilkinsons pulled out of the process leaving us to redesign the scheme once again.
Given the feedback we have had since the consultation I fully appreciate that the refurbishment is never going to be as popular as a knock it down and start again scheme, however we do have to work with our current retail tenants and keep them trading whilst we build around them which is no easy task hence the fact we need to refurbish elements where existing tenants will be and rebuild where we are able.
In terms of the public consultation itself the event was exceedingly well attended with 229 people coming along on the day and 174 people completing the questionnaires. Despite the press early indications show that over 97% of the people who completed the questionnaires supported the principle of redeveloping The Square and over 70% of these agreed that the proposal has a positive benefit to the area. We are now in the process of tabulating specific comments and suggested changes which we are in the process of feeding back to our design team and amending the scheme where appropriate. Obtaining the opinions of 174 individuals is a very high response rate and provides us with a clear overview of public opinion of the scheme. It is worth pointing out that the public will also have an opportunity to comment through the application process itself.
Clearly the general public, Henry Boot Developments and the Council are keen to see a strong development for the area and as I have explained to you before we are keen to liaise with the Council to see if the bus station, former multi-storey car park and fire station site can indeed be developed if not in conjunction probably as a Phase 2 element of the scheme in due course. I have sent a letter to the Council in this regard.
I appreciate that at some points it has looked like nothing has been happening, we assure you we have been working very hard at every opportunity to progress the scheme in Beeston having invested a significant amount of money in the area in late 2003. We are committed to Beeston and the project and will continue to move it forward as best as we are able, however we will need to work with the local Council to deliver the scheme as quickly as possible.
There also appears to be some comment that we could not name retailers who will be coming into the scheme. I would point out that given that there is so much vacant space within secondary town centres retailers are not committing to sites until they are 6-9 months away from delivering the final units therefore we have taken this opportunity to go for a flexible planning consent after which it will be marketed to the entire spectrum of retailers but because planning has been agreed we will be a further 3-4 months of the way through the process allowing retailers to commit with certainty to the town centre.
As indicated in your blog I am more than happy to attend any meeting organised by yourselves or the Council to discuss the wider development scheme.
Should you have any further questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me.