'We will not walk away' - St Modwen

PUBLISHED: 15:54 21 May 2008 | UPDATED: 21:50 26 October 2009

DEVELOPERS of the Hatfield town centre redevelopment have issued a statement to the WHT confirming its commitment to the project. We are certainly not walking away from this important regeneration project said Rupert Wood, regional manager for St.Modw

DEVELOPERS of the Hatfield town centre redevelopment have issued a statement to the WHT confirming its commitment to the project.

"We are certainly not walking away from this important regeneration project" said Rupert Wood, regional manager for St.Modwen.

"As one of the leading regeneration specialists in the UK and with significant investment in the project already, we are determined to move the project ahead as rapidly as possible."

The firm's statement follows the WHT's exclusive stories which revealed that plans for the regeneration had had to be put on hold indefinitely.

Neither St Modwen nor its partner Welwyn Hatfield Council could confirm if the project would get under way even next year. It had been scheduled to start this summer.

But Mr Wood said: "It's clear many people in the town were pleased when news of plans to regenerate Hatfield town centre were announced back in 2002 and now feel that the whole process has taken far too long and that the project has been significantly delayed.

"However the truth is that the progress of the Hatfield development has been about average for a town centre project of this size. Five to 10 years from start to finish is not uncommon.

"The perceived delay [not perceived, it has been delayed from its original start time of 2008 - editor] has created significant public disappointment which is understandable as the different stages of the scheme may not have clearly been understood by the local community.

"St Modwen recognises that communications need to be improved and will work with the council to ensure that the community is better informed as the project progresses forwards.

"Perhaps the best place to start is to look at the key stages we have already achieved.

"St.Modwen, together with other interested developers was placed on the short-list by the council in July 2002 and by September we had submitted our proposals.

"In January 2003 we were selected to carry out the regeneration project and in April that year held an exhibition in the town to show the public our proposed plans.

"Following this, in January 2004, we applied for planning permission, followed, in February, by a public consultation.

"In September 2005 the council made a resolution to grant consent to our outline plans subject to a number of conditions and during 2006 we worked on the detailed plans required for full planning consent.

"In December 2005 we signed the development agreement with the council and English Partnerships. This was the legal contract that ties St.Modwen into the project and set out the framework for how the regeneration would be delivered, the financial parameters and the conditions that had to be satisfied before building work can commence. These include planning consent and obtaining a compulsory purchase order so that we could buy all the property from the many different landlords and occupiers within the development area.

"In July 2006 the council made the necessary compulsory purchase order (CPO) and we began negotiations to purchase the property required.

"In March 2007 detailed planning consent was granted, but by then the CPO was being delayed by the need for a public inquiry due to 18 objectors. In the event only one property owner turned up at the public inquiry and in December the CPO was confirmed and the council obtained CPO powers in March 2008.

"As you can see, although it has been a long and detailed process to date, there is little more that could have been done within the law and planning process to deliver the town centre regeneration sooner.

"Around 80 per cent of property in the development area is now in the ownership of the council or St.Modwen and we continue to work to finalise the purchase of the remaining 20 per cent.

"However, even if the remaining interests can be acquired, we believe the regeneration is unlikely to be in a position to start before next year because of the current economic climate and its effect on retailers.

"One of the conditions of the development agreement is that no construction of the main project can start until legally binding agreements are in place with retailers for at least 50% of the retail area within the new development.

"What has to be understood is that retailers need to see that prior to signing agreements the project can be delivered (ie vacant possession and planning). Unfortunately because of the delay caused by the public inquiry into the CPO, we now find ourselves trying to attract retailers during one of the toughest economic periods for years. The tough trading conditions and the drop in consumer spending mean that retailers looking for opportunities have been increasingly reluctant to sign new leases, not just in Hatfield, but across the UK.

"Finally, whatever has been written or said about the status of the project, St Modwen continues to push ahead to secure the retail tenants we need. We already have a commitment from Wilkinson and are currently talking to 12 other interested retailers.

"We are determined to deliver the regeneration of the town centre for the local community and the partnership."

Fact file:

1 Construction will take around four years subject to agreeing the phasing

2 The £100 million scheme includes:

52 retail/restaurant units (150,000 sq.ft.)

A new 575 space multi-storey car park

A new bus interchange

An indoor market

275 residential units

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