Stevenage Regeneration: SG1 Vs Queensway - which do you think should come first?
PUBLISHED: 14:02 03 March 2018 | UPDATED: 11:32 06 March 2018
• Stevenage MP says he can’t support SG1 scheme because Queensway should come first
• He questions amount of affordable housing it offers
• Mecca Bingo says not yet contacted about scheme which would see it moved
• One NHS facility says it is happy to move anther says it has no plans
• Council says it is negotiating with all landowners to bring scheme about
• Developers confident they can bring MP on board
Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland says he simply cannot support £350 million plans to redevelop the core of the town centre because he believes they are not what people want.
On Tuesday, international developers Mace – who built The Shard in London, formally unveiled their ambitious plans to create 600 new homes, boulevards, town squares, and a public service hub including a library, health services and council offices on top of the current council offices, plaza and bus station area of town.
Mace has been appointed to develop the scheme by Stevenage Borough Council and its partners Herts County Council, Herts Local Enterprise Partnership and others.
But Mr McPartland who consistently opposed the plans before Mace were appointed as developers, has posted a series of articles on his website calling on Stevenage people to back his alternative view.
He believes a regeneration scheme should start with the shops on Queensway rather than the ‘accommodation-led’ development Mace is proposing.
He also fiercely condemns the fact the plans contain new council offices.
Mr Mcpartland states on his website: “Local people want regeneration to be new shops, not fancy new Labour council offices.
“Do not be fooled: the heart of the plan is fancy new Labour council offices, while the shops in Queensway, the centre of town, remain the same.”
However representatives of Stevenage Borough Council and Mace have told the Comet the public services hub at the core of SG1 will bring together numerous public facilities such a new library, customer service centres and NHS health centres which are currently located in different – and often outdated – facilities across the town. Just 30 percent of the new hub will actually be devoted to new council offices and the council says it hopes that the new flats and homes will make developers and retailers more interested in bringing new shops to Stevenage.
But Mr McPartland told the Comet he cannot support the SG1 scheme, because he thinks if it is done first, developers would be put off from coming in to develop Queensway for almost a decade because the new flats and facilities of SG1 would reduce market demand.
The council’s Chief Executive, Scott Crudgington responded, telling the Comet that the council is currently already in talks with developers over parts of Queensway and would be very happy for Mr McPartland to be involved in joining these plans.
Mr McPartland also criticises SG1 because he says it will contain too few affordable he homes. He states on his website: “There will be 1,000 flats with less than 10 per cent made available as affordable homes for local people.”
Mr Crudgington said the level of affordable homes is simply about making the scheme viable and it simply isn’t possible for the government’s preferred target of 40 per cent to be built into such a scheme.
He said the council’s policy on this needs to be viewed in the light of the billion pound investment it is putting in place to build more affordable homes in the town over the next 30 years and the schemes it has already completed such as Archer Road and the Twin Foxes site.
Mr McPartland himself has been known to support developments with little affordable homes provision such as the redevelopment at Park Place. Here developers MBU Capital provided a £5,000 payment to his election campaign last year.
The MP says although he wants to see Queensway developed first, he is very pro-housing. He says a new development in Queensway would see flats built above the shops.
He points to his recent campaign to persuade Homes England to invest £6 million into 260 affordable homes being built at Wedgewood Way.
He says his issue with SG1 is that 90 per cent of it is on Public Sector land so more than 10 per of the development should be devoted to affordable housing.
Mr McPartland has also raised questions about the ownership of some of the land needed for SG1.
Although the council or its public sector partners owns 90 per cent of the area, there are still some buildings that need to be secured.
These include the Mecca Bingo and the health centres at Southgate and Danestrete.
Mr McPartland says the council might have to compulsorily purchase the NHS facilities.
He said: “Two of our local NHS facilities could be compulsory purchased by Stevenage Borough Council on behalf of the developers. I am sure Jeremy Corbyn is very proud of Stevenage Labour.”
Mr Crudgington told the Comet the council is currently in negotiation with both the owners of Mecca and the NHS and is confident a deal can be struck with them. This would involve negotiating where these facilities might want to be accommodated within the new development.
He said compulsory purchase could be an option but only as a last resort.
The Comet spoke to the NHS providers and Mecca Bingo independently.
Mecca issued a statement saying it was aware of the regeneration plans but had so far had not been contacted by the council about it.
A spokesman for the NHS trust which owns the Danestrete centre said it is working with the council on he regeneration plan and that its facilities will move into the new SG1 hub.
However a spokesman for the trust which runs the Southgate sexual health clinic said that whilst it was in discussions with partners about the best way to accommodate its facilities in the future, these plans did not currently involve the centre moving.
At Tuesday’s unveiling, Hertfordshire County Council leader David Williams said it was disappointing that Mr McPartland had not supported SG1 so far but that he hopes the MP would come on board as the process develops.
Representatives for Mace also told this newspaper they will try to set up a meeting with Mr McPartland and are confident he can be brought on board with the scheme.
But Mr McPartland has emphatically told the Comet that despite this, he cannot support SG1.