Council has ‘drastic plans’ for Stevenage town centre redevelopment

Stevenage town centre

Stevenage town centre - Credit: Archant

Stevenage Borough Council (SBC) has revealed it has “drastic plans” for the redevelopment of the town centre, after MP Stephen McPartland unveiled his own ambitious plans for the area last week.

The Comet exclusively revealed last week how Stevenage MP Mr McPartland has asked the Government to establish a new Stevenage Development Corporation to regenerate the town centre.

The organisation would have the planning powers for a major redevelopment, which could be backed by a share in the Government’s £2 billion Local Growth Fund.

Mr McPartland blamed the council for failed regeneration attempts in the past, but SBC leader Sharon Taylor claims plans for redevelopment have never been off the table.

“We are actively working on a new regeneration project,” she said.

“We are working with some consultants on some fairly drastic plans which will be published in the next few weeks.

“Clearly [the scheme is] not as ambitious as it was.”

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The regeneration was originally set to total £500 million, but was scaled back to £250m, with the scheme eventually scrapped in May 2012 due to continuing adverse economic conditions.

The council has now set aside £1m to get plans off the ground.

Cllr Taylor criticised Mr McPartland for failing to work with the council.

“If Mr McPartland can bring a share of £2 billion in for Stevenage town centre, then that’s brilliant, but it’s a shame he’s not come to talk to me about it,” she said.

“He hasn’t been to the council offices since October 2010, which is a great shame because I feel there’s a lot we could do together for the good of the town.”

Last week Mr McPartland said it was the council’s “addiction to £3 million a year in car parking charges” that was blocking every regeneration attempt, driving people to shop elsewhere.

Cllr Taylor has hit back, saying “it’s his government which has cut our funding”.

She said: “We have to keep the car parks in good condition and fund enforcement.

“We have run experiments for free parking in the town centre in Stevenage and will continue to do so where appropriate. If they are showing dramatic increase in footfall, it is something we will have to look at.”

Peter Bandy, SBC’s strategic director for environment, is responsible for regeneration. He said: “Current advice from specialist consultants is that a comprehensive retail-led regeneration project is simply not viable in the current economic climate.

“We are still fully committed to delivering a sustainable scheme that will make a difference in our town centre and pave the way for future development.”

He added: “While the town centre may look tired, Stevenage remains an important sub-regional retail centre that is attractive to major retailers – as the recent opening of H&M demonstrates.

“Store occupancy is above the national average and many of the major shopping chains are represented here.”