'Tear it up and start again' – MP says regeneration plans are 'ridiculous' but Stevenage First partnership says it is pushing ahead with town centre revamp
PUBLISHED: 11:21 09 February 2017 | UPDATED: 13:21 09 February 2017
The latest plan for the long overdue regeneration of Stevenage’s town centre – almost two years in the making – will have to be torn up and begun again from scratch according to MP Stephen McPartland, because it will fail to get investors to pump in the necessary cash.
But the multi-agency partnership behind the plans, Stevenage First, says it is pushing ahead to develop the Town Square area known as SG1 – with a new civic hub, council offices, entertainments venue and library which will all be marketed to developers in April.
It says £19 million secured from the government by the Herts Local Enterprise Partnership – part of Growth Deal 3 funding announced last week – will be used to ‘unlock’ its plans.
But Conservative Mr McPartland says Stevenage First won’t get a penny until new plans are drawn up which focus on developing shops rather than civic amenities and flats, and until the body is abolished and replaced by a new delivery partnership of which he will be a key member.
The MP has held meetings with Sajid Javid MP, Secretary of State for Department of Communities and Local Government about the plans and says the minister agrees with him that only retail will bring the footfall needed to encourage investors to contribute the £1 billion needed to totally revamp the dated 1950s town centre.
Mr McPartland has repeatedly refused to involve himself with Stevenage First and has called its plans – backed by the Labour-run borough council ‘a billion pound joke’. But Stevenage First has repeatedly said it wants to work with him.
A central part of Stevenage First’s plans had been to rebuild the railway station and create a new approach to it, closing Lytton Way. Herts LEP had applied for £30m for this part of the scheme, but Mr McPartland repeatedly said it would cause chaos and could encourage rail firms to avoid stopping at the town. The funding was not granted.
He told the Comet: “The latest regeneration plan was painful to read, totally undeliverable and a billion-pound joke on local people.
“The ridiculous proposal included moving the existing railway station, relied on by 35,000 commuters a day, closing Lytton Way, demolishing the Gordon Craig Theatre and building 1,300 flats on the leisure park to wipe out our community facilities.
“The plans fail to regenerate the town centre, as they do not include the shops in Queensway, which they claim is a conservation area. I explained to government that we cannot support any regeneration scheme that does not include our shops and threatens to destroy the local economy by moving the train station.”
A spokesman for Herts LEP said yesterday the SG1 plan is being reviewed by the government, but will go ahead unless the government decides otherwise. They said the LEP is as yet unaware of the content of discussions between Mr McPartland and Mr Javid.
Andrew Percival, chairman of Stevenage First, said: “Part of this package of funding is critical to help unlock the first phase of development which will deliver 800 homes, new vibrant retail units around a revitalised square and a new civic hub, with a library, health facilities and council offices. This first phase of regeneration is already scoped and ready to take to the market in April 2017.
“In addition investment will be made to improve transport links with the town centre, including car parking facilities and the creation of development opportunities between Town Square and Lytton Way. The final element of funding will bring together land ownership to develop the former Marks & Spencer site and Marshgate area of the Town.
“As the Growth Deal funding supports the completion of initiatives before 2021, our ambitious plans for regenerating Stevenage train station will take longer than the timescale allows. This gives us a better opportunity to refine and improve our planning and preparation in time for future funding opportunities.”
The Stevenage First partners are Hertfordshire Chamber of Commerce, Herts County Council, Herts LEP, the Homes and Communities Agency, Legal and General, and Stevenage Borough Council.