Harpenden Estate purchase postponed due to coronavirus impact

Plans to purchase the Harpenden Estate have been put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic. Ph

Plans to purchase the Harpenden Estate have been put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: DANNY LOO - Credit: Archant

Controversial plans for St Albans council to purchase the ‘Harpenden Estate’ have been put on hold – as the coronavirus outbreak impacts on property values.

The council had drawn up plans to invest around £18.75million in shops, offices and residential properties around Harpenden High Street.

And it was said the “very long-term” investment would allow the council to take on a place-shaping role and bring in an income.

But at a meeting of SADC’s cabinet last Thursday, March 19, it emerged the deal had been put on ice.

Liberal Democrat council leader Cllr Chris White told the meeting that the impact of the coronavirus on property valuations had led to the council putting the purchase on hold... for now.

He said that since the coronavirus restrictions had been announced by the government, leading property valuation firms had added ‘material valuation uncertainty clauses’ to all future valuations.

And that, he said, had created “huge uncertainty” around the value of the Harpenden Estate and the risks associated.

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He stressed that the Harpenden Estate remained the right property estate for the council.

But he said the decision had been taken to “pause” the acquisition process, “until the property industry is able to assess property implications in a rational way”.

And at that time, he said, the council would re-engage with the vendor to conclude the acquisition.

The plans have been surrounded in controversy for some time, and Conservatives have already called for the purchase to be axed.

Even before the outbreak of the coronavirus, critics had pointed to the relatively low return on the proposed investment.

They highlighted the risks of falling rents, the decline of the high street and erosion in the value of the capital.

And they had questioned whether the council could actually implement some of the measures that had been suggested.

After the meeting, Conservative group leader Cllr Mary Maynard again called for the project to be scrapped: “The Harpenden Estate decision was imprudent even before the coronavirus pandemic. It would be reckless to go ahead with it.”

She says it is the wrong time for the council to become involved with retail and commercial property such as this.