Multi-million pound plans to invest in 'Harpenden Estate' under fire
PUBLISHED: 11:58 21 January 2020 | UPDATED: 11:58 21 January 2020
Harpenden boasts some of the most expensive real estate in the country - and St Albans district council has drawn up an £18.75 million investment plan.
The council plans to make a long-term investment in shops, offices and residential properties around Harpenden High Street, which they say will help them balance the books in future, as well as 'place-shaping' and benefiting the area.
However critics have pointed to the relatively low return on the proposed investment - which is expected to be around £90,000 a year - with a risks of falling rents, the decline of the high street and erosion in the value of the capital.
They also question whether the council could actually implement some of the possible measures, which are designed to support local businesses. Conservative councillors have already called for the project to be axed, and it is believed to be a sticking point in the Conservatives backing the budget proposals.
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Lib Dem leader of the council Chris White, however, maintains that it is a good investment. He said that St Albans is keen to use its borrowing powers to bring in additional income streams that can help to deliver services.
He said they have had professional assurances that the Harpenden Estate is a valuable asset with sound returns and, by focusing the council's investment within the St Albans district, the impact will not purely be commercial. The provision of pop-up accommodation, shared-space retail and a willingness to let to local businesses are all measures that could be considered if the sale goes through.
Conservative group leader Mary Maynard, who has lived in Harpenden for 40 years, believes the council should axe the plans, saying the 'difficult to manage' site is over-priced by up to £3.5 million and that the return on the investment is low and risky. She also pointed to legislation which would make it difficult to offer concessionary rates for local businesses.
She said: "The current administration have failed to give believable or credible answers to key concerns - insisting on making an investment that will give them a mere half a per cent in return."
Lib Dem Cllr Karen Young said the £90,000 figure in the budget is for 2020/2021 only, and will go up in future.