I have been gazing into my crystal ball and wanted to let your readers know what I think will happen next, so they can say – we read it in the Hereford Times!
The old cattle market site is the single most valuable piece of real estate that is owned by Herefordshire Council – it is the family silver. Basically there are three other organisations involved in its “regeneration”: Stanhope (the developers), British Land (the financiers) and Hereford Futures (an un-elected private company overseeing the deal for the council).
Here’s my prediction, on how they are going to make it work and sell what is an extremely poor deal to an unsuspecting public: It has to be a predication because I have only ever been given permission to see a heavily blanked out commercial agreement – despite frequent requests to see the whole thing and being ward councillor,
1. The cattle market site will be given away for free – originally the council was to receive £30million for this site, but the world economic situation means these types of deals have been collapsing across the country (most recently a scheme in Burnley) the only way to make it work is if the council takes the hit.
2. They will relax the restrictions on poaching shops from the town centre – throughout the deal negotiations, Hereford Futures have promised to protect High Town by refusing to allow the developers to poach shops currently in our town centre. They are supposed to be attracting new shops to Hereford, but to fill the development they will have to relax these restrictions.
3. There will be no guarantee that rent levels will remain competitive – in order to attract tenants, rent levels will be set at fiercely competitive rates attracting even more shops to re-locate to the new site from High Town.
4. Herefordshire Council will become a “development partner” – in an attempt to cover up the lack of capital return for the site. The council will never see a return on its “investment”.
5. The Council Tax Payer is already footing the bill for the link road – this is the road that connects Edgar Street and Aylestone Hill. Originally planned to take traffic away from the inner ring road to improve the retail quarter’s link to High Town it was never originally going to be paid for by us. The council has now given itself permission to borrow £27million to pay for it. This road is not essential for housing development, but it is essential for the retail quarter.
In short the total council subsidy will be in excess of £60million for this development. They will tell you this is “public assets being used for public good” but it is clearly public assets being used for private profit – British Land and Stanhope will both make their profit and the CEO of Hereford Futures will continue to receive his huge salary – all at the expense of the Herefordshire council tax payer.
This continues to be one of the most deeply contentious developments the city has ever known, with the most catastrophic timing. Political vanity is being put before value for money and I feel deeply sorry for anyone whose business relies on the vibrancy of the city centre, as it is now under the most acute attack it has ever experienced.
It is often said we should learn the lessons of the past. The current situation is a bit like the arrival of the canal to Hereford in 1845, just in time for the railways to take over. In a similar vein, this council is peddling a vision of the 1970’s, just when the rest of the world is contracting its retail offer, Hereford is expanding. God help us all.
Councillor for Central Ward
Leader of It’s Our County