It is now ‘very unlikely’ that any large supermarket will be built at Hemel Hempstead’s current Civic Centre site, according to Dacorum Borough Council’s director of housing and regeneration.
Without permission for a petrol station on the land – which was blocked due to the strengthening of regulations surrounding drinking water quality last year – the council’s Mark Gaynor believes the most likely uses for the plot at the lower end of Marlowes will feature a smaller food store along with residential developments.
Grocery giant Morrisons pulled out of a £25 million deal to develop the site – including renovating the West Herts College Dacorum campus and demolishing the council’s headquarters – last week on commercial grounds due to the Environment Agency’s concerns about a proposed fuel filling station.
The supermarket is reported to be the least successful of the UK’s big four grocery companies – which includes Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s – in terms of annual sales. Financial results to be released later this week are expected to show a second consecutive annual profit fall from Morrisons, whose shares have also fallen by 19 per cent in the last six months according to data from Reuters.
Reasons cited for its slump have included Morrisons joining the online and local convenience store segments of the market comparatively late, as well as price wars sparked by European discount chains Lidl and Aldi, the latter of which has recently opened a store in the town’s Redbourn Road with another planned for London Road.
Mr Gaynor explained new plans for the Marlowes scheme would be funded as part of wider long-term investment in the borough, featuring contributions from partners and developers, the sale of assets, borrowing and the use of reserves.
He said: “We have a well-developed process for ensuring that we achieve the most cost-effective method of funding capital investment. The Civic Centre site will also be sold later, recouping funds which would have come from the Morrisons deal.
“We expect considerable interest in the site. A very large food store, such as Morrisons had planned, is very unlikely to be developed here without a petrol filling station.
“Initial advice we received suggested that with effective mitigation a petrol station could be acceptable. Changes to regulations and policy surrounding drinking water quality and security made it unfeasible for a petrol filling station to be included in the proposed scheme drawn up before that time. The water quality issue is only in relation to the filling station, not the whole scheme.”
The council is now in dialogue with prospective developers to redevelop the former home of the Gazette and Marlowes Business Centre opposite the Civic Centre, as part of overall plans for what has been dubbed the ‘Gade Zone’. It is possible the buildings will form a residential leasehold scheme for the over 55s, with the new public service quarter developed across the road along with new homes, and a leisure or cinema offer on Market Square.
Principal of West Herts College Gill Worgan said: “The college’s town centre location remains an attractive plot for development. It is an ideal location for a college campus and offers scope for development in a number of directions. In the past it has appealed to retail and residential developers.
“We are also advised that the value of the land is holding up well as the economy begins to recover. So while funding will always be tight there is scope to generate income through the selling of land as well as options such as a phased redevelopment which would avoid the cost of moving into temporary accommodation off site.”