Not just Potteries Centre that has Doubts

In July 2012 Indigo Planning Limited wrote to the City Council and had this to say..

Only an outline planning permission is currently in place and Condition 1 to the planning permission allows some seven years to secure the required reserved matters consents. As yet, no reserved matters applications have been approved or even submitted. The outline consent provides only parameter plans and the important matters of design, layout and scale must all be addressed. In a city centre location these can often take years to resolve.

Furthermore, Condition 1’s requirement to implement the scheme within seven years of the date of permission (or the expiration of two years from the date of the final reserved matters consent) is longer than the more typical three year requirement for implementation. This is an indication that the developer envisages a considerable delay between the grant of planning permission and implementation of the scheme. This conclusion is supported by the fact that no demolition works have yet taken place on site, nor is there any sign of construction hoardings surrounding the site which might suggest that such works are imminent.

It has been suggested that the construction of the new bus terminal, which is funded by a s.106 contribution from Realis Estates and is currently underway, is evidence that the City Sentral scheme will be implemented shortly. In fact, the implementation of the bus terminal scheme has nothing to do with the timetable for the much bigger City Sentral scheme. The Bus Terminal works can proceed because the s.106 contribution of £425,000 was agreed to be made upon granting of the outline consent, after which the local authority was able to proceed with the development. This has no bearing on the timing of reserved matters applications or implementation of the City Sentral scheme.

The signing of anchor tenants, although a promising sign, is also no indication that the scheme is viable. The reality of city centre development is that anchor tenants pay very little rent and usually represent a cost to the developer. The scheme’s financial viability arises from the rent on the other retail units which are driven higher by the presence of strong anchors. The scheme will, therefore, only make financial sense when the majority of the retail units have been let. The developers are unlikely to take a speculative approach and will wait until almost all units have been pre-let before beginning construction.

The City Sentral website refers to an opening date of 2015. This, however, is extremely unlikely considering that construction of a such a major development in a city centre location is likely to take between three and five years, and this can only take place after reserved matters applications have been granted and the pre-commencement conditions discharged. By way of comparison, other city centre retail and leisure schemes have often taken many years to deliver. The original application for Princesshay, Exeter for example, was submitted in 1998 with the final reserved matters applications granted in 2003. The shopping centre eventually opened in September 2007. Union Square in Aberdeen was granted consent in 2000 and opened in September 2009. Both of these schemes were progressed during more buoyant economic times and in more affluent locations than Hanley.

It is relevant that none of the letting agents for the scheme, Douglas Stevens Chartered Surveyors, CBRE and BWD Retail, are currently marketing the units actively. Only one (Douglas Stevens Chartered Surveyors) even posts the development brochure on their website.

In the absence of a fully implementable planning permission, with no sign of reserved matters applications, and taking into account the long term nature of city centre development particularly in the current economic climate, it must be concluded that the City Sentral units are not available now, nor are they likely to be available within a “reasonable timescale”.

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