There’s an ugly old car park behind the shops, between the river and the railway. The council has big plans for it and the community is already mobilising against it. What do we know so far?
1. It’s a big project and it’s going to be politically explosive
Hertsmere Borough Council owns the land and will manage the project. Planning permission hasn’t been obtained yet and, incidentally, the council is also the planning authority. Governance of this project is going to be a hot topic. A committee of senior Hertsmere councillors and officials, led by Chief Executive Donald Graham and finance and property portfolio holder Councillor John Graham has been appointed to supervise the scheme through to construction. Transparency and propriety are going to be hugely important. Everybody in the area will be paying attention.
2. It’s going to be a big shop with a hotel above it
It’ll be a no-frills hotel. A Premier Inn-style joint with no on-site catering, although the retail unit could include a cafe. Guests will, of course, also be able to use local restaurants and shops.
3. It’s all about the money
A local authority sitting on 5,000 square metres of land in a location like this would probably be irresponsible not to try to boost its yield – especially when their numbers suggest it is under-used. The swingeing cuts in local government funding are real and add to the pressure. The document presented to the council’s executive (PDF) makes a lot of the need for funds and uses government cuts as an argument for maximising the income from the land by retaining ownership of the project and partnering with a developer rather than just selling the land.
4. There’s risk – for the authority and for the community
The provisional plans have some sketchy numbers for return on investment and there are obviously no guarantees for the success of a big new shop (some people say it’ll be an Aldi) and a hotel. The proposed approach sees the council taking on more risk than if they simply sold the land. There may also be substantial borrowing. Hertsmere is not a big authority and doesn’t have much slack. This won’t be a walk in the park.
5. We’re all going to be talking about the parking
Newberries car park has 216 places and, according to the council, an occupancy rate of 60%. So, on average, 130 of the available spaces are used at any one time. That leaves 86 spaces for the use of the 80-room hotel. More spaces are planned as part of the development, for the shop mainly. Whatever happens, it’s going to be tight, even on an average day. And all that’s before we’ve even thought about access to the site and extra traffic.
6. The land floods
Everybody remembers the car park under water as recently as 2014. The car park is part of an area that’s meant to be allowed to flood when the river overflows. Elaborate measures will have to be taken to make the development comply with the Environment Agency’s rules. The council’s response is to build the shop and the hotel on stilts. Does that sound viable? Quite possibly. Does it sound unproblematic? No.
7. There’s already opposition from the community.
Local campaigner Clive Glover has written a detailed objection in the Radlett Village Facebook Group (you may need to be a member of the group to see this). He questions the business case and asks important questions about capacity and access. We’ll hear a lot more of this. There’s talk of a petition and a public meeting.
And there’s going to be a lot more to this project. It’s certainly the biggest individual development in Radlett in the eighteen years I’ve lived here. It’s bound to cause a big fuss in the village. No one’s automatically against development and we, like all communities, expect our local authorities to get the best possible return on their assets but we also expect plans like this to respect the needs of the community and not steamroller existing businesses. The obvious potential for conflict of interest in this development is going to make it particularly tricky for officials and councillors. The financial risks are potentially ruinous and the plan so far contains no new community amenities at all, beyond the commercial elements.
The council’s plans were presented to a meeting of the executive committee. Download a PDF of the documents presented (including drawings).
The Borehamwood Times wrote up the executive’s approval of the council’s proposal, based on this Hertsmere press release. A big story like this needs serious treatment from local media. This is a great opportunity for them to really dig in and devote some full-time effort to it. I hope they do.