Harrogate council rejects Crescent Gardens inquiry calls

Historic heart of Harrogate - The former council headquarters at Crescent Gardens which now faces an uncertain future.
Historic heart of Harrogate - The former council headquarters at Crescent Gardens which now faces an uncertain future.

Harrogate Borough Council has rejected calls for an inquiry after the embarrassing collapse of £75 million plans for Crescent Gardens.

After having its patience tested to the limit by Harrogate developer Adam Thorpe and keeping the £150,000 non-refundable deposit Mr Thorpe’s firm ATP (Crescent Gardens) Ltd paid when contracts were exchanged in 2017, it finally served notice on the long-running saga on Monday.

The news came as a shock to the town, though civic groups such as Harrogate Civic Society had long expressed doubts Mr Thorpe’s lavish vision of luxury apartments and underground spas would ever happen.

But, amid growing calls to turn the former council headquarters into something for the good of the community, the council has waved aside a plea by Coun Pat Marsh, leader of the Liberal Democrats group at Harrogate Borough Council, to investigate why the whole project had gone so badly wrong.

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A council spokeperson said: “We have no powers to launch a public inquiry, nor can we compel a private company to explain why it failed to honour its contractual obligations.
“Only the developer can give the reasons why a valid planning application wasn’t submitted by the deadline.”

The sale of Crescent Gardens was originally announced in 2014 as the council moved to consolidate its various buildings into a single, purpose built, civic centre.
Since then there have been missed deadlines and a series of delays, all the time the developer rent to operate from the Crescent Gardens building.
Now that Crescent Gardens is back on the market again, the council is left with the same headache that it faced five long years ago.
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Coun Marsh is clear about what she would like to see happening.
She said: “I didn’t think this project would ever get off the ground. I’d like an investigation and that’s what I will be calling for, whether that’s into the due processes and diligence or the strength of the contract, I don’t know yet.
“Hopefully we can get a sensible person to purchase Crescent Gardens and build on its grandeur... and whoever comes in respects it is the civic centre of the town.”

Despite the clamour for this civic asset to be retained for a public role, the priority remains financial and there are unlikely to be any open forums to discuss what happens next.
A Harrogate Borough Council spokesman said: "We have been clear since 2014 that Crescent Gardens will be sold and this has not changed.
"Developers will be expected to set out how any future use of the building meets the economic objective assessment as part of their proposals.
"The public will be consulted as part of the planning process when a valid application for the building comes forward. "

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