Crescent Garden sale - these are the worries of Harrogate Civic Society

The recent announcement of the £4 million sale of Crescent Gardens to Impala Estates, a Yorkshire-based, family-owned property investment business, has not answered all the questions posed by critics of Harrogate Borough Council.

Friday, 24th January 2020, 4:34 pm
Updated Friday, 24th January 2020, 4:40 pm
Harrogate council's former headquarters at Crescent Gardens have been sold in a 4 million deal to property firm Impala Estates

Some got in touch with the Harrogate Advertiser about the £4 million new deal as opposed to previous potential buyer Adam Thorpe's company's £75 million plans.

But it is the Advertiser's understanding that:

Adam Thorpe offered £1 million in the original deal.

The £75m refers to how much the Crescent Gardens apartments would have been worth had Adam Thorpe converted the building and sold all the new planned apartments.

One of the remaining controversial points is the civic role of what was for 80 years a key civic asset.

Speaking for Impala Estates, James Hartley said: “Plans are in place to bring the building back to its former glory and refurbish these offices to a modern standard for multiple occupancy.

“We aim to create office space on flexible lease terms, with meeting rooms, kitchens, showers and gym facilities.

“The space will range from fully-serviced shared workspace for small businesses and start-ups, to larger offices on an exclusive use basis.”

Harrogate Borough Council’ cabinet member Coun Graham Swift said he was delighted at the success of the marketing campaign and by the new buyer’s plans to regenerate the historic site into a multi-let office space.

Deputy leader Coun Graham Swift said: “The proposed plans will ensure that this high quality local asset is regenerated to deliver a building that provides much-needed office space in the town centre and provide community benefits that keeps Crescent Gardens as a vibrant addition to Harrogate town centre.”

Crescent Gardens - Harrogate Civic Society's comments

Among those who have in the past been leading the clamour for Crescent Gardens to be retained for a public role as a civic asset, one voice has been the strongest, that of Harrogate Civic Society.

Last year it met up with the leaders of Harrogate Borough Council to share its ideas for the creation of a ‘Cultural Quarter.’

Although concern remains, the civic society has joined Harrogate’s leading historian Malcolm Neesam in giving the new plans a cautious welcome.

But it also expressed an interest in the road outside the Crescent Gardens building remaining open to the public.

Susan Amaku and Stuart Holland, the society’s co-vice chairs, said: “We are pleased to hear that a sale has finally been completed for the former municipal offices and that it only includes the building and parking areas.

“We hope that this means that the road in front of the building will remain open for use by the public.”

"We prepared a vision for the creation for the creation of a Cultural Quarter centred on the building and gardens, a key aspect of which was to maintain an element of access to the building for public benefit and enjoyment.

"This vision was shared with James Hartley of Impala Estates prior to submission of their bid.

"We note that councillor Graham Swift refers to some ‘community benefits’. We look forward to an ongoing dialogue with Impala Estates as they develop their proposals for the building and hope consideration will be given to the incorporation of some of our ideas to enable community use and public access to key parts of the building."

Crescent Gardens - Henry Pankhurst's comments

The civic society’s ex-chair Henry Pankhurst said: “The possible refurbishment and conversion by Impala Estates to various types of office use seems a welcome prospect to satisfy a need and it is good to think that this landmark building will, perhaps fairly soon be occupied beneficially.”

But, he added, if the plans were to include a nod towards the cultural quarter idea he would be “highly delighted!”

Mr Pankhurst said: "Our two vice-chairs met Impala Estates before their bid was accepted & showed them our leaflet with ideas for a cultural quarter at Crescent Gardens - not just the old Council offices building.

"As many people in the town will be aware Harrogate Civic Society and others were keen to see some space in the building devoted to community use. It is also the case that the previous scheme for unimaginably expensive apartments including complete demolition with rebuilding the frontage (with some alterations) plus stopping up the road in front did not find favour.

"The refurbishment and conversion by Impala Estates to various types of office use seems a welcome prospect to satisfy a need and, of course, it is good to think that this landmark building will, perhaps fairly soon be occupied beneficially.

"So, whilst we generally welcome the sale it is essential to see any forthcoming planning application in order to make a detailed comment of course.

"If the scheme includes even a nod towards the cultural quarter idea we shall be highly delighted."

Crescent Gardens - Historian Malcolm Neesam's comments

Leading Harrogate historian Malcolm Neesam believes the whole matter should have been decided only after the option had been put to the community.

Mr Neesam said: "Given that I wass not impressed by previous attempts of Harrogate Borough Council to market the former Municipal Buildings in Crescent Gardens, and disregarding my opposition to the entire move to King’s Road, my reaction to the news that an agreement on the sale has been reached with Impala Estates Ltd. is to express the hope that the financial basis for the agreement is indeed sound.

"To Councillor Swift, who is quoted as describing the building as a “high quality local asset” I suggest that only liabilities should be sold, not assets.

"To include in the sale that former part of Crescent Gardens taken in the 1970’s from the public gardens to provide a car park for councillors, is outrageous.

"As the patience of the public has been sorely tried by this whole matter, I would have thought that the honourable thing for the council to have done would have been to place all of the developers’ submissions on public display, before coming to a decision."