This is why Crescent Gardens saga may finally be solved in Harrogate
New plans to bring Harrogate’s iconic Crescent Gardens building back to life were submitted this week with little of the fanfare of previous proposals but, perhaps, a dose of greater realism.
If successful, the application by property investors Impala Estates, may see the empty former council headquarters of Harrogate Borough Council transformed into multi-let office space with two additional new storeys on top and a roof-garden restaurant.
Having acquired the council building in a £4 million deal in January 2020, the family-owned firm say they are confident that what they describe as “sympathetically designed” plans for the regeneration of Crescent Gardens, will finally bring to an end a seven-year saga which has placed a question mark over the future of one of Harrogate’s most important civic areas.
James Hartley from Impala Estates said: “Our plans will ensure that this high-quality local asset is brought back to use and regenerated to deliver a building that provides not only employment space in the town centre but contributes to a community benefit that keeps Crescent Gardens as a vibrant part of Harrogate.
“I am hugely excited to submit a planning application after what has been a tough year for everybody.
“I am extremely proud of what is proposed and very excited to hopefully be granted the scheme we have sympathetically designed.”
The planning application submitted today, Thursday by Impala Estates Limited includes the iconic building and the parking bays on the road directly opposite.
The company says its aim is to refurbish the building up to an energy efficient standard for use as offices for multiple occupancy. These will incorporate meeting rooms, gym and shower facilities and a roof-garden restaurant.
The meeting rooms will include the spaces previously used as the Council Chamber and Mayor’s Parlour, which, together with the roof-top restaurant, will be available for use by the public.
Although the Impala Estates’ application has still to be decided upon by Harrogate Borough Council’s planning committee, it’s already won the full backing of Harrogate Civic Society, albeit with a proviso they will be looking carefully at the detailed application.
Harrogate Borough Council, too, has given a general welcome to Impala Estate’s vision, hailing it as a step back to making Crescent Gardens a “thriving, community area” once more.
Graham Swift, Harrogate council’s Cabinet Member for Economic Development, said: “When we sold Crescent Gardens to Impala Estates, we were impressed by their commitment to bring much-needed office space into the centre of town to support the growing and changing economic needs of Harrogate.
“They blended this plan with the use of public space that will make Crescent Gardens and its locality a thriving, community area that boasts flexible, modern offices with functional and attractive public spaces.”
Crecent Gardens: Recent troubled history
The council will be hoping Impala’s new plans will be sufficient to quell the fears of local civic groups and opposition politicians who were concerned over the civic role of a historic building which had served as the main offices of Harrogate Borough Council since 1930.
Ever since the council first announced its intention in 2014 to sell its historic Crescent Gardens offices - as it prepared to consolidate its various buildings into the single, new £17 million Harrogate Civic Centre at St Luke’s Mount off Kings Road - there has been concern over the potential loss of public access to a community asset.
The unconditional sale of Crescent Gardens to Impala Estates followed the collapse of the previous development deal in April 2018 when Harrogate Borough Council ended its legal agreement with ATP (Crescent Gardens) Ltd after it said the latter failed to meet the deadline to submit a valid planning application for the site.
Led by Harrogate developer Adam Thorpe, ATP’s lavish plans to build luxury apartments at prices of up to £12 million each including the closure of Crescent Road to the public had been condemned by Harrogate Civic Society as amounting to the “demolition” of Crescent Gardens.
Two years on, the acquisition of the site by Impala Estates has generated less heat, partly out of relief that the building is not being left to deteriorate.
Harrogate’s opposition Lib Dems party have in the past attacked the council over its handling of the Crescent Gardens sale, demanding to know the costs of the whole saga.
Speaking after news of the sale in January, Coun Pat Marsh, the Lib Dems leader on the council, argued there was a need to retain a bigger civic role for Crescent Gardens, including the retention of the Mayors Parlour and the creation of a space to exhibit the history of Harrogate.
It’s that sort of prospect which is now enthusing Harrogate Civic Society which says the latest plans for a refurbished and extended Crescent Gardens building offer hope it may became the hub for a long-hoped-for Cultural Quarter in Harrogate.
The civic society said: “The public space proposed, including the Mayor’s Parlour, the grand staircase and the Council Chamber, could be at the heart of the Cultural Quarter which will include the Royal Hall, Royal Baths, Royal Pump Room, Mercer Gallery and through Valley Gardens to the Sun Pavillion.”
Harrogate Civic Society's positive views on Crescent Gardens’ future
Harrogate Civic Society says it has been working closely with Impala Estates on Crescent Gardens throughout the design process, including a guided tour of the building after internal stripping out in October 2020.
Unlike previous plans, it says it has been encouraged by the amount of public space proposed in the new plans.
Susan Amaku and Stuart Holland, Harrogate Civic Society’s co-vice chairs, said: “We are pleased to see the progress of the work on site and, in particular, that the principal formal spaces in the centre of the building are to be retained.
“The existing roof lends itself to a two-storey extension, something that was advocated many times to Harrogate Borough Council, making use of the original design that envisaged future extensions at roof level.
“We are pleased to see that the building will be retained and refurbished as offices, with a restaurant on the roof and meeting rooms within the ‘historic core’, as this will retain a degree of public access and use of the building.
“The society has been promoting the idea of a ‘Cultural Quarter’ centred on the Crescent Gardens. We are excited by the prospect of Crescent Gardens building being a hub for such a quarter in Harrogate.
“We fully support the planning application, albeit we will look carefully at the detailed application.”
A message from the Editor
Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.
In order for us to continue to provide high quality and trusted local news on this free-to-read site, I am asking you to also please purchase a copy of our newspaper.
Our journalists are highly trained and our content is independently regulated by IPSO to some of the most rigorous standards in the world. But being your eyes and ears comes at a price. So we need your support more than ever to buy our newspapers during this crisis.
With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our local valued advertisers - and consequently the advertising that we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you helping us to provide you with news and information by buying a copy of our newspaper.