£1m project underway as council buys empty Knaresborough High Street properties
Close to £1m worth of taxpayers' money will be tipped into a major refurbishment project to bring a row of derelict Knaresborough High Street properties back into use.
The buildings, running from 78 to 82a on the town's High Street, have lain unoccupied for years as a forgotten outlier of London-based property firm Freshwater Group's extensive portfolio.
That was until last year, when ward member Ed Darling lobbied the borough council to bring the buildings back into use."He drew our attention to these distressed outlets on this High Street, which were a blight close to the town’s centre," the council's member for economic development, Graham Swift, said of Coun Darling's involvement.
While the council were prepared to take compulsory purchase action - a potentially costly exercise given the legal expenses that often accompany it - a series of London meetings saw the authority instead negotiate the willing purchase of the properties from Freshwater Group.
That process, Coun Swift said, had freed up funds to undertake an extensive refurbishment of the properties.
“Negotiation was important because it let us look at this as a refurbishment property, rather than just a compulsory purchase,” swift.
The council will now undertake a major facelift of the properties, which consist of three ground-floor retail units and four first floor residences.
One of the properties in the best condition is currently inhabited by Knaresborough Exotic Rescue, with council saying their intention was to honour the current lease which they took over in the purchase.
Coun Swift said future plans would see the authority lease out the shops, while the residences will either be leased or sold off.
Believed to have been built in the early 1700s, Coun Swift said refurbishment work on the listed properties would start in 2020, depending on planning permission and listed building consent being received.
The £1m price tag includes the purchase, design and refurbishments costs of the project.
Coun Swift said he hoped the High Street facelift would "encourage other landlords to take pride", as well as acting as a "catalyst" for other refurbishment works in the area.
"It will also create additional retail space, jobs and much needed residential accommodation in an area that has been blighted by empty properties," he said.
An inquiry was launched into Knaresborough's retail sector last year, at a time when 17 properties were unoccupied on the town's High Street.
"I hope our scheme will encourage other property owners in Knaresborough to consider investing in their own buildings for the benefit of everyone," he said.
Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter