Fenland Council invites Mayor James Palmer to lend a (financial) helping hand to secure £1m plus rejuvenation of derelict Wisbech properties
PUBLISHED: 11:08 28 January 2019
Mayor James Palmer has been asked to step in and help to protect a £1.9million lottery grant to rejuvenate part of Wisbech.
Fenland District Council wants to pass the buck to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA) over a complex compulsory purchase order that would see 11 and 12 High Street brought back to life.
If CAPCA goes ahead it is likely to be offering support to Fenland Council by way of a repayable grant and repaid over a period of time from the gross rent that will be received from the property,.
“A legal charge on the property at the time would secure that future repayment.”
The report adds: “Providing grant support is within the powers of the combined authority. It is for the board to decide upon the merits of this application and the impact of such investment.”
Until recently it looked as if the cabinet of Fenland Council was able to deliver the transformation project itself.
However a report to the CAPCA board meeting this week explains how their “offer of support will give confidence to Fenland District Council to progress the scheme and secure the investment”.
When the cabinet of Fenland Council debated the issue last September they reached an ‘in principle’ agreement to make a compulsory purchase order (CPO) on the derelict site.
Fenland Council said it was only intending to use the CPO as a fall-back position if the London based private owner – who bought the site 24 years ago – fails to reach agreement on its future.
The council narrowly won support from councillors to establish “a compelling case in the public interest” to use a CPO to improve the economic, social or environmental well-being of the district.
Councillors were warned that unless something is done – quickly – to resolve the derelict and decaying site, lottery funding being drawn down to assist with the town’s economic revival could be at jeopardy.
11-12 High Street comprises two separate Grade II listed buildings dating back to the 18th century although little of historic value is left.
The proposals include new shops on the ground floor with flats above – major structural issues surround the properties which can only be surveyed currently by drone and an elevated platform for safety reasons.
“Both properties are under the ownership and control of one person who is not locally based,” says a cabinet report.
Documents on Fenland planning files show that a Mr D Lakhani of Harrow was given permission 12 years ago to re-develop the site but nothing came of it.
“The owner was unable to fund such repairs which meant that FDC had to intervene,” says the council: there is a charge against the properties to pay for urgent repairs.
The financial uncertainties surrounding the CPO and its re-development by a third party prompted Fenland Council to ask Mayor Palmer for support.
Fenland Council and Cambridgeshire County Council have each put in £200,000 towards a wider townscape heritage scheme but the CAPCA report warns of issues surrounding the High Street CPO.
“As the scheme moves closer to starting, there is pressure on the end date of lottery funding of January 2021,” says the report.
“Fenland District Council is seeking support from the combined authority to ensure that this does progress and to safeguard the investment.”
Fenland’s chief executive Paul Medd has held talks with CAPCA “to identify the extent of any support.” The details remain confidential due to “commercial sensitivities”.
In 1971 when Wisbech Conservation Area was first designated, 11 High Street was Turner’s shoe shop whilst 12 High Street was home to Foster Brothers.
In 2014 Historic England stepped in to add the conservation area to their heritage at risk register – two years later Heritage Lottery funding was secured to begin to address those issues.
Drawing down of the £1.9m lottery funding is partially dependent on getting 11-12 High Street sorted and there is limited time- the deadline for completing the works and obtain funding is January 2021.
A recent structural survey of 11-12 High Street assessed it a ‘ruinous fabric’ and the council says it has an open view as to whether the existing facades can be retained