The Howard Centre
In my previous posts I have explained how my local council is responsible for two towns, Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield, along with several smaller villages . Hatfield has always considered itself to be the poor neighbour, its been the industrial town of the two responsible for the development of the Comet aircraft and the British Aerospace 146.
My story involves the controversy surrounding the construction of two shopping centres, The Howard centre in WGC and the Galleria in Hatfield.
Back in the late 1980's the council were anxious to redevelop part of town centre in WGC, they wanted a new railway and bus station and a few more shops wouldn't go amiss, so they entered into negotiations with the biggest construction business in the UK at the time, Slough Estates.
While negotiating a deal to provide all the things mentioned above for WGC, they were also dealing with a rival firm, The Carroll Group to provide a shopping centre in nearby Hatfield.
Because of the close proximity of the towns, Slough estates negotiated a Tenant Mix agreement (TMA) with the council. This was to enable both centres to attract different types of shops and restaurants.The Howard centre was to have traditional High street shops and restaurants and the Galleria was to be geared more to entertainment, restaurants, cinemas and outlet shops.
The council was keen to have both developments the site of the proposed Galleria was on top of a tunnel which had been constructed to take the A1M underground and the area on top was perfect for shops. The Howard centre addressed the station problems. Slough Estates were playing hardball and wouldn't agree to the development until the council signed the TMA, this they did. Both sites went ahead and eventually opened at almost the same time in 1990/1. It was at this point that it came to light that the council had been doing a bit of underhand dealing and while agreeing the TMA with Slough they agreed the exact opposite with the Carroll group. This resulted in Slough taking the council to the High court for damages.
Slough won and was awarded 48 million in damages!! The chances of the council being able to pay that was remote, there were limits as to what could be paid from the public purse, and the council only held reserves of 2 million pounds. So Slough Estates won a moral victory and few a few years we suffered the reduction in events such as fireworks.
Incidentally both places are now thriving shopping centres and The Howard centre DOES have more traditional shops and The Galleria is an outlet centre!!
Update ...... I have done a little more digging to try and find out exactly what money changed hands in the end. It seems that prior to the court case the council were offered an out of court settlement for 16 million pounds but shose to ignore it. They didn't pay all the money awarded but they did pay a huge chunk of it and they way they managed it was to use reserves and to 'sell' all their stock of council houses to a housing association releasing capital. They were limited to only using 25% of that money raised, by government legislation. They eventually settled with Slough Estates for 29 million pounds.