After advice from a QC and the preparation of legal paperwork, Peterborough City Council’s legal bill is starting to rise and there is no immediate end in sight to the court action.
For the local authority has been dragged into a fight that is essentially between two private companies.
Invesco, which owns the Queensgate shopping centre, wants to go ahead with a £30 million cinema-led development within its centre, while Hawksworth Securities has plans for a £100 million cinema-led venture earmarked for the neighbouring North Westgate site.
Both developments were approved by councillors last September but the reality is that two cinemas so close to each other are not viable.
It is feared that one will probably have to go.
And as Invesco has full planning approval and is ready to build, and Hawksworth only has an outline approval and lots of site assembly work still to do, it seems the North Westgate scheme is in peril.
But Hawksworth claims the council has not correctly followed its planning procedures.
Last month it submitted an application to the High Court for a judicial review of the council’s approval of the Queensgate venture.
Now Mr Justice Gilbart, after considering the paperwork, has refused Hawksworth’s application.
But undeterred, Hawksworth has appealed against that refusal and has requested an oral hearing.
Even if a judge dismisses that appeal, which could take another month, it is possible for Hawksworth to still take the issue to the Court of Appeal.
But all the time the council’s legal bill is rising.
Already the council’s costs amount to £6,700. While those costs have been awarded against Hawksworth, even that decision is in limbo while the legal process plays itself out.
But a council spokesman warns: “There is a Protective Costs Order in place which means the council cannot claim more than £10,000.
“That means the council will have to foot the bill for its legal costs that go above £10,000 even if the applicant is not successful.”
Protective Cost Orders were set up so organisations were not deterred by the costs involved from challenging local authority decisions.
Council leader John Holdich is adamant the local authority will battle on but is also keen the North Westgate venture should still go ahead.
He said: “The council will be defending its position against any judicial review.
“We remain committed to the comprehensive redevelopment of North Westgate alongside further investment in Queensgate shopping centre.
“We will continue to talk with all landowners about how we can work together to regenerate the site.”
But Guy Thomas, head of retail asset management at Lendlease, which manages Queensgate, said: “As a strong proponent of Peterborough’s growth and prosperity, we are disappointed Hawksworth has decided to challenge the judge’s unequivocal decision not to grant a judicial review, which stated that Hawksworth is attempting to use the planning process to deal with a commercial matter.
“We fully support the council in its defence.
“Invesco and Lendlease remain committed to the city centre and the council’s wider plans to ensure Peterborough can compete on an equal footing, not just regionally, but nationally. We are ready to start work on the extension of Queensgate, so to avoid further unnecessary delays we have submitted a second planning application. The development has strong commercial and consumer support, and will deliver benefits for Peterborough.”
The boss of Hawksworth Securities has defended his decision to take legal action in a bid to lift the regeneration of the derelict North Westgate site off the ground.
Peter Breach, chairman of Bristol-based Hawksworth, says the £100 million cinema-led development is in the best interests of the people of Peterborough.
A four star hotel, an eight screen multiplex cinema, a new market plus a range of quality shops and restaurants, apartments and homes are all planned for the eight acre site.
Mr Breach said: “There has been a need to develop this site for decades. I think it is the last major regeneration site in Peterborough.“
He said the urgency to regenerate North Westgate was underlined in Peterborough City Council planning policies and as a result the revitalisation of the site should, legally, take precedence over anything else.
He said: “We are not doing this to frustrate the city, Invesco or Lendlease.
“We have been given strong legal opinion that we have a case here.”
Mr Breach said at the heart of the matter were the council’s established policies about development in the city.
“Planning law is clear in this case and should be adhered to. Planning priority goes to North Westgate.
“I believe the judge, who has only seen paperwork, has misunderstood the case and I have asked for an oral hearing to make our case. I expect this will take place next month.”
Mr Breach said Hawksworth Securities had spent a “considerable sum” of money to bring the North Westgate proposals to their current point.
“A lot of money has been invested taking these plans so far and with considerable encouragement from the local authority.
“I am unhappy to be at odds with the city but feel that we had no alternative but to take this course of action.”
“Without a cinema that can’t be a leisure-led development. I haven’t seen any others schemes produced that are viable.”
“If there is to be a resolution that please all parties we would certainly come to it. We have met with Invesco and Lendlease but to no avail.
“I am willing to work closely with the city council on any scheme for the site which can be shown to be viable.
“We do believe it is in the best interests of the city to get North Westgate regenerated and we feel that the time has to come for this to be done.”