Harlow Council buy The Harvey Centre in multi-million pound deal

Business / Fri 16th Dec 2022 at 06:04pm

HARLOW Council has bought the Harvey Centre for £21m in a deal which sees the authority take more control over the wider regeneration of Harlow town centre. 

The purchase is one of the largest acquisitions made by the council and transforms the authority into one of the biggest town centre landowners.

The deal was completed this week after the shopping centre was put up for sale in June at a guide price of £24.5m.

The total deal covers 8.5 acres of land and buildings including the retail and leisure units in the main Harvey Centre building, service yards and the multi-storey car park. It also includes the vacant former BHS building which offers a further development opportunity and the cinema leisure extension added in 2016.  

The council wishes to stress that this purchase does not detract from the delivery of other priorities. The council will be continuing to invest in all its regeneration work such as improving and repairing existing council homes and building new council homes. The purchase of the Harvey Centre is funded by borrowing money with the council receiving regular surplus income which will fund other regeneration activities as well as pay off the borrowing.

The Harvey Centre, which has been at the heart of Harlow shopping for over 42 years, will continue to be run on a day- to-day basis by experienced property and asset management companies. The council will continue to operate the Harvey Centre as an essential part of Harlow’s retail offer whilst looking to make improvements at various times over the coming years.

Footfall in the centre continues to increase back towards pre-pandemic levels. In 2019 the footfall was 8.5m and in 2022 the footfall is back up to 7.5m. The centre is a successful operation with many retailers having long-term leases.

The decision to purchase the centre is supported by both political parties on the council.

Councillor Dan Swords, Deputy Leader of the council, has hailed this moment as a once in the lifetime opportunity for the council, a moment which shows how serious the council is about regenerating the town centre, he said: 

“This purchase makes us a major player in the town centre with a huge stake in its future. It also gives much-needed stability and security to the Harvey Centre and the businesses and local people that work there.

“It is probably the biggest town centre decision this council has ever made, but it is not one which has been taken lightly. We have been guided all the way by property experts with extensive shopping centre expertise who have checked and double-checked everything about the centre and its operation.  The experts have worked up future forecasts for the best- and worst-case scenario, but the biggest risk to the town centre is someone else buying the Harvey Centre. The alternative could be the centre falling into the wrong hands, a new owner which does nothing to support it, but uses the centre simply as a cash cow.

“There are so many benefits to the regeneration of the town centre from this purchase.  Overnight, we become the second biggest building and landowner in the town centre, with this brings serious clout and power which we can use to bring even more private investment into our town centre. We will also have full control over what happens to the Harvey centre and the surrounding land, and that control means we will maintain its key focus as a shopping centre and improve its offer for the benefit of the wider regeneration of the whole town centre. 

“We have huge ambitions for the town centre and this purchase shows just how serious we are. Our plan to truly regenerate the whole town centre is coming together and we are taking bold but sensible decisions to secure its future.”  

“I would like to thank all the council staff involved in securing this deal and I welcome the cross-party support that this purchase has.”

Councillor Chris Vince, Leader of the Opposition on the Council, said:

“This is a huge opportunity for Harlow Council to acquire a large amount of land in the town centre after it was sold by the Development Corporation in the 1980s. However, it is also an opportunity to regenerate the existing Harvey Centre and ensure it is protected for future generations to enjoy.

“Of course, this purchase is not without its risks but the risk of doing nothing and the area being land banked is greater. I hope potential business investors recognise the cross party support this acquisition has and the opportunity it has.

“I also look forward to supporting local community groups and charitable organisations to utilise some of the space particularly in difficult times.”

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30 Comments for Harlow Council buy The Harvey Centre in multi-million pound deal:

Michael Hardware
2022-12-16 18:32:31

This is fantastic news for Harlow, and a huge achievement for the council. The leverage this gives the council as a large land owner in the town centre should not be underestimated. The centre also offers regeneration opportunities to improve the retail offering in the town centre. It is also a key piece of the jigsaw of the Harlow & Gilston Garden Town - having a regenerated town centre is key to the growth of our town, attracting new and existing residents to come and spend their money.

Mr Grumpy
2022-12-16 18:44:00

I thought HC had no money!! That's why I don't trust local or national authorities. They do like to lie.

2022-12-16 18:54:30

That’s approx £233 for every resident of this town. Remember the council works for us the residents. Are you happy to have your money spent this way, or would you prefer reduced taxes. Also remember the council claims not to have the funds to repair Olser house in Potter street, or the funds to repair council houses in the town etc etc.

2022-12-16 18:57:10

Perhaps as a mere council tax payer I am not entitled to see the numbers although I would love to. The scheme has been vetted by experts, are these the same experts that are predicting house prices to fall by 10-15%, or are houses and retail not correlated. Or is the reduction from £24.5m to £21m the reduction I have referred. This should be great news but I can't help wondering if a council that can't even clear footpaths of snow and ice will actually be competent enough to run the Harvey centre. Finally, why the heck can't they buy our bomb site aka the Square site....hey, perhaps we can have a new Square in the Harvey centre, that I would 110% support Btw, who is the biggest land owner?

2022-12-16 19:14:21

The history of local councils involved in retail ownership is sadly very negative. Additionally given what this council did to a thriving market; the outcomes of this purchase cannot be optimistic.

Nicholas Taylor
2022-12-16 20:15:13

On the face of it, this seems a really good step forward for this part of the town centre. The former BHS store is a huge space, one which could be used for many purposes, to include an exhibition centre for all types of events, an extension to the theatre and a live music venue. I would be interested to learn however when this was discussed within the Council, when was the matter reported to the Cabinet and Full Council and when a vote to proceed was taken. This is afterall a huge sum for the Council (us) to be borrowing!

2022-12-16 20:44:11

I wouldn't have the first clue what to do with all that space! ..can't we encourage more indoor market traders maybe in the old BHS store if that would work? I'd love to see Harlow town as booming as it used to be 👍😍

2022-12-16 22:19:45

Now we need some good quality shops rather than the nasty cheap tat that fills the Harvey centre currently. Need M and S , Monsoon, Phase eight, Fat face, White stuff, Hotel chocolate, Waterstones.Blacks, Mountain warehouse, Oliver bonas, Vinegar hill, Jones shoes, Robert Dyas for starters. Also need good quality independant coffee shops selling good quality cakes and pastries , Simmons bakery, a good quality deli, a good quality bistro and Waitrose. Just spent a very depressing morning wandering around it today, there is an awful choice of rubbish shops currently. If better shops came, then those with actual spending power would come in to Harlow rather than driving all the way to Bishops Stortford and WGC.

2022-12-16 23:14:55

The most stupid thing they could have done. Lets see the figures, and when they make a loss and they will, who will pick up the tab. Councils should stick to collecting bins and that it.

2022-12-17 09:03:23

Could have filled all the Potholes for that sum of money.

David Forman
2022-12-17 09:36:57

What concerns me about this and what I saw at this week's full council meeting is how keen the so-called opposition Labour Party is to work with the Conservatives in partnership. This is after Mr Vince's bluster on 1st December saying he would hold the Conservative's to account and scrutinize their actions. Plus, we know Mr Vince can't spot the sticky stuff as he failed to register any objections to worse terms and conditions for HTS workers in their new subsidiaries. What does he or any of his fellow Labour councillors know about the retail business? Let's hope and pray the council's so-called experts really know their business, because Thurrock is a classic example of councillors thinking they know business because they have watched some episodes of The Apprentice!

2022-12-17 09:44:41

Look at how the council has made a success of market square. This really does not bode well. Also when we’re the residents/ taxpayers consulted on what is a major undertaking by the council on the use of tax payers money.

2022-12-17 10:18:04

@theman I have done a FOI request this stinks - lets see what they dare to release my guess is not a lot as the council deals like this normally are corrupt to the core. Look at Thurrocks recent for example

2022-12-17 10:18:09

Might this be a good opportunity to build the new hospital now? It is good that there is the opportunity for the Council to have the control over development of an area that's been going downhill on skis for decades. The Council has always bleated that their lack of control has been a shackle. The question remains, if the Harvey Centre is such a good deal why were the commercial specialists and businesses so eager to sell it off at a discounted price equivalent to the price of around 42 exec detached houses? For decades town centres and "the high streets" retail fortunes have plummeted despite desperate a numerous efforts of governments to breath life into the decaying corpses as inexorably retail has shifted online and to easier access and parking shopping parks around the perimeter of towns with park and ride preventing traffic congestion within the town. Recognising this will turn a potential crash into a success because thinking laterally and creatively the very best option would be to use the site to build our new hospital (nhs would more than pay far more for the site or do a land swap deal give The Government and Robert Halfon the great opportunity to deliver the much promised new hospital today) and as it is built, use the current PAH site to create a new Market Square, a resurrected live music venues eg The Square, and low rise Council houses and local hatch shops. Several birds if not a flock with one stone. Sell the site, deliver the hospital and have the funds to deliver much needed Council and affordable low rise homes, bring back The Square and create a more sensible transport system. Why not? QED

2022-12-17 10:34:28

@ Nicholas Taylor, Cabinet met on November 17th to approve and refer to Full Council, Full Council met on November 17th and the plan was unanimously agreed by all councillors present. Both meetings were held in in private session on the grounds that it is likely to involve the disclosure of exempt information as specified under Paragraph 3 of Part One of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972. You can find the agendas and minutes on the council website. This was the culmination of a great deal of work by Cllr Swords, Harlow Council officers and others to ensure best value and due diligence in the purchase. An incredibly important moment in the history of Harlow which will give us the opportunity to push forward with the regeneration of the town centre and give Harlow the push to start attracting more business and consumers into our town.

2022-12-17 10:53:01

@AB The demise of the market, sad though it is, was caused by two factors. 1. The rise in popularity of the North Weald market that offered so much more than our market could along with Epping Market and the convenience for shoppers provided by the big supermarkets, the competition was just too great despite a great deal of work done by Councillors, officers and others in the 2000's to try and stem the flow away from our market. 2. While there has always been a loyal following for the market that following is small in comparison to the numbers who chose to go elsewhere. Sad to say but if it isn't used then it will most likely cease to be. The same could be said of many community groups and clubs that work hard to fill the needs of our society, run by volunteers with little or no support and the only time we even hear about many of them is when they are forced to close because no one showed any interest or just ignored the opportunities that they offered.

Nicholas Taylor
2022-12-17 10:58:29

Thanks Nick for the information. Decisions made behind closed doors do not bode well. What we do of course want to know is what is in the business plan for the future uses of the property acquired? As Council, tax payers we have a right to know what our money is being spent on. We must all hope that this proves to be a long term successful, trouble is Harlow Council has such a bad track record in getting things done. Market Square is still not finished after two years of work, shrub beds were not planted out in the autumn as Cllr Swords said they would, some months ago and the shrub beds along Broad Walk have never been looked after.

2022-12-17 11:20:50

Can afford this but not to grit the roads in Harlow for an entire week of snow and ice.. ok then...

Father Christmas
2022-12-17 12:52:26

Perhaps charities can utilize the towns vacant stores helping those less fortunate with free stuff donated by people (with more money than sense!) who just keep buying new rubbish all the time then rather than bin it recycle it! We don't really need any more coffee shops ...more donated free stuff 😉 Pass on the goodwill make the Harvey centre a great big charity store free food and drinks free clothes not another faceless precinct more charity less greed It'll never happen but it's a nice thought 🤔

Kim Oconnor
2022-12-17 13:03:29

Whilst I'm all for regeneration in town centre, God knows we need it. Nothing else is being done. No road repairs. No council house repairs. No infrastructure followings theses big builds. They can find money for vanity project s, while the rest of us see Nothing being done to fix problems. Sort town out first, before spending millions on vanity project s. You are all miss reading the mood of this town, and country come to that. Money should be spent on fixing theses awful problems with NHS sorting the importance things out first, building more council houses, the list goes on. Then you can sort town centre out. People first before profit and greed.

Nicholas Taylor
2022-12-17 13:11:27

Carol, the shops you mention will only come to Harlow if they think they can make enough profit. M&S pulled out because they obviously didn't. David and Sodthisforalark, potholes and gritting is carried out by Essex County Council. Father Christmas, we Council Tax payers have now been lumbered with a huge debt that will need paying back. That will never happen unless all the shops in the Harvey Centre are occupied by those paying rent and Business rates. There are already a number of charity shops in the town centre, including the Phoenix Resource Centre in the Harvey Centre. What we need is leisure and cultural facilities which will greatly increase footfall into the whole of the Town Centre.

Tony Durcan
2022-12-17 14:49:35

This is a huge risk but not to take the risk would leave Harlow at a greater risk of another private developer coming in and abusing our town centre with more private housing. The huge mistake the council has made is not to include any investment fund to enable the rejuvenation of the centre.They need to work with the BHS pension fund to find a long term solution to the massive empty space if only to break it up for community/charity use. Why not provide space for each current charity outlet to have a stall. Offer space for the CAB and food bank as just some examples.They could open a new entrance upstairs with a direct connection to the playhouse.To succeed they need to increase and maintain the footfall to support existing and new shops/outlets to be successful. If this fails we leave a legacy of debt but if we succeed this will be legacy of hope and aspirations. To achieve success we must invest to rejuvenate and regenerate.Buying is the easy part ,committing to a fully funded business plan is the real challenge. I’m optimistic for the future as long as politic and politicians don’t get in the way. I include myself in this last comment and want to praise the excellent teams both at the council and the management of the Harvey centre.

Cliff Moore
2022-12-17 14:50:16

Well at least they will have somewhere to store those giant plant pots from the Market Square now!

Kim osborn
2022-12-17 15:22:33

Maybe now the council will consider putting another supermarket into the bhs site for those of us who can’t manage a trek to asda or sainsburys but need more variety than tesco or Iceland has to offer. Not everyone is as mobile as they would like or has access to a car

2022-12-17 15:51:07

that cclr looks so annoying

2022-12-17 16:25:49

Traditional town centre shopping centres are generally a failure. As has been pointed out, if the Harvey Centre has so much retail potential why have the experts who been praised and the investors getting out? High end and big retailers aren't going to return, one look at the town's rankings as being in the top 40 of the most disadvantaged towns in England to realise that no serious middle or high end retailer is going to set up shop. Hggt pfp Gilston estate residents, as do most residents in the richer east of the town are shopping online and in Stortford or Lakeside. Wake up and smell the coffee. Whereas lease the site to the NHS and put a new hospital on the Town Centre site with shops and there's a guaranteed footfall and income for the coffers of the Council.

Nicholas Taylor
2022-12-17 17:30:15

I am afraid that Cllr Tony Durcan's comment about the former BHS store just about sums up Labour's ambition for the Town Centre. We do not need charity shops and community uses, we need a vibrant space used for things like toy fairs, car shows both modern and vintage, stamp fairs, Christmas market, foods of the world stalls and many more, bringing new visitors to the town to an indoor venue that can be used all year round. In respect of Kim's comment, the Council cannot bring anyone to the town, if such a firm had wanted to they could have done so during the last 3 years.

2022-12-17 19:08:45

Dan Swords -once in a lifetime opportunity Really !!! There is so much more the council could have done with that money. Giant plant pots in market square then table tennis tables now this . Ridiculous .i know why don't Harlow Council give permissions to build another Amazon warehouse in the town Centre and cause more upset and distress to more residents You know who you are . Well done for wasting millions 👏

2022-12-20 08:38:14

We do not need more charity stores or cheap fast food eateries, or shops selling cheap sweat shop clothes. All the new housing will attract professional people with money , not the unemployed with nothing to spend. Funny how firms are crying out for staff yet there are so many unemployed in Harlow! If you don't cater for those who will actually spend money then you get into a cycle of ever lower standards until it fails. A cultural area woud be great , if only The Playhouse actually put on plays , ballet by dance companies not just the local dance schools and good quality shows not endless copycat acts and drag queens. The one good coffee shop was allowed to become a pub , which is not needed in this town. There is nowhere I can meet my friends for a coffee in town now , the new one is far too small and crowded. Nor is there anywhere for a nice meal with friends. I wanted to buy christmas presents for my family last week , due to the snow I could not get anywhere else, so came into Harlow by bus. I left empty handed because the shops are such poor quality. There may be some areas with poor income families but the outer areas are far better off as are the local villages , Harlow council should be aiming to cater for them as well.

2022-12-20 09:22:10

Carol is right. We need to raise the bar. The town centre was once vibrant with great range of shops. Indeed markets and consumer habits have changed, but we need to cater for a wider audience within the town and neighbouring towns. Her comments regarding leisure options and a higher cultural offering are sound. The Playhouse used to offer much better plays and shows. If we want to attract visitors and improve the offer for local residents retaining the Harlow £ within, then this radical regeneration programme is needed. One only needs to see what other towns have done to revive their potential.

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