Skipton High Street developer is seeking an £8.6m buyer

The site of the development to the rear of Skipton High Street

The site of the development to the rear of Skipton High Street

First published in News Craven Herald: Photograph of the Author by , Senior Reporter

Developers of Skipton’s controversial High Street shops and restaurant scheme have put it up for sale, it has been revealed.

Maple Grove Developments is seeking offers in excess of £8.65 million for a ‘funding partner’ for the redevelopment of 9 High Street and the car park behind the town hall.

The company, which describes the offer as a ‘prime retail funding opportunity’, has been quietly marketing it since August and again in the last couple of weeks - apparently without the knowledge of its development partner, Craven District Council.

Tenants lined up to move in include Pizza Express, Next, Cotswold outdoor clothing, Brantano shoes and a small department store.

Maple Grove, which has agreed a price with the council of £85,000 for the site, has so far paid a deposit of £50,000, with a further £200,000 due when it starts work and the remainder on completion.

Graham Pilkington, senior development surveyor for Maple Grove, said the company, part of the Eric Wright Group, was looking at various funding options.

“With bank lending being so tight, we are considering various funding options for the Skipton scheme, one of which is a forward commitment, where we secure investment from a major pension fund or purchaser to either finance the scheme through its construction phase or to commit to purchase the investment on completion,” he said.

“This is an approach taken by many national developers when bringing forward major schemes.”

Mr Pilkington said the company had instructed its agents to approach parties and that interest had been ‘very strong’.

He added that the development was on track to start early next year and would go ahead, regardless of the funding arrangements.

“We remain on course to start on site early next year with the retail-led scheme and plan to announce the tenant line-up imminently,” he said.

Maple Grove was finally given planning permission to demolish the former clinic and build behind the town hall after appealing to the Planning Inspectorate. It had been hoping to win costs of around £200,000, but its application was refused by the government planning inspector.

The council issued a brief statement this week to say it was continuing to work with Maple Grove on the completion of the sale of the land.

But opposition, Liberal Democrat and Independent members of the council denied any knowledge of the marketing of the site and claimed that the council had been ‘hoodwinked’.

Coun Robert Heseltine (Ind), who has repeatedly called for an investigation into the council’s involvement with the project, said: “A gentleman would not say ‘I told you so’, but this is reminiscent of minnows trying to swim with property professionals.

“What were always dubious development proposals at 9 High Street, Granville Street and the Horse Close Canal site appear to be descending into dire disaster for the council tax payers of Craven,” he said.

“We now find that the developers of these sites hold all the aces with the council, which is apparently unable and politically impotent to influence the evolving situation from becoming a financial debacle.”

Coun Heseltine added: “It certainly is time for the leadership at the council to consider their futures. Craven District council cries out for its management, both member and officer, to be redirected and refreshed.”

Coun Paul English, Liberal Democrat leader, said he was completely unaware of the marketing of the site.

“When Maple Grove threatened to take us to appeal after we refused planning permission for the scheme, I said then what sort of partner does that. Now, it looks like the council has been completely hoodwinked,” he said.

“As soon as they’ve got everything in their back pocket, they’re trying to flog it for £8.6 million.

“They’re paying somewhere in the region of £800,00 for it and admittedly they’re having to build it, but £8.5 million is something of a mark-up. These are public assets that have been sold off to private speculators.”

And Coun Philip Barrett, leader of the Independent group, said: “This latest news in the Skipton developments saga raises yet more questions of Craven's political leadership over the disposal of these valuable property and land assets in Skipton.”

Maple Grove was unable to comment on whether anyone at Craven District Council was aware of its attempts to find alternative funding.

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