Issue 46— May 2000
Back to the drawing board
The canalside development has been delayed as British Waterways have put the site on the open market.
Early in March, British Waterways rejected the bid by Metropolitan and County, a London developer, for the land alongside the canal behind St. Barnabas Church. This was an imaginative scheme that blended housing, a restaurant, a boatyard, and a community centre - and an attractive open space.
British Waterways had given Metropolitan and County the opportunity to make the first offer but were not satisfied with the proposal and will be putting the site on the open market - issuing a 'design brief' to which all developers must work. Berkeley Homes has been looking at the site.
This was a setback for many people in Jericho who had supported a good mixed scheme that took into account community concerns. Tim Matthews of the Rosamund the Fair restaurant, who has been one of the prime movers and who engaged Metropolitan and County, points out that this also further postpones his land-based restaurant.
In their letter rejecting the bid, British Waterways said that the plans had not been elaborated in sufficient detail, and they doubted that some elements of the scheme were financially viable. The letter noted that the bid offered less money for the site than had been suggested earlier - though it said this was not the reason for rejection.
They also pointed out that the Community Association had not yet arranged all the funding for the proposed new Community Centre - though of course it is not possible for us to make a lottery bid, for example, until we have a specific, agreed project.
This is disappointing but it is certainly not the end of the road. British Waterways have encouraged Martin Hay of Metropolitan and County to put in a revised bid. In any case, Jericho has already made considerable progress. The Jericho Canalside Development Group, which includes representatives of the Community Association, the Church, Rosamund the Fair, and College Cruisers, has demonstrated with Metropolitan and County a good way in which the site could be used. The design brief from British Waterways should now reflect this.
We have also made political progress. MP, Evan Harris has been pressing British Waterways to ensure that they do not simply sell to the highest bidder. And the City Council too has given strong backing, which the recent elections should not change. The former Chair of the Leisure Committee said that this is the kind of development they wanted to see succeed. And West Ward Councillor Colin Cook, says that any developer who tries to cram the site with houses is unlikely to get planning permission.
Where does this leave a new Community Centre? Strictly speaking, the Centre could be considered separate from the rest of the development, since it can be built on Council-owned land currently occupied by the garages in Dawson Place. But to develop the Centre in isolation would be a poor solution. First, because integrating it with the rest of the development will make better use of the overall site. Second, because a developer who encompassed the whole site could combine the Community Centre with student housing, say, which would reduce the cost of building the Centre.
The Community Association will of course cooperate with whichever developer gets the site. Martin Hay and Metropolitan and County have gone to great lengths to accommodate local concerns and certainly deserve to succeed. But we remain in the hands of British Waterways. They will probably issue the design brief in May, but it will be some months after that before any conclusion is reached.