Plans for Brentwood town center car park site ‘challenging’ says council

Any plan to develop William Hunter Way in Brentwood has been described as “challenging” and will not happen for at least two years if at all, the council has said.

Instead Brentwood Borough Council said it is focusing on its £23m development of the Baytree Center to include a revamped shopping area and multi-screen cinema.

The council had included the town center car park site as part of a £1bn joint venture with Morgan Sindall Investments.

At its formation in 2019 the joint venture was initially to focus on three sites – the William Hunter Way car park, Westbury Road car park and the Maple Close garages to provide new homes together with new leisure and community facilities, boosting sustainable housing supply across the borough to meet the needs of its growing population.

Through the new joint venture, Brentwood Borough Council said it is also able to act as a central purchasing body through which other local contracting authorities in Essex can procure a similar partnership with Morgan Sindall Investments.

But the council has now shifted its energy to redeveloping the Baytree Center which it bought for £11m in a bid to reenergize the shopping center that has never operated at its maximum potential.

Council leader, Councilor Chris Hossack, said: “As a small council we can only do so much. It remains a challenge in terms of the current climate to get a viable scheme there.

“But in terms of applying resources to take that forward, it is work in progress but it is not being driven as hard as the Baytree Centre.

“We are really crunching the numbers around viability and proposals, particularly in this market of the regeneration and construction market.

“We are not going to see anything significant on that site in the next two years.

“It is not on the shelf or back burner but it is one that is more challenging and we can’t put as much leverage behind whew as we can with the other ones”

Jonathan Stephenson, chief executive of Brentwood Council said: “Back in 2019 when we concluded the procurement process there was a plan for William Hunter Way but things have changed. We have had Covid and now the cost of living inflation.

“The car park had a dip in revenue due to Covid and it is now close to maintaining its income which you might see as positive. But trying to achieve a complimentary scheme on that site fitting into the planning guidelines with our local plan and the allocation for the site and the income that site returns is a challenge.”

He added: “There will be a point where they have to bring something to the council – whether it is that we are carrying on developing the site, we are exploring other opportunities or we won’t explore anything on the site for the distant future.

“But that has not happened yet and is something that hopefully happened before the end of this financial year.”

The William Hunter Way site has had a long planning history – development ideas have been in the pipeline since 2005 and permission was eventually granted in 2007 for a six-screen cinema, supermarket, multi-storey car park and apartments.

In 2013 an agreement was reached to extend planning permission for developer Stockland further for two years. However in 2014 Brentwood Borough Council decided to reject that scheme outright after elements of the financial package could not be reached.

The site has been undeveloped and remains a main council car park.

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