Endurance Estates and R G Carter Proposals for Hemel Hempstead Town Centre

Estates Gazette – Out with the Old in with the New Towns - 24th January 2015

Hertfordshire ought to be a by-word for affluence. The county is wealthy, healthy, well-connected and metropolitan in outlook. Surely Hertfordshire’s town centres are glittering retail and leisure attractions?

Not so fast. Town centre regeneration is stalled in Hitchin, overdue in Hemel Hempstead, complicated in Stevenage, and even smart Hertford is about to lose its town centre Waitrose to an out-of-town site. The loss of an anchor store after 34 years is sure to be a blow.

The nub of the problem is that post-war towns have become tired-looking old towns. Hemel Hempstead, Stevenage and Hitchin all have an unusual mix of mostly low-value housing stock, few town centre residents, and dated shopping facilities.

Councils are beginning to make progress – but it is slow and halting. Plans for Hemel are probably most advanced. Last year Dacorum borough council selected R G Carter and Cambridge-based developer Endurance Estates to revive the town centre.

A planning application was submitted in November 2014 for the first phase of a £25m scheme centred on a new 70,000 sq ft council headquarters and library. There will also be a 60,000 sq ft cinema and restaurant scheme, and 207 new town centre flats. A neighbouring site – today a 25,000 sq ft 1980s office block- could be redeveloped for retirement flats. Talks with cinema operators are concluding and the search is on for a residential development partner. Work on the council offices begins this summer for completion in late 2016.

Tim Holmes, director at Endurance Estates, says: “The idea is to bring people back into the town centre. It has a good retail offer, but lacks the leisure offer it needs,” he says.

“The demographics are good, the rail link to London is good, the Chiltern hills are very attractive, but the town centre hasn’t been able to compete with the out-of-town leisure offer and competition from Watford and the Hatfield Galleria. The Odeon was a big deal in Hemel in the 1950s and we want to bring some of that atmosphere back.”

He adds: “Hemel is a typical new town, and outside the old parts of the town the quality of the architecture is poor. The council has grasped the nettle by upgrading its own HQ and making land available for this scheme.”

Once the Endurance plan is under way Dacorum council will tackle six other town centre zones as part of its Hemel Evolution programme. The police station, magistrates’ court, health centre and market square are on its hit list.