COVENTRY council is set to become a joint owner of the struggling Friargate development in a bid to kickstart the flagship business district scheme next to the station.
So far, only one of an intended 25 buildings has been constructed, with the council itself as joint tenants at Friargate One alongside a single non-governmental organisation that was attracted from London, the Financial Ombudsman Service.
The scheme for “up to 15,000 jobs” at the 37-acre site has been more than a decade in the pipeline, despite annual international attempts by the council to attract private sector tenants.
It had been hoped in 2013 under the council’s previous leadership that moving council staff into the first tower block would be a ‘honey pot’ for private investors, in the words of council chief executive Martin Reeves.
Council leaders are now set to buy into the scheme with a half share of a new joint venture development company, alongside long-time private developer Friargate Coventry LLP – which is part of the Cannon Kirk Group.
Investment is expected to come from the West Midlands region, with some funding from Coventry council, under the plans to go before the council’s ruling cabinet and full council in the new year.
About £50million of funding identified for Friargate by the West Midlands Combined Authority as part of a ‘devolution deal’ with the government was delayed earlier this year. It is proposed that money will finally be secured for a second Friargate tower block.
It is unusual for any council to act as developers in such commercial schemes.
The brown 11-storey tower block Friargate One next to the railway station has become a new feature of the city skyline, even though it stands in isolation.
Hundreds of council workers moved into it in October from other city centre office blocks which were being sold to Coventry University.
Plans for Friargate Two – a second tower block – were delayed after talk earlier this year of going ahead and building it speculatively, without first securing a tenant.
A new set of Labour councillors under George Duggins’ leadership took over at the council last year when former leader Ann Lucas was ousted, and immediately reviewed Friargate’s slow progress, pledging change.
Coun Jim O’Boyle, Coventry City Council’s Cabinet Member for Jobs and Regeneration, said: “I believe that by setting up a new company, there will be a number of benefits to Coventry citizens and tax payers.
“The first, and most important one, is that it will create jobs for local people. Secondly, the business rates from lettings will come to the council and be invested in critical frontline services.
“And thirdly, we will be able to drive the project forward via a very sensible public/private partnership.
“By entering into a partnership with Friargate LLP and investing cash from the West Midlands Combined Authority we will be able to guarantee that the second building gets underway and gets underway quickly. Then we can start looking at making the next buildings happen too.
“We already know that Coventry is a fantastic destination to do business in, and our investment in the scheme shows our confidence in securing its continued success.
“This site is located next to the fastest growing station outside London and I believe that if we build the second building investment will follow. We have a great offer and once we are a partner I will be pushing for things to get moving straight away.”
Owen Kirk, joint owner of Friargate LLP, said: “It is good to see Members take such an innovative approach to help deliver the Friargate scheme. By forming this public/private partnership, we can bring our human and financial resources together to expedite progress on this transformational development.”