Dream of building startup hub in Stamford is ‘dead’

Scott Weavers-Wright and Fred Soneya at The Hub in Stamford, the home of Haatch.
Scott Weavers-Wright and Fred Soneya at The Hub in Stamford, the home of Haatch.
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A businessman says the trust that spent £75,000 fighting his plan for a digital hub in court should be “ashamed” of its actions.

A High Court judge this week overturned South Kesteven District Council’s decision to approve plans to demolish the former Cummins Social Club in Blackfriars Street and build a four-storey office block.

We had the opportunity on this site to knock down an eyesore, an ugly building, that everyone in the town told me they hated.

Scott Weavers-Wright

The plans were drawn up by Haatch, run by former Kiddicare chief executive Scott Weavers-Wright. The firm wanted to create an “incubator” for digital startup firms, known as The Hub.

The planning decision was challenged by the Cecil Family Estate Trust, which said the council had failed to consider the impact of the demolition on a neighbouring barn and stone wall. And judge Mr Justice Holgate found in favour of the trust, quashing the planning permission.

However, the judge said he was “astonished” that lawyers representing the trust, which owns the property that includes the listed barn and wall, had run up bills of more than £75,000 in bringing the case to court.

Following the judge’s decision Mr Weavers-Wright was critical of the trust and those who opposed The Hub, which he said could have created up to 150 jobs.

He said the plans would now have to be scrapped and Haatch would have to refocus on investment rather than incubation, and spend its money outside Stamford.

“The trust should be ashamed of themselves,” he said. “They have opened up a can of worms over a barn. The barn should be protected but that’s why you employ structural engineers and that is why you take insurance out, so if anything happens you can compensate the appropriate people.”

Mr Weavers-Wright said the nature of the incubator plan meant a new building was necessary.

“This was going to be a high tech space with fibre cables and cutting edge tech. We had to build a building,” he added.

“We had the opportunity on this site to knock down an eyesore, an ugly building, that everyone in the town told me they hated.”

“We bought it and it was the right decision. I stand by that. Everyone has got fundamentally confused over the application to knock it down.

“Now that the Cecil Trust has effectively spent a fortune to stop a new building replacing the social hall, what do they think is going to happen?”

Since Christmas Haatch has renovated the inside of the social club and it is now being used as a head office. The firm has applied to change the use of the building from a social club to offices, and Mr Weavers-Wright now plans to base Haatch in Stamford while investing elsewhere.

“It’s clear that the dream of 150 businesses coming to Stamford is dead,” he said.

“We can’t invest in businesses in Stamford because there is no space.”

Mr Weavers-Wright also questioned the history of the barn. While refurbishing the club, builders discovered five windows on the shared wall between the two buildings that suggested the club had been built first.

Mr Justice Holgate’s ruling means the district council will have to pay £30,000 towards the £75,000 legal costs of the trust.

He said: “I am astonished by this costs bill. The number of hours spent by the firm of solicitors for a case of this kind, taking one day, is frankly astonishing. I do not see how you can justify costs of this kind.”

The Mercury contacted property consultants Strutt and Parker, which was acting for the trust, for a comment but had no reply at the time of going to press.