Proposals to turn Charter Place into a new £100m shopping centre with an IMAX cinema have been approved by politicians.
Councillors on Watford Borough Council’s development control committee voted unanimously for the scheme, which will be undertaken by the operators of intu Watford, Intu.
A street view of the new Charter Place.
The vote comes after the company came back with a simplified design for the front of the High Street facade of the centre, which officials had expressed concern about last year.
The centrepiece of the new Charter Place will be a 450-seat, nine screen IMAX cinema - one of only 17 outside of London.
The development also promises to create an extra 10,000m2 commercial floor space and 10 new restaurants.
Construction is planned to take place throughout 2016 with a view to opening in time for Christmas 2017.
At tonight’s meeting, Howard Oldstein, the manager of intu Watford, told the committee that since the old Harlequin had been built shopping habits had changed and the town had slipped down the retail rankings.
He said the revamp of Charter Place provided an opportunity to reverse that trend.
Councillors on the panel were largely supportive of the scheme, describing it in turns as “splendid” and a plan to “get Charter Place into the 21 century”.
However politicians did express disquiet that most of the revamp was happening on the High Street side of the development while there was little change planned for the Beechen Grove facade.
Peter Jeffree, a Liberal Democrat representing Park ward, said: “The whole of the Harlequin and Charter Place (from Beechen Grove) creates this fortress Watford appearance. It turns its back and looks into the centre.”
He argued that thousands of cars passed the Beechen Grove side everyday and asked if Intu could think of a way of opening it up to make more inviting.
His comments were backed by Leggatts Lib Dem, Steve Johnson, who said C&A had previously had an entrance on the Beechen Grove side.
He added: “Why can’t you make a feature of that area, with a window or whatever. At the moment you have got nothing at all. I think it could be a lost opportunity for Intu.”
Councillor Johnson also expressed his delight that the rest of the centre was being regenerated.
“For me the day Charter Place was completed it was outdated,” he said. “It is of its time and God knows when that time was. It has always been appalling so it is good we have something new and dynamic.”
During the meeting David Martin, director of resources also addressed the committee saying his organisation supported the development.
However he queried why the YMCA tower was not included in the regeneration and said the 1970s block could stand out “like a sore thumb” against the new architecture.
Mr Martin added: “There could be a bit of an opportunity lost here as in 10 or 15 years people may ask why we did not do something better."
His comments found support with Green councillor, Ian Brandon, who suggested there should be discussions between Intu, the council and the YMCA about how to improve the tower.
Labour group leader, Nigel Bell, lent his support to calls for the YMCA to be revamped saying he once asked a friend what he first saw of the town when he emerged from the Watford Junction station.
He added: “He said that terrible tower and he meant the YMCA.”