Council bosses are preparing to use legal powers to forcibly buy land and remove businesses from Charter Place to aid its £100 million redevelopment.
Watford Borough Council’s ruling cabinet agreed to use Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) if necessary to acquire land as well as existing rights and interest so the site can be handed over to the operators of intu Watford.
Intu is planning to demolish the aging structure, building a three-storey centre with a 450-seat IMAX cinema as the centrepiece.
The company secured a long lease on the site from its landlord, Watford Borough Council, last year and won planning permission for the scheme in January.
Charter Place now
On Monday, the council’s elected mayor, Dorothy Thornhill, said she hoped the legal powers would only have to be used as a "last resort".
She said: "Let’s hope it is an option of last resort. But there will be some (businesses) who will stick it out to the bitter end believing they can get a better deal. But I don’t believe that is actually true."
In a report to the cabinet, council officials said the redevelopment of Charter Place would help make Watford a regional destination.
It said: "The proposed development will increase significantly the range and choice of retail, leisure and restaurant facilities in the town and will enhance the vitality and viability of Watford as a regional destination."
Demolition work is planned to start on the centre in August next year with construction due to start in March 2016 with the new Charter Place slated to open in time for Christmas 2017.
How the new centre could look
The report added: "The timescale will be dependent on the successful confirmation of a compulsory purchase order made by the council to acquire third party land."
The operation will ensure that clean title to the land can be handed over to intu before the project starts.
The majority of parties due to be affected by the operation are retailers in the existing Charter Place. In the report officers said negotiations were underway with the businesses and other parties affected by the redevelopment.
Intu is due to cover the cost of the council undertaking the legal exercise.
At the meeting, Mayor Thornhill added she hoped businesses unable to remain in the centre would relocate to High Street and give the town centre an economic boost.
She said: "One thing we are told is that some businesses currently in there will prefer to move out onto the High Street and there will be a ripple effect as the High Street picks up.
"Some retailers don’t want to be in a mall but want to be near to a mall and there will be others that cannot afford the new rents will move to the High Street. I think there will be an uplift from the High Street from this."
The mayor said she had recently been quizzed by two shop assistants in Cargo in Charter Place who were eager to know when the redevelopment would be finished.
She added: "The message from residents is it can’t come soon enough."