Emperor's new tenant 'a boost to town centre confidence'

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 20 Jan 2018

THE £1.8-million redevelopment of one of Grimsby town centre’s most prominent buildings provides more evidence of a new dawn breaking in North East Lincolnshire, according to those involved in the deal.

The major works currently underway at New Oxford House, on the town centre’s Osborne Street, are given as another example of the economic vibrancy that is emerging, with the borough securing a pilot Town Deal status as part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, released late last year.

Guided by regional commercial property specialist Scotts, the building’s owner southern-based Purple Emperor, has had the confidence to fund the transformation of the former Wilkin Chapman headquarters, vacated a year ago as the regional law firm outgrew the office block, and nearby premises in South St Mary’s Gate. 

Set for a spring completion, it will be let to North East Lincolnshire Council, for occupation by its development and delivery partner Engie, expanding the town’s civic quarter. Engie will be transferring 170 staff into the town centre – a major boost to retailers and businesses – from offices currently occupied at Europarc. Two ground-floor retail units complete the project and are currently being marketed.

Managing partner at Scotts, Lawrence Brown, is optimistic, having also been heavily involved in a number of successful grant applications to revitalise both Grimsby and Cleethorpes, as chairman of the Visitor Economy Services and Retail group, the private-sector led board that feeds into the authority’s wider strategic development.

“This is certainly one of the largest lettings in the town centre for some years and we have 170 people moving in to work here. They will be going out to buy a sandwich, sit down for lunch or even purchasing birthday cards or making impulse buys.

“If we want a healthy town centre then both public and private sector must lead by example, and this is what has been done here. I am hopeful for our future, but we must keep pushing things forward, while showing commitment to our own town – if we don’t then how can we expect others to?”

YOU CAN SEE THE TOWN HALL FROM HERE: Lawrence Brown and Ray Oxby inside New Oxford House.

The redevelopment itself is being undertaken by Lincolnshire firm John Martin-Hoyes Ltd, with 25 construction workers employed. On a tour to take in the progress of the refurbishment and redevelopment, North East

Lincolnshire Council leader, Cllr Ray Oxby shares Mr Brown’s optimism.

While ruing the missed opportunities of the past, he believes the time is right for change.

“We had, but missed, the opportunity to change back in the days of Yorkshire Forward (the former regional development agency), with a lack of will to work in partnership with others and push out the vision that was needed for change,” he said.

“However, austerity has brought with it a need for us all to lead creative change and look at innovate ways to move forward, with the private, public and voluntary sectors working in partnership.

“There is an appetite and an enthusiasm for change, which I have not seen before,” he said. “We have the eyes and ears of those who matter and have established a new credibility – we have the potential to make this happen,” added Cllr Oxby, reflecting on the recent granting of the town deal pilot status.

That vision is shared not only by local politicians and business leaders, but national companies that are seeing the worth in putting their money back into Grimsby, as evidenced by the work being surveyed.

Mike Whittome, director of Purple Emperor, said: “We are certainly more than happy to re-invest here. Grimsby, to some, does not have a high reputation and that is a shame. But I am always really impressed – indeed it is a nice surprise when you get here.”

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