Council says it will offer flexibility and work with businesses after originally saying some will be evicted from Market Harborough's Innovation Centre

Harborough Innovation Centre
Harborough Innovation Centre

Harborough District Council has decided to offer more time and flexibility to occupants of the Innovation Centre and apologised for its initial handling of the situation.

The Innovation Centre, owned by the council, was opened in 2011 to support 'start-up' businesses with the aim of having a regular turnover of occupants to maximise the number of entrepreneurs that can benefit from the centre.

The Innovation Centre provides office space and support for fledgeling businesses in their early years to help them become established, grow sustainably.

The centre was not managed by the council for most of its existence, but on July 1 this year the council took over management of it.

Long-term occupiers were initially told their licences would not be renewed when they expired in accordance with the aims of the Innovation Centre’s agreed lettings policy which states that businesses would have a limited stay and move on to new premises when ready. The council says that this approach frees up space for new businesses and entrepreneurs to benefit from the centre and its support. The council added that "some current occupants of the centre have been there for a long time".

Some 28 businesses in the centre were told the would be evicted in seven months' time.

The businesses affected say they had not been informed their contract would not be renewed at the end of the term and believed it would be them who had to demonstrate their own business growth and move on when they felt ready and stable enough to do so.

The businesses also pointed out that there was not enough suitable office space across the Harborough district to accommodate 28 small to medium firms all looking for new premises at once.

After the problems were pointed out by the businesses, Harborough District Council said it recognises the move would have caused 'undue hardship for some firms' and has rowed back on its initial message to the Innovation Centre businesses and says it will "offer the affected occupants flexibility and agree departure dates that work for them as best as possible".

The council is now writing to occupants at the Innovation Centre to explain the more flexible approach and reiterate its offer to support and assist the affected businesses in moving to suitable new premises.

Councillor Phil King, leader of Harborough District Council and assets lead, said: “We are acutely aware of the important role businesses play in our district and we’re delighted to see so many start-ups navigate their way successfully through their initial years. It is important that we continue to provide this important launch pad for emerging businesses in the district, but we recognise that the way existing occupants have been informed about the need to relocate could have been handled better.

“We have taken immediate steps to make sure our existing occupants are given the support and flexibility they need to make the right choices for their business as they look to find more permanent premises and I would like to apologise for any concern our initial approach may have caused.

“I have asked senior officers to meet with businesses at the Innovation Centre and a meeting has been arranged with the chairman of the Innovation Centre board.”

Earlier this year, it was announced that the Innovation Centre has helped deliver an estimated £19 million boost to the Harborough district economy since it opened.