Camberley – the town that time will forget?

Pretty much everyone agrees that the A30 frontage in Camberley needs drastic improvement.  Indeed, the borough council has been working closely with The Mall to redevelop the whole ‘London Road Block’.

A press release at the end of 2012 said “The Mall Fund has appointed Centros as its development manager for an extension of up to 250,000 sq ft at the Mall in Camberley.  …a planning application is expected to be submitted by the end of next year.”  And “Surrey Heath Borough Council has also appointed Montagu Evans to work alongside … Centros.”  No planning application emerged at the end of 2013, however.

In September 2013 The Mall carried out a rather brief exhibition/consultation of its plans, both to upgrade its existing property and to extend up to the A30.

Mall Board extract

As part of the exhibition, there was a statement by The Mall that said “Further consultation will take place next year”.  We’re pretty certain, however, that no such consultation took place.

In December 2013, The Mall made a statement to the Planning Inspector who was carrying out the Examination of the borough’s Town Centre Area Action Plan.  The Inspector subsequently wrote (in 2014) in his report “The planning application for this scheme [the A30 redevelopment] is programmed to be submitted this year, with construction beginning in year 4 (2018).”  However, contrary to that report, no application has yet been submitted.

(We believe that it was almost certainly in anticipation of the stated timetable that the borough council produced its rather contentious Vision document and video last year.)

In October 2014, the now-owners of The Mall said that they hoped to execute a Development Agreement (DA) and to submit a planning application in the first half of this year (2015).  Neither of these happened.

In May this year, The Mall’s owners stated that they intended to “define their commitment” to the redevelopment by the year’s end.  This seems to imply that there was no defined commitment as recently as two months ago.  Nor, it appears, had any anchor store been signed up by then.

In July this year, the borough council published its end of year report for 2014-2015.  This confirmed that the DA and planning application targets had not been met (shown in red, below).

Progress report

This is all very depressing.  The one piece of possible good news is that the acquisition of properties necessary in order to enable the redevelopment is apparently still underway.  None of the vacant premises in the London Road Block seems to be for sale on the open market.

—-

Now, the future of retail is uncertain.  Click and Collect and internet sales are eating into traditional shopping.  Although Camberley has fewer empty retail units than the national average, we still have quite a few.  The ground floors of the Premier Inn and the Travelodge are still un-let.  The corner unit of the Atrium is still empty.  There are numerous empty smaller shops in the High Street.

We stress that what is written above is just one interpretation of published information.  The Eye has no access to confidential discussions and documentation.  However, overall, it seems to us that the destiny of the London Road Block is much more uncertain than has been painted in recent years.

For longer than we care to remember, we have been saying that the council needs a ‘Plan B’.  Unless it has one, Camberley may well continue to decline in comparison to competing towns.  Who will be to blame?  Ask your local councillor some blunt questions – are they pushing for an alternative scheme to be produced and progressed, ‘just in case’?

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15 thoughts on “Camberley – the town that time will forget?

  1. Clearly there is no (badly needed ) anchor store in discussions with anybody and without one there is no possibility of the development along the A30 happening ( John Lewis has been mentioned but in truth why would they choose Camberley over , say, Guildford ).
    A plan B is always needed but there isn’t one and it does make you wonder what the council are doing .
    Camberley needs to attract shoppers and any actions that deter them is another nail in the coffin – shutting off level 5 of The Mall car park for 5 days caused chaos at the weekend with the entrances being closed on Saturday afternoon and now half of every level of this car park are unusable because of cleaning work , yet the cleaners are working one level at a time.
    It worries me about the quality of decision making at every level at SHBC.

  2. At a time when the whole retail market is in a state of flux, coming to terms with the challenge posed by internet shopping and the very different dynamics of how it will affect town centres, SHBC’s plans seem very ’20th century’. I understand the Mall’s drive – they need to protect the investment they have made in the Town, and if they can convince SHBC to shoulder the burden, that’s to the benefit of their shareholders and profits.
    How anyone who endeavours to cope with the constraints of the highway infra structure around Camberley could really think the town should be seeking to position itself in the upper hierarchy of the retail offer in the region is a mystery. Why SHBC haven’t sought to capitalise on their actual catchment area in terms of high-end, individual retailers indicates how narrowly they are thinking.
    Of course the A.30 frontage needs redeveloping, but it needs to be relatively low-rise, showing a good face, and inviting shoppers into the town – if they succeed in enticing John Lewis, that will be the destination itself and the rest of the town will suffer. I have wondered if the consent to build the huge Waitrose in Bagshot was linked to a JL in town – we’ll see.

    • I agree almost totally, Sarah. Camberley is a small town, Surrey Heath is a rich borough, so the council should be aiming for quality, not quantity.
      As far as height is concerned, years ago the council held the view that four stories should generally be the maximum. But when The Mall proposed that the A30 development could be six stories, this was written into official plans, apparently without any opposition from SHBC.
      But re JL coming to Camberley, I’ve always thought that this is wishful thinking. Until the High Street is a lot more attractive, I’d expect JL to take one look and walk away.

  3. The main problem is, they keep coming up with plans without doing anything. How much are all these presentations and films costing?

    I do note, however, that that old shop between the High Street and Knoll Road has now been knocked down. Is this part of any plans?

    • In my view, Dominic, the council is required to produce plans by ‘HMG’. But it’s not obliged to carry them out – ‘HMG’ doesn’t seem to follow up what’s been written. However, re the demolished building, it’s almost certainly owned by SHBC which has had plans for fifteen years (or more?) to push through a service road along the backs of the High Street shops. Maybe we’re seeing a bit of long overdue progress….

  4. Spot on
    Sarah and Eye have accurately identified the issue and the need to focus. We live in small compact town, that has enjoyed two major face lifts in the last 30 years.

    Sadly residents and those loyal retail outlets in the High Street have been neglected.

    Camberley portrays and attracts “Jekyll and Hyde” characters.

    The bright, clean and family friendly 21st century West side, in stark contrast with a very dirty, run down and alcohol themed 1930’s High Street.

    The Mall, and the Atrium provided much need services.
    With the vast Waitrose/John Lewis depot on the A30 at Bagshot, the London Road development in Camberley should complete a sweet retail experience for both shopper and retailer.

    The London Road footprint is already large, and most certainly should not tower above 4 stories.
    SHBC Planners must stick to their own guidelines and limit the height.

    We should not try to compete with super sized malls in Woking, Reading, and soon Bracknell.
    Camberley does however need to invest immediately in the Eastern side face lift..

      • As some of you know from my Facebook HRF and SHM posts, I am not only a contrarian (with good intent) , but also one who “thinks outside the box”. It does not make for an easy life! I was unable to take part in the early discussion stages of Town development but my notion is simple and possibly? still doable: Vast Improvement of public transport. Prohibit all except small electric vehicles from most of the town centre, including delivery lorries. Small deliveries can be made using electrically powered vehicles. Larger deliveries (as our neighbour in Windlesham British Oxygen has clearly demonstrated) can be made using state of the art gas-powered lorries. For safety reasons all vehicles except for registered disabled persons should be prohibited during “normal” shopping hours. Do I need to spell out the advantages Camberley would enjoy over nearby and even not so nearby Towns? Clean air, Free or reduced price recharge points in the car parks (I believe subisidies are available from some sources). Safe shopping, and SO much more … So my question is, please everybody, tell me how we can DO this and not give me a 100 reasons why we cannot? Thank you for taking your time to read this. – Martin.

      • Martin, what you suggest needs more than a minute and a few words to answer.
        I’m against centrally-planned economies. They CAN work, but the odds are against it in the long run. But one of your proposals flies in the face of crude market forces – trucks get larger to achieve economies of scale – so transferring to small delivery vehicles seems likely to increase cost and complexity. This doesn’t rule it out, but…
        The challenge is to turn Camberley into such a ‘nice’ town that shops and businesses can charge a premium here and still operate profitably. The premium can then pay for ‘luxuries’ like high cost, low pollution, deliveries. Sadly, in spite of the borough council’s ‘top 100’ aspiration, there’s little sign that the town is becoming increasingly ‘nice’.

  5. P.S. Also UPGRADE rather than demolish the remaining High Street, Park Street, and London Road shops. Drag them kicking and screaming out of their 1930’s mentality! (TY Mike). Acquire them directly where possible, and let them to small “boutique” style shops on reasonable, flexible, leases. We could end up with a WAITING list for them. Our Nearest Maplin for example, is at Farnborough, could we encourage them to open a branch in Our Town? I believe if their Rotherham? HQ received a 500 signature petition expressing our clear intent to shop there, they would at least consider it seriously. What about self employed and locally owned new businesses? What smaller shops would YOU like to see in the Town? Exclusive Clothes? Exotic foods? I do hope that our “representatives” ARE reading this blog and can shake off their fuddy-duddy-ness “we’ve always done it this way” and “the best way has always been” attitudes for long enough to commission an inexpensive, independent Accountants review of the any ideas put forward here. Possible? Yes. Probable? That is entirely up to US… You and me.

    • Ah, mention of Maplin made me reminisce. I must be one of the first Maplin account holders – from when it first started in Rayleigh, I think. There were several similar suppliers of electronic ‘nits’ Electrovalue in Egham ,Greenweld, Proops.. Oh the joy of receiving a packet of 2N3704s through the post! (I have said before that I’m a nerd at heart..)

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