Camberley’s High Street. WHAT A DISASTER

We took this photo of a street in Reading recently. Compare it with the depressing state of Camberley’s High Street.

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No single organisation can reshape our High Street.  Rather, its future depends on several groups of people.    Each of these groups needs to  have a clear vision of how they would like the street to evolve, otherwise it will continue to suffer from neglect.  However, no agreed vision – something precise, and of more practical use than generalities – has yet emerged.

THE BOROUGH COUNCIL. The borough council has, indeed, made an attempt to shape the High Street. In various documents it has said that the aim is to preserve the Victorian and Edwardian character. So no stainless steel and glass buildings. The council has also described what the shop fronts should look like. So far so good. But the council’s ‘promises’ of more than a decade have made virtually no progress.

THE COUNTY COUNCIL. We’re not aware of any SCC plans. Maybe there’s a policy of maintaining the roadway and pavement in a good state, and of reducing street clutter, but we’ve not seen anything more specific. And actual standards ‘on the ground’ are poor.

INDIVIDUAL RETAILERS. We don’t recall ANY retailer in the High Street sticking their head above the parapet and expressing a view in public. Why not – aren’t they interested? Shouldn’t they be vitally concerned? Regrettably, however, some retailers and landlords seem to put limited effort into maintenance.

COLLECTIVELY CAMBERLEY (a formal body that “allows the business community and local authorities to work together to improve the local trading environment”.) Have we missed something here? Whilst we’d not decry the very pleasant hanging baskets and floral displays that have appeared each year, these are of no great lasting benefit. We’d have expected an organisation whose stated objective is to improve the local trading environment to have a more visible strategic stance.

RESIDENTS. Some moan about the state of the town, many complain about unsatisfactory car parking, but plenty still visit the town centre shops, especially at Christmas time. However, there have been no substantial and constructive views put forward by them as a whole.

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THE EASY ACTIONS. Why not attend to all the obvious and easy things from the drooping television aerials that can’t possibly still work to broken rainwater downpipes that flood the pavement when it rains? Get rid of the grass and weeds growing in roof gutters. Work with neighbouring shops to implement some form of coordinated paint scheme. Not necessarily the SAME colour throughout, but eye-catching contrasting and cheerful colours. Repair the broken blinds over the shop window. Nothing too expensive, for there’s lots of low-hanging fruit.

THE BIGGER CHALLENGE. Collectively Camberley needs to be much more proactive. A coordinated approach is essential – if just a few retailers take action, there’ll be limited effect, and they’ll just be wasting their money.

The borough council should also get off its backside and deliver the ‘pedestrian improvements’ that it’s talked about for so long. OF COURSE traffic should be banned from the High Street at times when there are lots of shoppers about. We know about the ‘delivery problem’ to some shops – but how many shops take roadside deliveries on a Saturday afternoon? It’s a safe bet that there’s never been a survey, that there are no actual figures, and that the delivery problem is greatly overstated.

The county council needs to be chased. The street doesn’t have to be lined with gold, but it does need to be free of tripping hazards and unsightly patchworks of tarmac, cement and uneven paving blocks.

Which, finally, brings us to the residents. We need to get our act together and make practical suggestions. They’ve got to be viable, so wishful thinking isn’t really good enough. (It’s fine to have a vision, but unless there’s a way of achieving it, it’s of limited value. If the aim is to acquire lots of independent shops or a John Lewis, the key issue to address is ‘HOW?’.) We know that this is a challenging subject, and it’s easy to just give up and find something else to do, so we’re under no illusions. BUT THE EYE IS AN OBVIOUS FORUM FOR GATHERING GOOD IDEAS – USE IT!

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WHO SHOULD LEAD? Easy. The retailers have most to lose, and they’ll have to dig into their pockets at least a little to make anything really happen. So they should run the show. Not individually – that would be unworkable – but collectively. As in Collectively Camberley. It would be silly NOT to involve the borough council too, as planning issues are bound to crop up, and maybe the council can provide at least some financial support. The county council can stay on the sidelines – it just needs to be TOLD to do better. Lastly, should the residents be involved? Yes – involved, not merely ‘consulted’. It’s their town, after all. And if they don’t like what’s proposed, they’ll just go elsewhere.

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26 thoughts on “Camberley’s High Street. WHAT A DISASTER

  1. Thank you David for this first rate article. I hope that all our councillors read it! Trouble is …. I think that there are a number of them who cannot (read)!

    • Ian, many thanks for your comments. But I hope you’re a bit wrong re councillors’ reading abilities; a link to the article has now been sent to those ‘closest’ to the town centre (and to our MP.)

    • Many thanks, Shirley. I doubt that anyone can be confident that they know what’s best for the High Street. But doing nothing can’t be right – and at least if we can all agree on what’s to be done, there’s a chance that it’ll be a reasonable idea.

  2. This certainly highlights lots of ‘quick wins’ that would make an improvement to the appearance of the high street.
    I rarely visit Camberley these days for shopping due to the poor quality and variety of shops available as well as the expense parking. But any improvement would certainly be welcome

    • Francesca – so many people say the same as you about the current state of Camberley. The challenge is to raise enthusiasm levels sufficiently to get those ‘quick wins’ actually carried out.

    • First step, Steve, is to raise awareness amongst the relevant councillors. The future of the town is primarily their responsibility, even if they don’t have the funds to deliver very much. But where there’s a will there’s a way – so they’ve got to become willing! (Oh, and I’ve embarked on this first step…. Early days.)

  3. Good kick up the pants for everyone.
    Learn the mistakes from the Atrium, there are plenty.
    Pedestrianise High St.
    Regulate number of eateries.
    Impose standards for shop frontages to look better+ there are some horrors around
    This will take time but Collectively Camberley should think hard about originating a themed market to take place on a regular 1st 2nd 3rd X day of the month to slowly but surely help invigorate the town.
    Finally the slack arsed Councillors of SHBC who are only visible at voting time should get up and make something happen, their track record and money wasting history is appalling.

    • Happily, I know very little about the councillors’ posteriors! But, re the rest of your comments, I suspect that the council has only limited powers to regulate and impose. Which doesn’t mean that it’s powerless – it means that it has to create an environment that encourages the improvements that you mention. Carrot rather than stick. Why not?

  4. There is no quick fix but the retailers could try doing their bit to make their premises and the high street more attractive ,after all it is their livelihood at stake and cosmetic stuff is cheap – same applies to Princess Way which is equally as tatty- but a hotch potch of pubs,banks,charity shops,takeaways,empty units and a few notable retailers is not exactly the best starting point for the high street.
    The council could spend more monies on a consultant to create another strategy and vision but then almost definitely do nothing to make it happen,and any vision would have to involve changing the look and nature of the shops and I’m sure the existing tenants would have something to say about that!
    Collectively Camberley’s job is to sell and promote Camberley for ALL the businesses who pay into the fund ,they are best left to try and do that job -seemingly their efforts have mixed levels of support and success.
    The solution for the high street (and even Princess Way and the A30 area ) is money ,and lots of it , but no investors seem keen to spend in Camberley- why is that compared to Bracknell and Farnborough ,surely the council must know?
    Slowly Camberley is looking more like Aldershot than the much more glamourous Guildford – another ugly step sister in the making?

    • Apart from the ‘low hanging fruit’ improvements, Archie, I’m sure you’re right and money is needed. I’ve knocked around a bit, but I’ve usually found that if something is clearly worth doing, the money can be found somewhere, somehow. Not easily, but that’s fair enough. But I do wonder why our retailers aren’t more concerned about the future of their livelihood. The local Chamber of Commerce should have been a hot bed of ideas and energy, but few retailers – or other businesses – took an active interest in it. Collectively Camberley is now the ONLY focal point for commerce – including retailers – and if it doesn’t fight the battle, then there’s no-one else to do it. And an obvious question – why should investors invest in a sinking ship? Until someone plugs the holes and pumps it out, it’ll not attract anyone. Does anyone care enough – or is it a council of despair?

  5. Good summary Eye. A Suggestion.

    Fine a Leader
    Camberley Town is the known Centre of the Surrey Heath Universe.
    An email to the Right Hon Michael Gove [MP] exploring whether he would be prepared to lead the debate. It is his day job, and perhaps helped by the three Camberley Town Cllrs.

    Process – ePetition
    SHBC. history of ” listening ” to consultation and feedback is questionable, could the Camberley Eye host an independant ePetition. Residents and High Street retailers have valid right to ask for immediate action.

    Mike

  6. Agree most points but , leaving aside the net benefit to the town’s businesses of any event whether big or small,to encourage people into the town when it is in the state it is in is surely the wrong way round.
    Would you have an open day for selling your house when the simple cosmetic things like fixing the broken fence or repainting the battered walls need doing ?

  7. Well done EYE for a well presented resume. The council made their big mistake years ago when they decided that Camberley should compete with Bracknell, Guildford etc. as a major shopping centre – then let the town go steadily downhill. We and they should accept that Camberley is a small town, not suited to compete with larger centres of trade. The major department stores (except A&N and BHS who have no real competition in their leagues) have already seen this. The next phase is to encourage small, independent shops to open. This would require such radical (but obvious) actions as providing cheap parking plus free parking on Saturdays. Park Street is a success, they should think about transforming the High Street. The next phase is to repay the fines they got from their spiteful policy of suddenly changing parking restrictions with inadequate marking (eg the A30 slip road) thereby persuading residents and visitors to go elsewhere.

    • Roger, I’ll put to one side the issue of repaying parking fines; it’s important, relevant to the future of the town, but not directly a planning issue. However, as far as your other comments are concerned, you’re spot on. We’ve wasted years of planning effort in pretending that Camberley can and should compete with its larger neighbours. Which is patently a ridiculous idea. The effort should’ve been directed in giving Camberley a distinctly different character. A smaller-scale, enticing, environment rather than something that might appeal to big shoppers (who might still find the internet a more appealing place to shop)

  8. Reading is a city , camberley is a town , camberley will never be Reading . Compare camberley to farnborough and they are about the same they are both towns , Guildford is on par with Reading . How can you compare Reading to Camberley is beyond me .

    • The comparison isn’t between the two towns, but between a traffic-free Reading street and a traffic-jammed Camberley High Street on a Saturday afternoon. I’ve just quoted a Tweet (not mine!) to Diana: “High Street is crappy experience as a pedestrian, especially with pram/kids. Makes
      me stay away. Tell everyone”

  9. what is wrong with Camberley I love it. I do nearly all my shopping here, much prefer it to these enormous soulless shopping centres. I actually hate Reading the traffic is so awful and the shopping centre far too crowded. Camberley is a great medium sized town.

    • The comparison with Reading is simply that the photo shows a traffic-free street. At busy times, Camberley’s High Street is jammed with traffic. Not everyone has the same opinion – that’s inevitable – but as one Tweet said a while ago “High Street is crappy experience as a pedestrian, especially with pram/kids. Makes me stay away. Tell everyone”

  10. I wouldn’t go near Reading – worked there for many years – nightmare traffic system, big high street chain mentality, ugly place. (IMO)

    Guildford – biased – my home town – but a beautiful city with charming architecture, and a good mix of shops. But so spread out. Nightmare one way system for those who don’t know it and often tricky to park.

    Camberley leaves a lot to be desired aesthetically bit that will be tough to change without knocking the whole lot down and starting again.

    However, it does offer pretty much everything you need on a day to day basis, with, most days, no problem parking and all I’m a compact centralised area so you can dash around and get everything done quickly!

    I have to vehemently disagree with the comments about Collectively Camberley. I have worked closely with them for 7 years and they work so hardy to help bring local businesses together and make Camberley more of a community and encourage support of independent businesses. So many hours of blood sweat and tears goes into the town centre events that they organise and I find it upsetting that this has not been credited in this article. The town is buzzing and packed at their events such as the annual Car Show and the Christmas Lights Switch on as well as the regular farmers’ markets and the Market Street Festival days.

    In an extremely tough and volatile retail market I think our town is doing pretty well.

    Every ugly duckling is only a moment away from being a beautiful swan!!!

      • Both of the places mentioned (Guildford and Reading) are 20 minutes from Camberley away on the excellent train service which delivers passengers a stone’s throw from their respective wide, pedestrianised High Streets – as long as you travel from Blackwater. Just saying…

      • Well, talking about the train service, IF we do get faster trains to London, they’ll make it easier to get to Woking and shop there. Where much of the town centre is pedestrianised.

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