Let’s start with good news for a change. Last week, the leading Conservative councillors took part in an on-line Q and A session about Camberley. Since we frequently criticise ‘the council’ for its poor communications, we were very pleased by the idea of this event. What’s more, we learned a number of things from what was said.
A major topic during the session was the council’s purchase of ‘Camberley’s Mall’, which required borrowing about £100 million. It was reassuring to hear that the loan – around ten times the council’s net annual budget – has to be self-financing, and that future earnings from the shopping centre will be used to reduce our council tax. We like the sound of that!
But (and there’s usually a ‘but’) we feel that the purchase won’t, directly, lead to any substantial early change ‘on the ground’. As we understand it, much of the loan will, initially at least, simply result in a change of ownership. The money won’t, and can’t, for example, be used to upgrade the London Road frontage, which is surely the top priority. However, we look forward to the existing covered mall being modernised, and to some modifications being carried out.
A detail yet to be resolved is what the mall will be called in future. Presumably the name ‘The Mall’ will be changed; it probably belongs to the former owners. ‘Main Square’ is an obvious possibility – it’s always seemed daft to us that the car park is called ‘Main Square Car Park’, but that, for years, the shopping centre hasn’t been known as ‘Main Square’. However, we think that a completely new name will probably be adopted to avoid appearing to live in the past.
Going further, the interests of the outgoing owner do include the old Allders properties and some other buildings in the London Road Block. So, the council’s purchase reduces the number of freeholds that have to be acquired before redevelopment of the LRB can begin. Indeed, we’ve been told that the London Road frontage is now wholly owned by the council – though we’re not sure that this is correct. But ownership is only one issue. A positive business case for redevelopment still has to be made. (Any redevelopment must be justifiable commercially, even if it’s carried out by the council rather than by a commercial company.). So our guess is that the derelict A30 frontage isn’t going to disappear any time soon. Which is frustrating, as the council has known for decades that it must be replaced.
(We do wish the council would stop saying silly things! About the purchase, the council has recently said “our efforts have put the Council in pole position to succeed in the delivery of its number one priority.” As there’s no-one else competing to deliver the council’s priority, the council is not only in pole position but it is also last in what is a one-horse race. Which isn’t such a proud boast. We can live with a bit of hype, but GOOD hype would be better…)