In 2014, the council wrote in the town centre Area Action Plan: “Within the short term (Years 2012-2016) …a scheme for environmental improvements to the High Street will be agreed,”
Oh no it won’t.
In fact, it won’t be until the next executive meeting that the council will decide whether or not to convene a working group to “consider and make recommendations to the Executive on future improvements to the High Street in Camberley Town Centre that promote and support the role of the High Street in any future regeneration proposals.” The first meeting of the working group wouldn’t be until January. Deadline well and truly missed.
But it’s worse than that. When should this working group complete its task? The Eye doesn’t know. Neither, apparently, will the executive when it is asked to approve the group. The proposal being put to the meeting doesn’t say. Perhaps it doesn’t matter – the council has been talking about improving the High Street since the last century, so another decade without progress would be neither here nor there.
However, let’s look at the key objectives of the working group:
“1. To review proposals for initiatives and improvements to the High Street that support its role within the town centre and make recommendations to the Executive accordingly.
“2. To review other opportunities for public realm improvements on the High Street.
“3. To agree a strategy for events and publicity promoting the High Street.”
The first question that has to be answered is ‘What IS the role of the High Street?’. Thd council’s picture that we’re including in this article indicates that the road will be largely pedestrianised, so that people can stroll along it ‘window shopping’. Further, to quote the council: “The Council proposes that within the High Street environmental improvements to create a pedestrian friendly area will be provided. Limited vehicle access will be maintained for that part of the High Street between Princess Way to Obelisk Way”
That seems clear. But it conflicts with what we understand are the council leader’s views, and the wishes of some retailers who want on-street parking. Until any such mismatch is resolved, radical solutions are probably out of reach. However, radical solutions are needed to respond to radical changes in the way we shop.
Our second concern is that two of the three objectives for the group start: “To review….” This implies that the group won’t be producing any proposals or ideas itself, but will simply comment on schemes that are presented to it. In practice, we imagine that the group will be intelligent enough to put forward its own suggestions, and not merely ‘review’, but this is not what the objectives say.
Finally, it seems reasonable that members of the group should be very familiar with the High Street and its activities throughout the year. They have to understand the relative importance of weekday and weekend shopping, and the night economy, and trends over the years. They have to know whether or not it is easy to park in the road on a busy Saturday afternoon. They have to appreciate whether planting trees in the street would be an improvement or would cause unwanted obstacles. Because of this, the council’s statement: “The Group will be politically balanced” may be politically wise, but it does not say that group members will be chosen based on their knowledge. (We’re not commenting on the members’ intrinsic abilities here, just on their experience.) Still, we like organisations to be efficient, so perhaps we see things differently.