One of the apparently minor agenda items at the council meeting of 22nd February was actually highly informative about Camberley’s future. The item took the form of a question and answer paper, which we’re reproducing in full below. But for those readers who are in a hurry, here are some key quotes first.
“We have to be able to make Camberley as attractive as we can to get people to come here more often, shop here and hence attract more of the retailers we want.”
“New retailers want to see our [Mall] refurbishment proposals before we can secure a deal [with the retailers].”
“Architects have been appointed and [Mall refurbishment] designs are being costed for works to commence this year.” (Eye comment: SHBC financial figures appear to show £7 million refurbishment spend is scheduled for 2018-2019)
“Tenders…have been awarded [to develop Ashwood House] and contracts are being worked up. Work will start this year.” (Eye comment: as yet, no planning application has been published or approved. We pointed out recently that the timescale for an application had slipped.)
“Surveys are currently been carried out to understand the costs and prepare for public realm improvements”
“Tenders have been prepared and we are in the process of appointing advisors to look at the opportunities for the redevelopment of [the London Road Block] this key part of the town centre. Work is underway for a phased mixed development approach. Initial thoughts for this are likely to be available in Autumn 2017.” (Eye comment: The goal posts move faster than the borough council. Improving the London Road Block has been a council top priority for well over a decade. For example, the 2006 SHBC Corporate Plan said: “Key priority: To develop and deliver with partners an improved Camberley Town Centre including A30 frontage…. Complete all improvements by 2015.” Before that, the Local Plan 2000 said: “The frontage to London Road provides a rather tired first impression of Camberley town centre and requires environmental enhancements….. If resources are available the Borough Council will seek improvements within this area in the first half of the Plan period [ca. 2003].” Yet apparently we’re still six months away from ‘initial thoughts’.)
WRITTEN QUESTION AND ANSWER FROM COUNCIL MEETING AGENDA 22/02/2017
The following [has] been submitted by Councillor David Allen:
To the Leader of the Council
“Would you please give the detail of your plans for the top 5 priorities to refurbish and overhaul the Town /centre, now that we own it, to attract good high-end retailers to the Town Centre. Please give detail on when you expect we will be able to start attracting new and vibrant retailers who will bring life to our town centre. I would like a current update as of 22nd February 2017.”
Response from the Leader
The Council became the owner of the Mall on 11th November just over 3 months ago. Since then we have been working hard with our professional advisors to put together a programme of enhancements to deliver our aspirations to make Camberley a “destination of choice”. Our priority is to attract more retailers to the town; however new premium quality retailers will only come to Camberley if it makes commercial sense to them. Hence we have to be able to make Camberley as attractive as we can to get people to come here more often, shop here and hence attract more of the retailers we want. To this end our top five priorities currently are as follows:
1. Letting Agents
The Council, through the trust, has appointed new letting agents who are actively meeting retailers to market units in the Mall. Where these can be delivered early we are seeking to strike these deals. However new retailers want to see our refurbishment proposals before we can secure a deal. We do have to ensure that whilst we are making changes to our town that we maintain income to support our borrowings and services. To date our business plan is on target but it is very early days.
2. Multimillion refurbishment of the interior of the Mall.
This is vital part of our improvement programme to make the Mall look attractive as a place for shoppers and hence retailers. Architects have been appointed and designs are being costed for works to commence this year.
3. Ashwood House
The redevelopment of Ashwood House by our appointed developer will help to improve the look of this key town centre building by providing a high quality development but also bring more residents in to the town centre. Tenders again have been awarded and contracts are being worked up. Work will start this year.
4. Public Realm
A number of surveys are currently been carried out to understand the costs and prepare for public realm improvements. This survey work is being funded by the LEP. The profit generated by Ashwood House will be invested in to public realm improvements in Princess Way.
5. London Road Block
Tenders have been prepared and we are in the process of appointing advisors to look at the opportunities for the redevelopment of this key part of the town centre. Work is underway for a phased mixed development approach. Initial thoughts for this are likely to be available in Autumn 2017. It is vital we work quickly to deliver these projects to attract high end retailers we want. We can only create the right environment for them to come, based on our professional advice, but in the end their decision will be driven by commercial factors. Finally, whilst I agree that Camberley does need new retailers to enhance its offer, let us not forget the retailers and town centre we already have. I have met with a number of them who have expressed how pleased they are that the Council has invested in our town. I believe that we already have a vibrant town centre – footfall over the last quarter was above the south east average –we do have areas that can and will be improved and we naturally want to expand the offer for our residents and wider community to enjoy but we have to be careful that we do not talk down what we already have. Our objective is to ensure that we maintain a position where Camberley is attractive to investors and drive its potential further to deliver on these projects which will sustain it for the future