We went to the meeting in the council chamber that was chaired by the Camberley Society last night. There were three topics on the agenda; here we’ll summarise mainly what was said about the regeneration of the town. Needless to say this is a lengthy item.
Firstly, though, we should give our opinion of what was said. Basically, the occasion was very positive, with lots of good things in prospect for the town. If only the council hadn’t spent so many years saying positive things, but not delivering them, we’d have been quite enthusiastic by the end of the evening. As it is, our enthusiasm is tempered by what’s not gone before. Let’s hope that this time it’ll be different.
Mrs Whelan, the Chief Executive, explained that in the past, lack of ownership by the council had meant that it could not deliver what it wanted in the town. That has now changed, with the acquisition of the Mall. Also, as the council doesn’t have to achieve the same financial return as a commercial company, it can do things that the previous owner could not justify.
Acquiring the Mall and associated property inevitably required significant borrowing. And, inevitably, it involved some risk, though this was regarded as outweighed by the benefits. Also, though the acquisition was made primarily to aid regeneration, it would also provide a net £1.3million a year for the council to spend as it wished. Initially, some of this would be reinvested in the town, but it would also be used to help improve other services across the borough.
It had been agreed that some £8 million would be spent on refurbishing the Mall, starting with Grace Reynolds Walk this summer/early autumn. The whole Mall should be refurbished by about October 2018. Rebranding – what the Mall will look like and what it will be called – will begin once the refurbishing starts.
Mrs Whelan outlined plans for Ashwood House. These have been seen and discussed here before; our initial impression is, sadly, of a large greenhouse helicoptered onto the existing brick building to produce 116 dwellings for sale. New to us was the proposal that the car park currently level 3A of Main Square car park would become an amenity space for residents. The artist’s impression shown of this was quite attractive. (We smiled, though, at the prediction that a planning application would be submitted in the next couple of months. This is the second time that the council’s timing of the application has slipped.)
A further (long-standing) aim of the council is to improve the environment in the High Street. Mrs Whelan acknowledged that this wouldn’t be of any financial benefit to the council, but it was investment in the town. The likely spend was £3.5 million or a little more, to improve the street scene. The intention was not to pedestrianise the road, but to give pedestrians priority. In the meantime, the council had established a matched-funding scheme to help retailers improve their shop frontages. (We have to say that the artist’s impression shown to illustrate the council’s plans for the High Street was, like others in recent years, quite misleading. The only vehices in it were in the far distance – giving the impression that the road would be virtually traffic-free, which doesn’t seem to be the intention.)
Finally as far as regeneration was concerned, was the London Road Block. Mrs Whelan explained that a mixed use development of high architectural merit was the target. An outline planning application for this was anticipated for the end of this calendar year.
Mrs Whelan then turned to last winter’s successful ice rink and the recent International Festival. We got the impression that the ice rink wouldn’t be repeated in the same form, and that whether any alternative would be implemented this coming winter was uncertain. The International Festival – and its final Carnival – had proved very popular, with people saying that Camberley should have more such events.
Not to be overlooked, those at the meeting were urged to take advantage of the late night Thursdays shopping scheme which would start on 6th July, and would include cheap parking. See www.camberleyshopping.co.uk for more details
Maybe we’ll write about the rest of the meeting in a few days time…. Including what was said about Camberley’s train service, and the Q and A session that followed the presentations.