Westgate ugly eyesore on edge of Victorian town centre
Westgate is indeed a comprehensive scheme that will be a fantastic asset for Aldershot and its residents. … all round it is great news and I’m delighted to see it opening. — Peter Moyle, council leader Rotten Borough of Rushmoor
It’s just a fantastic addition to the town and will be a huge boost to residents. … Westgate will serve as an excellent conduit to the town centre itself. — Andrew Lloyd, chief executive Rotten Borough of Rushmoor
Westgate is an appalling eyesore of a development literally on the edge of Aldershot town centre, totally out of character with a Victorian town.
At least that is how it looks from the outside, looking from the town centre. Within not a lot better.
Outside two blocks of stone causing an obstruction. Edge on, barely visibly, the stone similar colour and blending in with the paving stones. A hazard for anyone with poor eyesight.
Entry to Westgate is up a flight of steps (there is also a slope for wheelchairs and cyclists). This leads into a stark, windswept plaza. Freezing cold in the winter, very hot in the summer. The design is very reminiscent of old Soviet Bloc architecture.
Lampposts have at their base a raised block about a brick in height. An ideal trip hazard for anyone not looking where they are going or of poor eyesight.
None are yet open, when complete, the plaza will be lined either side with tacky fast food chain restaurants.
Through the plaza, to the left a broad flight of steps leading down into the plaza and a travelator that leads down to an underground car park.
The car park is free, time limited to three hours. If only three hours in Aldershot, then the place to park to avoid expensive car parks.
Wandering around the plaza, more people than would see in the centre of Aldershot.
I am no great fan of Morrisons, I would usually place near the bottom with Asda and Tesco.
Walking in, I was struck by the size, the sheer number of people, and that it was open and airy.
There was more people in Morrisons than you would see in Aldershot town centre in a month, maybe in a year.
Wandering around I was struck that this was not a typical Morrisons. It seemed to be aimed to compete with Waitrose, but with Tesco or Asda prices. Lots of fresh produce, fruit and vegetables, fresh fish, raw meat, cooked meat, a bakery. The meat section was making sausages on the premises, the bakery preparing tarts using fresh fruits. Though on closer inspection the cheeses were not of the quality of Waitrose and you do not slice cooked meats then leave to dry out.
Morrisons has its only little café. A dumb system, queue at one till to order, then queue at another till to pay. This is the norm for Morrisons. Cakes are on open display for everyone to cough and sneeze over. Scampi, peas and chips, not very good, but then on the other hand par for the course for Aldershot where nowhere decent to eat.
I had a chat with a lady who was there as an advisor to Morrisons. She said, yes, this was a different Morrisons, they had opened a couple like it in Scotland. She called it a Store of the Future.
Leaving Morrisons, I wandered into the town. No signposts pointing into the town centre, only a few pendants flapping in the wind on lampposts.
Upper Union Street leads into Union Street. The pavement flows across the road. I realised I was walking into the road. Very dangerous.
The Morrisons is going to kill the centre of Aldershot dead. It is probably going to have a big impact on local supermarkets too, as far better. It will also impact on the fruit and vegetable stalls on the Thursday market, one of the few reasons to visit Aldershot. The fishmonger on the market is unlikely to survive.
Maybe there will be some trickle down into the town, though I saw no evidence of this. What was the centre of town now becomes the bottom end of town. Maybe the top end of Union Street, which is usually dead, will see a few more people.
I passed a Nepalese café with a girl outside handing out leaflets. I cannot see anyone going in it. It looked dirty, the door was wide open, meaning it would have been freezing cold inside.
For anyone coming in on the No 1 bus from Camberley, Frimley or Farnborough, access is easy. Get off at Princess Hall and walk up the steps. It needs a bus stop outside Princess Hall for the return journey.
A couple alighted off the bus with me, and asked where to go. I showed them. They also asked where was the town centre.
From Westgate it is not obvious where the town centre is.
It is unbelievable the local council has not erected signposts directing people from Westgate into the town centre. How many months have they had?
From Upper Union Street crossing the road into Union Street, there needs to be a pedestrian crossing, a zebra crossing, not so much to help people across the road (though that is always useful), but to actually alert people that they are crossing the road.
The fast food chains when they open will drain money out of the local economy. Morrisons may bring people in from further afield. There may be some trickle down of people from the development into the town centre but so far the local council has done nothing to encourage this. The only money flowing into the local economy will be from the minimum wage staff, and unless they were previously unemployed, will only have relocated from other jobs. A supermarket of this size destroys a thousand jobs in the local economy.
Aldershot is a deprived area, the town centre a slum of fast food restaurants, gambling joints, charity shops and large bars. A place most people avoid. The last thing it needs is yet more money drained out of the local economy.
The impression given is that the local council, the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor as it is known locally, is deliberately trying to destroy Aldershot. Somewhat perversely they are promoting this developmental on the front page of their website. Even more perverse that they were co-promoters of the development.
What local council wishes to destroy its own town centre?
Other actions indicate a desire to destroy Aldershot
The Arcade, what was the centre, but must now be seen as the bottom end of the town centre, is a plastic replica of a Victorian arcade that once stood on the same site. All the small retailers kicked out to make way for a large bar (Wetherspoon) and a large retail store (Poundland). An unwanted redevelopment that was not good for the town, and yet the planners fell over backwards to push it through on behalf of the developers. For once the councillors on the planning committee showed a bit of backbone and threw the application out.
If the tacky fast food chains kill off KFC and McDonald’s, then some good has come of Westgate.
What though of Aldershot?
The only way the town centre will survive is with specialist shops, something to bring people into the town, and yet these are the very businesses the local council has for years been doing its best to kill off.
The couple I walked though the plaza with, I asked them would they come from Camberley to any of the fast food chains. They said no, why would they come from Camberley for something that was in Camberley. They added all towns looked the same, with the same shops.
Aldershot has a town centre manager. But that is a non-job.
A town survives because of its hard working small retailers.
Aldershot needs a Master Plan, people with vision to draw it up, but that will not come from the council as they are without vision.
Aldershot bid for Mary Portas cash. They failed. But it would only have been frittered away. And the money available was less than a major retail chain would spend on a store refit.
Westgate also has a Travelodge and a Cinema. Begs the question why would anyone wish to stay in Aldershot. The cinema opened last week, just in time for the release of the new James Bond film Skyfall.
All Westgate does is relocate the centre of retail gravity away from the town centre and towards Westgate, whilst at the same time draining money out of the local economy.
Westgate is the local council delivering the final death blow to Aldershot as a viable town centre.