Posts Tagged ‘local economies’

Westgate

October 30, 2012
Westgate ugly eyesore on edge of Victorian town centre

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.

Then Morrisons.

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.

Redevelopment of The Arcade REJECTED

October 10, 2012
The Arcade a Victorian arcade destroyed by greed!

The Arcade a Victorian arcade destroyed by greed!

Aldershot used to have a Victorian Arcade. Something any town would be proud of. It was destroyed, to be replaced by a plastic replica.

For many years, the units stood empty, boards mocking passers by with images of the butcher, baker and candlestick maker. Then slowly slowly, the units have been taken up by a diverse range of local businesses: a copy shop, a lovely independent coffee shop, an emporium of everything you wished to find and never knew you needed, a travel agent, games shop, second hand bric-a-brac, dressing up shop, scanty sexy underwear, a popular café on the corner.

Then along came a property developer last year out to make a fast buck, retailers were given six months notice and kicked out. Several have gone out of business, some have managed to relocate.

The property developer, Dunedin Property, wishes to close the walk through, turn it into a large bar (assumed to be J D Wetherspoon) and a large retail unit (assumed to be Poundland) by consolidating several smaller units vacated by kicked out tenants.

The dysfunctional local planning department (which most local people see as corrupt and rotten to the core) recommended APPROVE. The agenda placed before the planning committee failed to summarise objections against, and without any supporting evidence made the bold assertion that the application would enhance the vibrancy and vitality of the town centre.

Aldershot is run down, a hot spot of deprivation, drunken scum on the streets late at night.

The last thing it needs is yet another large town centre bar. The last thing it needs is yet more national chains draining money out of the local economy.

For the retails units left in The Arcade, they would be in a dead end, no longer a popular short cut. With no passing trade they would be left to die a slow lingering death.

The situation was summed up by the town centre manager:

raises concerns about the proposal on grounds that The Arcade currently provides a walk-through between shops in Wellington Street and Victoria Road. The proposals will block this access route and leave a cul-de-sac from Victoria Road. Units remaining in this part of the centre will not benefit from any passing trade and will have to survive as destination shops. Furthermore another public house in this area of the town centre, so close to a cluster of other licensed premises, could potentially exacerbate anti-social behaviour problems

Paul Semple, a chartered planner Associate Director of JWPC, engaged on behalf of the few remaining retailers, spoke very eloquently on why the development was bad for Aldershot, loss of retailers, loss of diversity, retailers left in a dead end to die a slow death, failure to comply with local and national guidelines on revival of town centres, failure to heed the recommendations of Mary Portas on town centres.

His excellent presentation fell on deaf ears and he was completely ignored.

But, to everyone’s amazement, the councillors spoke out against the development. Aldershot councillor Jennifer Evans spoke very eloquently against the development, and was backed by her colleagues Sue Dibble and Don Cappleman.

Their main focus was on Aldershot with all the problems associated with the existing bars, in an area saturated with bars did not need yet another large bar, especially at the loss of local businesses.

Don Cappleman also raised disabled access. Not access to the building itself, but that the walk through gave a way through the town for disabled people and there was no alternative route.

The loss of the popular café on the corner was also raised. Several councillors noted business within The Arcade was picking up, that businesses could not afford to relocate and for many it would mean going out of business. This was contrary to the desired aim of wishing to revitalise a dead and dying town centre.

The behaviour of the planning officials was appalling and at times they blatantly lied.

It was claimed the application would revitalise the town. No evidence was produced to justify such a bold assertion.

It was claimed it was not for the committee to consider change of use to a pub that was for the licensing committee to consider.

Before the committee was an application, change of use from Class A1 (retail) to Class A4 (public house).

It beggared belief when either Keith Holland (Head of Planning) or his sidekick said it was ok for the café to be kicked out as they could find somewhere else in the town.

They claimed The Arcade was regularly closed with shutters thus had not acquired a common law right of way. No evidence to support this statement.

Empty units would be filled, thus good for the town. No mention units empty because developer had kicked out the existing businesses.

There was no mention of the Localism Act and its use to stop inappropriate development.

One councillor questioned why the developer had not bothered to turn up to argue their case. No need when the planners can be relied upon to do an excellent job on their behalf.

When it became apparent the councillors could not be browbeaten to approve the application, Keith Holland pulled his usual trick: If you do not pass this application it will go to appeal and we will lose.

To their credit, the councillors voted against the application.

It was a good day for Aldershot, a good day for local democracy.

The result was worth it just to see the look on Keith Holland’s face!