The developer behind the proposed regeneration of Newbury’s Kennet Centre says the scheme is the best he’s ever been involved with.
Hugo Haig, managing director of Lochailort which is behind the proposed Eagle Quarter scheme for new shops, homes and either offices or senior a living scheme, told Thames Tap Newbury is the closest town to his home and he has watched its demise over many years.
Lochailort plans a mixed-use scheme of 30 retail units, 402 Build-to-Rent apartments, new public realm and either an office building and tech hub or retirement homes.
Newbury has experienced its fair share of change as it has adapted to the new retail environment. For example, Parkway shopping centre opened in 2011 which attracted Debenhams and John Lewis, which have both subsequently closed. But Mr Haig said the aim of the Eagle Quarter is to complement rather than compete with it.
He says the Eagle Quarter’s ground floor offer is about attracting people to Newbury town centre’s new retail offer as a leisure pursuit.
The 30 small retail units could each be combined to form bigger ones. Each will have outside space available and new streets will be up to 18-20 metres wide. New public realm will be created and people encouraged to stay and enjoy the town centre.
The shops will be just 500 sq ft each with very little back of house space, designed to help keep business rates to a minimum and attract small and artisan operators.
Mr Haig went on: “The units will be plastered and painted and can be occupied from day one. The sort of entrepreneurs we want do not have the sort of money to spend on fitting out.
“We will look for local retailers in the first instance but also those in places like Marlow, Henley, Windsor and Winchester. We will say ‘there’s an offering here, would you like to come over to it?’
“We will be offering them for free to get things going because the street level has to work. And if they are successful, then we might move them to turnover rents.”
He estimates 20-30 per cent could be food & beverage operators while others could be retailers or even artistic studios. A diverse mix is seen as essential.
“An awful lot of effort has gone into creating an environment for entrepreneurs.
“I think it will complement the existing retail offer of Newbury and it does not compete with the Parkway, which is a modern retail centre, and it does not compete with retail parks that are great big sheds out of town.”
A bandstand will potentially host entertainers either in a managed way or by allowing spontaneous performances.
“It’s an opportunity to add some enlivenment to the street,” he said.
The street scene will be supported by having 402 one and two bedroom apartments in the scheme; the various elements all vital to the mix.
Mr Haig added: “If you’ve got 1,000 customers occupying the floors above then it’s a much better and more holistic development.”
The existing seven-screen Vue cinema will remain part of the new development and Mr Haig believes it may be more successful in the redeveloped centre than previously.
The emphasis on making the ground floor work is supported by the public’s response to a consultation.
Mr Haig said: “They really wanted independent shops so that’s what they’ve got. They were also very concerned about sustainability.”
Sustainability and wellness figure strongly in the proposals.
A survey showed two extra floors could have been added to the existing car park but, instead, Lochailort plans to add one and a roof of PV solar panels.
The developer aims to go further than in its own Thames Quarter scheme in Reading, due to be unveiled in June, which boasts combined heat and power technology.
Eagle Quarter will use ground source heat pumps to supply heating, hot water and cooling which go further than building regulations for green requirements and bring significant CO2 savings.
There will be car clubs, 14 electric vehicle charging points and the apartments have access to roof gardens, lounges, meeting spaces and almost all have balconies.
The 402 Built-to-Rent flats, he said, are unlike anything currently on offer to rent or buy in Newbury. Build-to-Rent homes, made feabible by building in scale, are, he argues, more suitable for today’s more blended work and home environments.
He said: “Here, there’s concierge 24 hours a day who will meet and greet your guests.
“It’s a really different offer and has lot of amenities. There’s not one other site in Newbury with 24-hour concierge, parcel room (for deliveries), lounges and all the other services. We want to make sure Newbury town centre will be lively and vibrant and a real pleasure for people to visit.
“If people working from home don’t just want to sit in their flats all day, there’s lots of meeting areas inside and outside – there’s all sorts of space. You don’t get that if you rent a flat from a buy-to-let landlord.”
The site is just yards from the station but Mr Haig argues that, in the post-Covid world, the new residents are unlikely to commute to London and more likely to make occasional trips to Reading while working mostly from home.
The scheme is expected to take a year in the planning process and, if successful, a further year to mobilise construction work, followed by a likely four-year build.
Mr Haig said: “In my view, it’s what town centre living was meant to be. You have tons of facilities on your doorstep and you can live and work here. It’s self-contained.
“This is a chance to put people back in the town centre in an attractive and sustainable way.”
He added: “This is the best scheme I’ve ever been involved with and we’ve won quite a few awards for our schemes.
“We have got to be really careful to make it viable but this is as good as it can get. We have worked really hard over a very long time.”
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