David Jones, managing director of planning consultancy Evans Jones, weighs up the Newbury town centre masterplan.

To plan or not to plan, that is the question.  I have reviewed and been involved in many town and city centre masterplans – seeing the good the bad and the downright ugly. 

My initial response to the Newbury town centre masterplan was that it is no different to so many, indeed the 10 guiding principles could easily be applied to virtually every town in the country.

I have studied and speak regularly about town centre repurposing and regeneration.  Whilst many have been quick to condemn the traditional high street as an outdated model, in this case, I agree with the masterplan writers who, like me, consider that the decline of the traditional high street and the impact of the pandemic creates huge opportunities which, if harnessed, can engender real lasting change.

We all understand the need to create places of interest with strong social capital.  Towns need to continually change, reinvent and experiment through a variety of uses such as pop-ups, exhibitions, festivals and markets, underpinned with residential and employment uses and places of health and education. All are proven to increase footfall and create interest and excitement.

The aspirations of the plan are laudable and to be applauded.  In many respects, the hard work – how to implement and bring about real lasting change – starts now.

What history tells us is that seeking to deliver change via the planning system rarely works. Adopting the plan as a supplementary planning document (SPD) will do nothing, in and of itself, to deliver change and so many aspirational SPDs simply sit on the shelf gathering dust.

In this instance, I like the way the writers have sought to identify easy quick wins, coupled with medium and longer-term objectives.  Quick, meaningful results are so important to show a real political intent to change. However, the issues going forward will remain funding, funding, funding.

To facilitate real change, a combined approach will be required with public sector funds pump-priming the more aspirational objectives within the plan.

Overall, the masterplan is a well written document which captures the needs and requirements for town centres in this post Covid world.  I look forward to seeing the plan being taken forward.

More expert views at https://ukpropertyforums.com/newbury-masterplan-welcomed-but-who-will-pay/

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