Newbury residents want a town centre that is not dominated by big retail and which makes the most of the River Kennet, guests were told at our latest UK Prop Social webinar.
And the January 28 Spotlight on Newbury event heard how Covid had given the town a chance to ‘reset’ its centre.
Designer Wayne Hemingway, whose HemingwayDesign business has been commissioned to create a new masterplan for the town centre, revealed what locals have said so far in response to a survey on its future.
Mr Hemingway said almost 90 per cent of the 5,600+ responses said the town centre could be improved and many want more independent retailers.
He went on: “People are fantastically and very positively excited about having a river. With Covid, we’ve seen, with crowded parks, that we’ve started to realise what we hold dear. And it is green spaces and blue spaces, rivers and canals, and obviously Newbury has got that running right through it.
“People want to make more of that and one of the things we noticed straight away is that, to an extent, it turns its back on its blue lungs. There’s a car park and a KFC in probably the best bit of it – but the public are recognising that without us saying it.”
The survey revealed people want better green and open space and more local and independent shops.
Mr Hemingway added: “Newbury is saying they want a town centre that is not dominated by retail, that has got a large number of independent shops where you can experience sitting, drinking, having coffee, where you can have a night time economy, where you can sit in green spaces and where you can go for a walk and not just spend money.”
Neil Hockin, director at Lunson Mitchenall, which advises Aberdeen Standard Investments on its Parkway Centre, backed a point made by Mr Hemingway that Covid had accelerated the retail demise.
But he added: “The current demise of retail is a chance to reset rather than try to reinvent what we have been looking at before. I think we have to look really hard at our town centres and what they have to deliver.”
He said it was a progressive move by the council to appoint HemingwayDesign.
He went on: “In terms of what a town centre like Newbury should provide, it can’t compete with Oxford, Reading or the internet as a retail destination, it has to find its own niche.
“I think that comes about by creating an environment people want to spend time in and having a breadth of offer that isn’t just retail – and isn’t just local retailers.
“It’s a combination of food & beverage, retail, leisure – and retail on a host of levels, so national brands and local brands. I think the whole localism thing is absolutely key.”
He argued that local consumer demand for local products accords with green policies by reducing transport.
And Mr Hockin revealed that news is imminent about a new use for the former John Lewis store at Parkway.
Melissa Hughes, chief executive of Newbury BID, said the town already has a strong independent offer but that that may not be being branded in the right way.
The meeting heard Newbury had large numbers of flats in its town centre pipeline. Many are Permitted Development (PD) schemes and Ian Young of Young Associates said there are four more PD schemes coming through but he questioned the quality of the office to residential conversions.
He added: “My latest calculation is we’ve got about 1,000 flats consented or on site in or around the town centre at the moment. This is before Eagle Quarter (redevelopment of the Kennet Centre) comes in.
“I think it’s a good re-use of space but I think we need to make the accommodation more relevant to today’s needs.”
The webinar is now available to UK Prop Social members. For membership enquiries visit: https://ukpropertyforums.com/uk-prop-social-membership/
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