A new masterplan for Newbury is to be commissioned to follow on from the town’s Vision 2026. Evoke Transport Planning managing director and long-time Newbury resident, Richard Stacey, believes it’s time to be brave.

With much of the 2026 Vision successfully delivered, or programmed to be delivered, this masterplan commission represents an excellent opportunity to create real change and to be truly visionary (something that perhaps the 2026 plan lacked).

It is pleasing that West Berks Council is continuing to progress with this much talked about masterplan despite the financial pressures the authority must be under due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

For me, it is important that the masterplan takes a proactive stance and adopts a radical outlook.

More of the same cannot be an acceptable approach. There is a significant paradigm shift now in the way we live and the way we will have to live.

The masterplan needs to increase the strength and relationships between land use planning, transport planning and urban design to achieve a high quality, sustainable, connected community.

Even if you put aside Covid (if only it were that easy), a key parameter for the masterplan is that Newbury has to respond to the climate emergency and health and wellbeing agendas.  How will this be reflected?

The impact of Covid means that towns such as Newbury are becoming more desirable as people move away from London and larger centres, recognising the increased space and quality of living that is offered. So let’s make sure that a true identity is carved. Newbury is not a Reading, Oxford or Winchester and should not seek to replicate their offer.

Engagement with key stakeholders has to answer the question – what does Newbury want to be?

A dormitory settlement is not the answer. However, one of the key benefits Newbury offers is its connectivity with wider environs with fast rail connections to Reading and London and south west to Exeter, together with the intersection of key strategic road inks running north – south and east – west.

With people likely to be commuting less in the future they may be prepared to live further from their normal place of work and contribute more to the town.

To assist – how can the vision seek to attract and then retain the younger population, helping to enable growth but also to support the new University Centre Newbury?

It is not well connected to the town centre and needs to be integrated in transport terms. Local employment hubs enabling the ‘work from close to home’ generation to be satisfied should be provided and can replace retail uses in the town centre or at the retail park for example.

The value of space and forming a sense of place has come into its own in the past five months or so.

Let the masterplan seek to reallocate road space to pedestrians and cyclists and enhance connectivity within the central area and links to adjacent residential.

Technology is enhancing the way we connect with our centres. Electric scooters and electric bikes increase people’s mobilities but also increase conflict for pedestrians. Driverless cars are coming so how can these be incorporated into our street scene?

The permanent pedestrianisation of Northbrook Street can help to improve the centre but this needs to be combined with ideas to reinvent the High Street and to compensate for the loss of the John Lewis from Parkway and the slow decline of the retail offer overall in the town.

How can a reformatted town centre work and what elements are essential? Clearly, retail is not the sole answer in the future.

The ongoing saga of the Kennet Centre has to be resolved but it must be looked at in the round and not in isolation.

The Market Street residential development and the train station developments are still progressing well and will enhance a key gateway to the town for those travelling by rail. However, those who emerge from Market Street to face the Kennet Centre will surely turn round and head back again.

Can a residential use of the Kennet Centre, combined with the Market Street development help to bring more life into the centre to support local services, small retailers and assist in boosting the hospitality sector?

And what of the Market Place, an area which provides a space but a space without a meaning other than on the few days of the week when small markets are held or the few live events organised – to their credit – by the Corn Exchange and the BID team.

On other days it is a soulless, characterless area awaiting activity – an oasis without a lake.

Any further developments have to be of high quality design, well connected and more sustainable than in the past. Now is not the time for Newbury to accept a ‘development at all costs’ approach.

Value is created in communities and places we live in. How will the vision seek to integrate any residential development at Sandleford with the rest of the town? This is a key challenge.

Newbury has a tremendous asset running through the centre – the Kennet and Avon canal. How can this have more of a focus for the town? The vision should seek to maximise frontage activity particularly east of the Northbrook Bridge and create more of this asset.

While the tender seeks a masterplan with ‘imaginative, innovative and inspiring vision that can be translated into tangible deliverable projects’, there is always the danger that these wise words are watered down when it comes to the planning and implementation stage and, of course, the question is always ‘who pays for it?’.

Importantly, the tender seeks deliverables in the form of the supplementary planning document.  This has to be acted upon and cannot be left ‘shelf sitting’ – awaiting yet another vision in 10 years’ time.

With the changes in the way we live, travel and work over the past five months, there is no better time to truly lock in the benefits and ensure that for Newbury they are long lasting, making the town a desirable and pleasant place to live, work and play well into the future.

Image: TudorTulok / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

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