Town centre 2016 regeneration deadline ‘not set in stone’By Victoria Smith
February 28, 2012
Wokingham may have to wait longer for its town centre regeneration but the project will not create empty units, council bosses have promised.
Wokingham Borough Council hoped to have the new town centre up and running by 2016. Although it remains committed to the project, stumping up £37 million in funding over the next few years, it has admitted it may not hit this deadline.
Leaders behind the project, which the council launched in 2008, say shop units will be built to demand, so tenants will be lined up to open for business as soon as building work is complete.
Councillor David Lee, leader of the council, said when asked if townspeople could expect the town centre to be completed by 2016: “It may or may not.
“The issue is all about pre-letting. We can’t gamble with residents’ money by building shops in the hope Fred Bloggs might come along and rent it.
“We can’t build a building until it’s pre-let.”
A similar method has been adopted by Bracknell Regeneration Partnership (BRP) in the long-awaited regeneration of that town centre, however this scheme has also hit delays due to the economic downturn.
BRP recently won planning permission for a redevelopment of Princess Square in Bracknell town centre including a large new store, however a tenant has not yet been confirmed for the new unit and BRP has said it is not expecting to make another announcement on this until the summer. Cllr Anthony Pollock, executive member for finance at Wokingham, said Wokingham is a very different town centre compared to Bracknell and this would be reflected in the success of the Wokingham regeneration.
He said: “Bracknell is different, the Bracknell demographic is different, the retail offering is different. I remember going to see it [Bracknell] in 1973 and I think it was 20 years before I went back and I won’t be going back.”
Cllr Lee added the demand-led method of building was being used by Segro at IQ Winnersh business park, where a 20-year planning permission was granted for a multi-million pound redevelopment of the site. He said this method means Wokingham has a very low amount of empty office space.
Cllr Lee said: “If you look at Bracknell there are millions of empty square feet of offices. We are not suffering from that because there is a sensible approach to letting.”
The council plans to start the regeneration project by refurbishing the frontage of shops on the corner of Rose Street and Market Place, including the Clarks shoe shop. This is expected to begin this year.
In the later stages of the project, which will include sites in Peach Street and on Elms Field, new shops and restaurants will be created, along with a supermarket and hotel.
The council is already receiving interest from retailers wanting to move into the town.
Cllr UllaKarin Clark, executive member for internal services, said: “The attraction of Wokingham is that it is a market town and there are a lot of companies that would like to work in that environment. We are very lucky.
“We have many companies that have expressed an interest in coming to Wokingham.”
The town centre regeneration is a major feature of the council’s budget for 2012/13.
When the scheme is built, it is expected to generate £4 million annually in rents for the council, which is planning to retain all the assets when they are complete.