Filling offices could boost townBy Hugh Fort
February 16, 2009
Filling up Wokingham’s 69 empty offices would be a massive boost to the town’s economy, campaigners say.
It is thought the offices in and around Wokingham town centre could house as many as 1,000 people, who would then head to the town’s shops, sandwich bars, pubs and restaurants.
Mike Churcher, chairman of Wokingham Neighbourhood Action Group, is working closely with town centre landlords to keep an eye on the situation.
He is also trying to arrange meetings with businesses outside the towns to try to find out whether they would consider moving to Wokingham.
The owners of the units say they are filling them slowly, but have admitted there is an issue with companies downsizing and finding themselves in offices which are too big.
Mr Churcher added: “People always talk about empty shop units, and yes, we would very much like to see those filled.
“However, a massive boost to the town would be getting people in to the offices.
“It’s a chain reaction, more people would be out and about more, that means they would be using the shops at lunchtime, possibly going for a meal afterwards.
“What you could also see is the housing market improving as people want to be nearer work. Essentially, the more people there are working in town, the better it would be for the area as a whole.”
Simon Fryer, from Fryer Holt, which owns a number of units in town, said: “We have filled a number of units in the town over the past few months.
“We are happy with the progress but obviously with the financial climate the way it is, companies aren’t expanding and in fact, they are likely to be cutting staff which means they will need less space.”
There are also around 15 empty shop units in the town, which are still considered to be a problem.
However, several new businesses have come in to town recently and Mr Churcher and Mark Ashwell, owner of TradeMark Windows in Fishponds Road and chairman of Wokingham Chamber of Commerce, are hoping even more will take up empty units.
Mr Ashwell added: “We understand there are a lot of empty offices in and around Wokingham town centre.
“If there are people working in the offices in Wokingham, people will be going into the shops.
“More people would boost the daytime economy, which really needs it, and start having office nights out and things like that, which would boost the night-time economy.”
Vish Dhiri, owner of In Town News in Broad Street, said: “Filling empty offices would have a huge effect on almost everything in town.
“Places like us who sell lunch would have more customers, so would the coffee shops and you’d also have people browsing the clothes shops and things like that in their lunch breaks.”
Tony Edwards, owner of Brown Bag in The Plaza off Denmark Street, added: “More people in town would mean more opportunity for people like me who do good lunch trade.
"It would make the town nicer as well to see it bustling with people.”
Tina Loveridge, landlady at The Metropolitan in Rose Street, said: “Having more people in town would have a massive effect.
“The places which do food would see a lot more people in and the shops would get more custom.
“I suppose once more people are in, more businesses would be interested in being here so we could fill some of the empty shops.”
Meti Veseli, owner of the Piazza Caffe in Market Place, said: “69 offices is a big number, as is 1,000 people.
“As well as the obvious thing of having more customers, it would lead to more businesses in the town.
"I would hope with more people in town, the landlords would look at dropping the rent. It’s a tough financial time, I don’t know how long they can consider it acceptable to take 100 per cent from people who aren’t making as much money.”