Action, not words, will save the townBy Hugh Fort
March 16, 2009
A more attractive town centre and the battle against thousands of new homes were hot topics at the inaugural meeting of the Wokingham Society.
About 100 people turned up at the Bradbury Centre in Rose Street to discuss plans to protect the character of the town and what needs to be done to make Wokingham a better place to live and shop.
Society chairman Tina Marinos spoke of the group’s battle against plans to build thousands of homes to the north and south of the town centre.
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Meanwhile Mike Churcher, chairman of Wokingham Neighbourhood Action Group, explained his vision for a better, brighter town centre.
He said: “We, the traders, the landlords, the people of Wokingham, have to work as a team to try to improve our town.
“I really feel it can be done, but we need to bring the community groups back in to the town.
“We need things little and often, like events in town to bring people back in.”
Mrs Marinos opened the meeting with an update on Wokingham Borough Council’s core strategy – the blueprint proposing where homes will be built up until 2026.
She said the society believed the town’s infrastructure, mainly its roads and sewers, would be unable to cope with the development.
The mood then turned to what can be done in the short-term to improve Wokingham, with Mr Churcher presenting a slideshow on what other towns have done to improve their image.
He has visited Henley and Marlow, where he says a recurring theme is the good condition of the shop units, which are cleaner and have better presented signage.
To hammer his point home, he showed a slide of a walkway in Broad Street, featuring derelict, graffiti covered garages.
He also highlighted the fact that the other two towns were full of flowers, which Wokingham could easily copy as it has hooks for hanging baskets peppered about the town.
Members of the audience were quick to agree with Mr Churcher’s sentiments, but the ideas to spruce up Wokingham prompted a déjà vu reaction.
A member of the audience said: “One of the reasons people are quite negative about this is we have heard it all before.
“We need visual evidence of things happening, even if it is just something small like painting a shop or planting flowers.”
Mr Churcher replied: “I absolutely agree.
“I could be just another name on a long list of people who have tried to improve the town centre and failed.
“I’m just a volunteer, I can’t answer whether what we are doing will be successful, but we are trying.”
After Mr Churcher’s presentation, the floor was opened to questions.
The issue of traffic was brought up a number of times, as well as Wokingham Borough Council’s plans to regenerate the town, the future of the town centre manager and even the problem of pigeon mess.