Surrey Heath Borough Council chief executive, Karen Whelan said visions for expanding shopping space have been scaled back following discussions with potential investors.
An indicative shot of what the new-look London Road Block could look like in Camberley, creating a gateway to the town centre
Initial plans for the redevelopment of Camberley town centre were ‘too ambitious’, the leader of the borough council has admitted.
Karen Whelan, chief executive of Surrey Heath Borough Council , said that its vision for expanding the amount of shopping space was found to be ‘too big for today’s needs in the retail sector’ following discussions with potential investors.
Mrs Whelan explained that the proposals had since been scaled back to make them more attractive to retailers, and now included some shopping expansion as well as improved parking facilities and some residential development.
Her comments came at a meeting of the Camberley Society held in the council’s main chamber last Wednesday evening (June 1), where she was quizzed alongside council officers and councillors on topics such as the regeneration of Camberley.
Mrs Whelan said she understood that residents were keen to see the project begin in earnest, but she stressed that the process of attracting big brands, developers and investors to the town took time.
“Over the last few years, we have needed to understand a few things about Camberley ,” she said.
“We’ve looked at how the town was affected by quite a difficult recession, and the impact from competing towns as well as out-of-town developments.”
She said the council had put together a prospectus to help market the town, focusing on strengths such as its ‘very clean and very green environment’ and the compactness of the centre, meaning shoppers were ‘five minutes from car door to shop floor’.
“We have a strong retail core already,” she added.
“We’ve got a reasonable spread of shops and a good food offerng. We have limited empty units for a town this size, plus limited free parking, leisure opportunities and a growing night-time economy.”
However, she stressed that one of the main factors that was slowing down the regeneration of Camberley was the fact that the council doesn’t own much of the ‘key infrastructure’ in the town and had to work with a number of landowners.
She explained that, to streamline this process, the council resolved following last year’s election to begin borrowing money to make careful purchases of buildings or sites that could play an important part in the re-development.
“We are just as frustrated as everyone else in wanting the regeneration to happen as fast as possible, but the council can only work in conjunction with its partners,” she said.
“The council can only go so far by itself. Part of our role is to help others to see the potential of the town centre.”
The audience was told that another crucial factor was securing public funds for improvements to the A30 London Road and the Meadows gyratory, while planning how to ‘open up vistas’ to the town centre for motorists arriving in Camberley.
Mrs Whelan reminded members of the society that some of the crucial early phases of the project were already in the pipeline, such as a £4.5 million refurbishment of The Mall Camberley which has been approved by the council’s planning committee.
She added: “I’m pleased to see that the Camberley Society’s vision for the town’s future is aligned to SHBC’s objectives.
“We have a commitment to deliver our vision for the town centre. It’s a shared responsibility, but we are working hard to make sure that it happens.”