Planning consent was applied for, and following two successful legal challenges, finally granted in November 2004.
The final stage in gaining consent was a Public Inquiry into road closures held Tuesday 24 January 2006. The Inquiry Inspector has to report to the Secretary of State and we wait to hear whether or not he will sign the Stopping Up Order which will close the roads.
KPI wish to redevelop the town centre. Half of the town centre is to be demolished to make way for a superstore, which will face out of the town centre. Firgrove Court, a small estate of social housing of 28 maisonettes, is earmarked to be demolished to make way for a car park for the superstore.
KPI turned up expecting it to be a pushover. Lined up against the objectors were KPI, their lawyers, barrister and consultants from Atkins.
The Inquiry opened with a number of objections over the large amount of paperwork served by KPI as soon as the Inquiry was declared opened.
Their barrister was cross-examined on notification of the Stopping Order and the Public Inquiry. He was forced to admit, that the only official notification had been notices in the street, that affected parties had not been directly notified.
One small victory to the objectors.
KPI then presented their evidence under questioning from their barrister.
It was then the turn of the objectors to cross-examine KPI and the evidence they had presented.
I cross examined KPI until around 1-20pm. Simon Rutter (representing KPI) was shaking.
KPI were then subjected to further cross-examination after lunch by a second objector Derek Asker, a former resident of Firgrove Court.
We managed to extract some useful information out of KPI.
They were forced to admit that without the car park, the superstore could not go ahead. That although it had 275 car parking spaces, it only gave a net increase of 58. That unlike the other car parks in the town, which are owned and controlled by the Council and levy a fee to park, this car park will be owned and controlled by the superstore, with free car parking.
The route into town, which was a broad pedestrian highway, would be reduced to a narrow alleyway, private access controlled by KPI, that all routes into the town from the north and north east would lose public access rights, be private routes controlled by KPI..
KPI were forced to admit that as soon as the Secretary of State signs the Order (assuming he does), the residents of Firgrove Court would lose public rights of access to their homes.
KPI tried top claim, this was ok, as their rights of access would be protected by the Council and Pavilion (who own Firgrove Court). This had to be seen as the day's sick joke.
The Council is doing its best to push this scheme forward on behalf of the developer. Pavilion are doing their best to kick out their tenants to enable them to sell the land to KPI.. [see Tragedy of Firgrove Court]
At the beginning of the Inquiry, in amongst the bundle of papers submitted by KPI, was a letter from Rushmoor chief executive Andrew Lloyd backing the development. In the closing minutes of the Inquiry, a second letter was submitted by KPI, this time from Pavilion, again backing the scheme.
Many retailers will also lose right of access. Those who had objected, KPI has been forced to negotiate individual rights of access, the same rights of access if remained as public access rights. Those who failed to object have had no such access rights negotiated. According to the barrister, they must be happy with the loss of access, as they did not object!
Atkins tried to claim straightening a dangerous rat run which would bisect the superstore car park would make the road safer, could not see it was not safe to have such a route dividing a superstore car park!
Atkins then told us they would be adding footways down part of the rat run and adding a controlled pedestrian crossing. Whilst agreeing this would be a desired improvement, when it was put to Atkins that such improvement did not require a Stopping Up Order, nor was it a consequence that followed on from a Stopping Up Order, Atkins were very loathe to admit this was indeed the case.
Atkins added little to what was already known.
If the Stopping Up Order were to be granted, there would only be a narrow alleyway into the town from the north off Victoria Road, from the north east, it would be across the car park of the superstore. Both routes into the town centre would be private routes controlled by KPI.
Passing along Victoria Road, all that would be visible, would be the superstore and its car park, what little remains of the town centre would not be visible, indicating once again that this redevelopments is about promoting the superstore, not the rest of the town centre.
Their barrister declined to cross-examine the objectors!
It was claimed by KPI in their final summing up, that what they wished to see was managed controlled access with their own security!
I countered: What we were seeing was privatisation of public space, public access was being replaced by private access. Town centres are about more than retailing, public space is for everyone to use, from rattling of collection tins to street theatre. That public space had to remain under democratic control, not under the control of a property developer who could decide who could and could not access the town centre. That what their redevelopment was about was promotion of a superstore, not regeneration of a town centre, a town centre that was not even in need of regeneration until they destroyed it.
We are now in the hands of the Inquiry Inspector and the Secretary of State.
We would have had a much stronger case if we had been allowed to challenge the planning consent, as contrary to the comments by KPI, their plans had not been subject to detailed scrutiny. As it was we could only challenge and subject to detailed scrutiny the highways proposals. Nevertheless we did the best we could.
KPI turned up expecting a walkover. The smug smiles were soon wiped off their faces, and they left at the end of the day looking none too happy. Their barrister looked thoroughly pissed off.
Present were a fair number of people, including several councillors, borough solicitor, chief executive, head of planning. As the day wore on, their faces became grimmer and grimmer, and one by one, most of them left.
The following day we went on a tour of the town centre with the inquiry inspector. As we returned we were joined by Anthony Glossop, chairman of KPI/St Modwen. He told us he was going for a meeting with the council, and we watched him heading towards the office of borough chief executive Andrew Lloyd.
Keith Parkins, Farnborough Lib Dems back town centre destruction, Indymedia UK,
Keith Parkins, Tragedy of Firgrove Court, Indymedia UK, 30 January 2006