Farnborough town centre boarded-up shops streets a bustle with Christmas shopper
Farnborough town centre boarded-up shops and flats
The remaining retailers are struggling, even the occasional farmers market has pulled out. In the run up to Christmas, when other towns are a bustle with shoppers, the streets in Farnborough are all but deserted, in a last bid desperate attempt to attract shoppers, the car parks are free, but who wants to shop in a ghost town.
If it ever goes ahead, the northern half of the town centre is to be demolished for a superstore. This within 50 yards of an Asda superstore, in an area already saturated with superstores.
Nearby Firgrove Court, an estate of 28 maisonettes, social housing owned by Pavilion housing association, is earmarked for demolition for the car park for the superstore. Most of the tenants have been driven out by poor state of repair of their homes. The empty properties, some of which have been empty for years, have had their kitchens, bathroom and boilers ripped out to render them uninhabitable.
In the spring, KPI were claiming they were starting work in the summer. This was duly regurgitated by the local press as news, with no questions asked.
A similar claim was made at the beginning of the year. Slight problem, at the time KPI lacked consent from the Secretary of State for highway closures.
These claims have consistently been made over the last five years – we are starting in the spring, summer, New Year – take your pick. All unquestioningly reported by the local press.
The latest claim, again dutifully reported by the local press, is that work is starting in the New Year, only this time with qualifications, it will be in phases.
The latest in a very long list of excuses is that the work has apparently been held up by sensitive land negotiations between KPI and the local council, the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor, as it is known locally.
What were these land negotiations, and why was it necessary that they be kept secret and very hush-hush? What did the council have to hide? Could it be the land was being sold on the cheap?
The public were led to believe the land was in the northern half of the town centre, as this was where the development was to take place. But this could not be, as KPI had acquired the land on which their buildings stood, and the highways, for which public rights had recently been extinguished, were owned by Hampshire County Council.
Had the local press done a little digging, they would have learnt that the land under negotiation was not what the public had been led to believe, but was actually the car park at the southern end of the town centre, upon which KPI wish to build a cinema. Planing consent for which they obtained over five years ago, consent which has now expired.
KPI had the council over a barrel, were negotiating with a gun held to the local community. It was crude but very effective: give us the land on the cheap, or we leave you with a trashed and derelict town centre.
Those carrying out the negotiations on the side of the council were the leader and chief executive, the very same two individuals who for the last five years have been in secret talks with KPI and have done their best to promote their agenda, including launching vicious attacks on critics of what KPI has done to the town centre.
Could they be trusted to negotiate the best deal for the local community, get the best price for the land?
Apparently not, at least that was the view of the District Valuer, who several times rejected the deal as the land was being sold on the cheap.
That KPI is only interested in making a quick buck, has no long-term commitment to the town, can be seen from the fact that what they have built, has already been sold on to Standard Life, for in excess of £7 million.
The future for the town is bleak. Many more retailers are facing bankruptcy or contemplating pulling out.
Three business groups were appointed early this year to decide the future of the town centre: KPI/St Modwen, Slough Estates, TAG Aviation. All three outside business interests, the local community excluded. KPI has shown its commitment by destroying Farnborough town centre, driving many retailers out of town if not out of business. TAG Aviation shows its concern by wishing to double the number of weekend flights, increasing the misery of local residents. Slough Estates has hived off part of its business park for a massive housing estate.
Consultants have also been engaged. The consultants employed have set up a website. It is noticeable for its lack of information. And why employ consultants, why not just ask the local community?
Once these plans have been approved by cabinet, the public will be allowed their say. In other words was is farcically called 'consultation', when minds have already been made up.
We should have gone through this exercise at least five years ago. Before KPI were granted planning consent to destroy the town.
There should have been widespread consultation with local people and local retailers, a few alternatives drawn up, then back to the public for consultation.
Within this framework, the planning application from KPI determined. If they did not provide what the local community wants, the plans rejected.
Instead, we have seen our town centre trashed, many retailers driven out of business, residents of Firgrove Court to be kicked out of their homes.
We have been subjected to the unedifying public spectacle of a Lib Dem councillor wringing his hands, shedding crocodile tears and complaining he cannot understand how the town centre has got into this state. Could it be because he sat on the planning committee and helped push through the plans?
A Lib Dem councillor who was one of three councillors found guilty by the Standards Board for England for having a prejudicial interest. All three councillors let off, even though the Standards Board found that they had improperly sought to influence a planning decision. Found guilty of a serious offence, then lot off under the pathetic excuse of having received bad advice from the Borough Solicitor.
Anyone with half a brain can see why Farnborough town centre is in the state it is, because councillors allowed themselves to be bounced into a decision which is bad for the town.
All for what? An unwanted superstore, that will face out of the town. A store which will kill off the remaining town centre retail. An unwanted superstore in an area saturated with superstores.
The only time proper scrutiny has taken place was January 2006 before a Public Inquiry into road enclosures, and then, due to the narrow remit of the inquiry, only into road closures, rather than the overall plans.
One would have expected the council to have acted on behalf of the local community. Instead, the leader and chief executive have for a number of years been in secret talks with the developers, to then act as spokesmen for the developers, vilifying anyone who dares to oppose what is being done.
Were there a genuine attempt to regenerate Farnborough town centre, and the same equally applies to Aldershot, the New Economics Foundation would have been engaged to help draw up a strategy.
The New Economics Foundation has done much work on town centre regeneration. But the way they work is with local communities, an absolutely no-no in the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor.
Joanna Blythman, Shopped: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets, Fourth Estate, 2004
Consultants to create new masterplan, Farnborough Mail, 6 June 2006
Felicity Lawrence, Not on the Label, Penguin, 2004
Markets create twice as many jobs as supermarkets and food is half the price, New Economics Foundation, 22 May 2006
Andrew Milford, Centre legal deal is signed, Farnborough News, 24 November 2006
Andrew Milford, Public to get say on new town centre?, Farnborough Mail, 28 November 2006
Homes to stay empty until town centre redevelopment, Farnborough Mail, 5 December 2006
Keith Parkins, A sense of the masses - a manifesto for the new revolution, October 2003
Keith Parkins, Rushmoor councillors guilty!, Indymedia UK, 8 November 2005
Keith Parkins, Tragedy of Firgrove Court, Indymedia UK, 30 January 2006
Keith Parkins, Public Inquiry into road closures in Farnborough town centre, Indymedia UK, 30 January 2006
Keith Parkins, Curitiba – Designing a sustainable city, April 2006
Keith Parkins, Big business to decide future of town centre, Indymedia UK, 30 October 2006
Keith Parkins, Empty property in Farnborough town centre, Indymedia UK, 27 November 2006
Keith Parkins, The Truth in Rushmoor, Indymedia UK, 30 November 2006
Shops deal 'is no big deal', Surrey-Hants Star, 23 November 2006