artist's impression of proposed Westgate development
A development that is not wanted.
The infrastructure cannot cope.
Aldershot town centre is already a ghost town. Far from revitalising a dead town, Westgate would simply move the retail centre of gravity towards Tesco and away from the centre of town, delivering the final death blow to Aldershot. Concerns expressed by the few remaining retailers of the impact it would have on their trade has been ignored.
Councillors and council officials have been holding regular secret meetings with the developers. If nothing else this makes a mockery of the planning process as the plans would have already been predetermined.
Westgate was to have been a mix of retail, leisure and the usual hideous blocks of yuppie flats for sale.
Aldershot, like neighbouring Farnborough, has a large number of empty retail units in the town centre. Again, like neighbouring Farnborough, there is an acute shortage of 2- 3-bedroom houses with gardens.
There is now egg on faces. The main developer of the residential element, Linden Homes, are considering their options, and may pull out. A downturn in the economy and the state of the housing market are cited reasons.
Councillor Paul Bowers, elected in May on a clean-up-Rushmoor ticket, has attacked the leader of the council for promoting this scheme, and demanded he apologise to the people of Aldershot for misleading them.
Bowers in turn has been attacked by Rotten Borough of Rushmoor chief executive Andrew Lloyd, who demanded that he withdraw and apologise. Lloyd, as a mere official, was completely out of order with his comments, but is indicative of all that is rotten in Rushmoor.
Rushmoor councillors lack the ability to understand basic economics.
Top down regeneration does not work. No one is in any doubt that Aldershot is in dire need of regeneration. Aldershot is a deprived area in what is otherwise an affluent south east. An edge-of-town Tesco superstore, the gutting of the heart of the town for a shabby shopping centre, has driven many family businesses out of businesses. Attracting High Street names into what is now seen as the doomed Westgate fiasco would simply drain money out of the local economy. Relocating retail alongside Tesco, would only serve to exacerbate the damage already inflicted on the town centre by Tesco.
Bottom up regeneration is the only regeneration that works. This means working with the local community, encouraging local businesses, providing seed capital, local council favouring these businesses with their vast purchasing power, recycling money within the local economy.
When a town centre has been destroyed, it is only bottom up, plugging the leaks, that revitalises a town, top down pulling in national retailers drains more money out of the local economy and accelerates the negative downward spiral. In derelict inner-city wastelands, no amount of injection of cash revitalises the area unless mechanisms are in place to recycle the cash within the local economy as it simply flows straight back out, usually by enriching consultants, developers and other parasites.
Instead, what we have in Aldershot is a crude attempt to save face, with the leader of the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor proposing to use council money, that is local taxpayers money, to bail out the development.
The situation in Aldershot is so dire that even the charity shops are pulling out!
Not content with destroying Aldershot, the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor (in collusion with St Modwen) has also destroyed Farnborough.
Questions have been asked would the Westgate scandal lead to the collapse of the redevelopment of Farnborough? Not that anyone would notice as Farnborough redevelopment has never got off the ground, nor was it in need of redevelopment until it was destroyed by St Modwen.
The answer, according to the local comic mouthing what they have been told by St Modwen, is no.
There is no reason why it should as the two are not linked, apart from the dead hand of Rushmoor, but the same factors are at play, a downturn in the economy, collapse of the housing market and the credit squeeze.
The only part of Farnborough that is thriving is North Camp, the original Farnborough town centre. Here you will find a wide range and diversity of shops and restaurants. Shops like The Deli, serving quality food, a shop restored to its Victorian roots, with the same emphasis on service. But instead of learning what works and replicating across the borough, the council seems to be determined to destroy what works. The council has recently introduced car parking charges in North Camp for streets that were hitherto free and it has already had an impact on trade.
Apart from North Camp, local people have voted with their feet and now go further afield to Farnham, Guildford and Alton. Three relatively unspoilt market towns, with riverside walks, green spaces, farmers markets.
Saturday 12 July 2008, Alton will be holding its annual Alton Food Festival cum farmers market. Aldershot and Farnborough no longer even host a farmers market!
The only time there is a noticeable increase in the number of people visiting Farnborough is on a Tuesday to visit the Tuesday market and Sunday for the car boot sale.
Marcus Mabberley, Council pledges to save Westgate despite setback, Aldershot Mail, 24 June 2008
Keith Parkins, Localisation: A Move Away From Globalisation, www.heureka.clara.net, November 2000
Keith Parkins, No more farmers markets in Farnborough, Indymedia UK, 22 October 2007
Keith Parkins, More shops to close in Farnborough town centre, Indymedia UK, 23 June 2008
Andrew Simms, Tescopoly, Constable, 2007