Several factors hastened the decline of Aldershot, principal of these being the gutting of the heart of the town for a tacky shopping centre and the construction of an edge-of-town Tesco superstore.
Lessons have still not been learned. Instead of bottom up revitalisation, working with the local community and local traders, the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor has for the last decade been pushing a development known as Westgate on the wasteland that lies between Tesco and the town centre yuppie flats for sale, retail and leisure, plus a hotel.
A hotel in Aldershot, not exactly a major tourist attraction. But then why go to Ayia Napa when you can puke in the streets of Aldershot instead?
A few years ago, the tacky shopping centre was extended. As of a year ago, only four out of 21 units in the extended shopping centre had retail tenants!
No one doubts that Aldershot is in dire need of regeneration. Westgate would not and will not regenerate Aldershot. It would shift the retail centre of gravity towards Tesco and away from the town centre. The High Street names the developer hopes to attract would drain money out of the local economy.
The main developer of Westgate claims to have a 75% take up of their retail units. Compare this with a a year ago, when potential clients took one look at Aldershot, were so appalled at what they found, they were decidedly not interested.
The town centre has a Marks and Spencers, but this is a remainder shop that sells at a discount the rubbish the rest of the chain cannot clear!
Town centre retailers have said Westgate is not wanted because it will take trade away from the town centre.
Last November the main developer claimed the cinema would be up and running by November 2009! That date has been scrapped. The proposed bowling alley has no takers.
Westgate has now collapsed in scandal and recriminations, councillors playing the blame game. The developer of the residential element Linden Homes looks set to pull the plug, citing the current economic climate and the state of the housing market.
Today, new mortgage approvals fell to a record low, oil prices hit a new record high.
An edge-of-town shopping centre, that needs a car to get there, at a time of oil scarcity, soaring oil prices and growing concern at climate change and global warming and the need to reduce our carbon emissions?
In a crude attempt to save face, the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor is proposing to bail out the development with taxpayers money. This will not be the first time taxpayers money has been used in this way. The town centre shopping centre was bailed out, as has been the local football club.
The situation in nearby Farnborough is little better. Half the town centre was demolished last year and then left as an unsafe demolition site, boarded-up shops. The town centre has been trashed by St Modwen, a company with an excellent track record of trashing towns, a company the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor was only too happy to climb into bed with.
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 this has already had a negative 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!
Keith Parkins, London Social Forum housing and land rights conference, Indymedia UK, 2 October 2006
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
Keith Parkins, Aldershot Westgate Scandal, Indymedia UK, 26 June 2008
Andrew Simms, Tescopoly, Constable, 2007