To consider a report on progress relating to the regeneration of Wokingham Town Centre.
The Committee considered a report, Agenda pages 11 to 60, which provided an update on the regeneration of Wokingham town centre. Councillor Mark Ashwell, Executive Member for Planning and Regeneration and Bernie Pich, Head of Town Centre Regeneration attended the meeting to answer Member questions.
Members were reminded that the previous update on the town centre regeneration project had been submitted to the Committee at its meeting on 18 October 2015. At that meeting there had been a challenge to the proposed consideration of financial information as a Part II item. Members were advised of the subsequent legal advice provided to the Council in relation to this issue. Financial information had been subsequently provided on the Council website and was included in the latest update report with no requirement to exclude the public from the discussion.
The update report reminded Members of the background to the current town centre regeneration plans, starting with the development of the Core Strategy (Local Plan) in 2004. The report gave details of the consultation exercises and expert reports which had identified Wokingham town centre as a key retail and leisure growth location. This reflected the development of 4,000 new homes adjacent to the town centre and Wokingham’s classification as an important sub-regional centre.
The report gave details of the Wokingham Town Centre Masterplan Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) which had been adopted in 2010 following extensive public consultation. The Masterplan described the range of infrastructure to be delivered in the town centre, including leisure, residential, highways, parking, public transport and retail. The Council’s regeneration scheme involved four priority projects in line with sites identified in the Masterplan.
The priority projects were designed to achieve the agreed objectives for regeneration and the benefits arising from the Council delivering regeneration directly. The four projects were summarised as:
· Peach Place Refurbishment – now completed, which saw a major façade refurbishment of the Rose Street/Market Place corner;
· Peach Place Redevelopment – which would see the creation of new retail/leisure units facing out onto Peach Street and onto a new public square facing onto Rose Street – work scheduled to commence in January 2017;
· Elms Field and the Paddocks – which would see the creation of new retail/leisure units, food store, hotel, cinema, new road and residential units framing an enhanced town centre park – work scheduled to commence in May 2017;
· Carnival Pool – which would see the refurbishment of the existing swimming pool and the creation of a new leisure/community centre alongside a new multi-storey car park with 529 parking spaces – work on the car park commenced in June 2016.
The report also gave details of the financial objectives agreed for the regeneration proposals. These included a requirement that the regeneration scheme must be financially viable and deliverable with a minimum 5% return on cost. The scheme must also be financially self-supporting as a commercial investment and be delivered without subsidy from local Council Tax payers. The report indicated that the combined regeneration projects were forecast to deliver a financial surplus of £16m to the Council.
Members raised the following points and questions:
· The town centre regeneration proposals were based on retail studies carried out in 2010 and 2013. Did the current proposals reflect the latest changes in a fast moving retail market? It was confirmed that the Council was now receiving retail market intelligence through discussions with potential retail tenants and was monitoring other regeneration schemes such as the regeneration of Bracknell town centre.
· What was the most significant risk facing the Council in its role as developer? It was stated that a key risk was variation in construction costs which could significantly alter the financial viability of a project. In order to mitigate this risk the Council had already agreed some fixed cost contracts and would be seeking to negotiate similar arrangements throughout the town centre projects.
· The Borough’s population, including Wokingham town, was projected to increase significantly, but were there any projections of future footfall for Wokingham town centre? It was confirmed that a written reply would be provided on this issue.
· What was the composition of the Development Partnership and what was the process followed? It was confirmed that the Council’s development partners were Wilson Bowden and their partner company David Wilson Homes. They had been appointed following a comprehensive EU competitive dialogue procurement process.
· Concern was expressed about the possible introduction of shared facilities for pedestrians and cyclists, particularly in relation to the needs of visually impaired pedestrians. It was confirmed that this issue had recently been addressed in work on the regeneration of the Wokingham town centre market place. The needs of visually impaired pedestrians had been given a high priority.
· What steps were being taken to ensure that the town centre regeneration was financially viable and made the projected financial return for the Council? It was confirmed that, in addition to negotiating fixed cost contracts, the Council was seeking 70% pre-lets on the Elms Field project before work commenced. That would provide a high level of confidence as the scheme progressed. The overall aim was not to maximise financial returns. It was to achieve a surplus whilst delivering a regenerated town centre which met the needs of local residents.
· Would the regenerated town centre provide a balanced mix of retail, food and entertainment? It was confirmed that this was a key issue for the overall scheme. Steps were being taken to promote a range of businesses in the town. For example, the Peach Place frontages were, in the main, restricted to retail outlets.
· What letting time periods were being negotiated? It was confirmed that a variety of letting periods were being discussed ranging from 10 to 25 years. There was also strong interest from local independent traders which could result in shorter lets from 5 to 10 years.
· What was the width of car park spaces in the new car parking provision? It was confirmed that a space width of 2.4m had been agreed for all new parking spaces across the town centre. This provided greater convenience for car park users and was welcomed.
1) Councillor Ashwell and Bernie Pich be thanked for attending the meeting and providing a detailed update on the regeneration of Wokingham town centre;
2) That a written answer be provide for the question relating to projected future footfall in Wokingham town centre.