I attended the public consultation on the latest Counil and developer plans to improve the town centre on friday at Elms field. I had a useful meeting there with representatives of the developer and the Borough Council.
I stressed that I am keen to see progress, as we need a revitalised town centre. I explained that the public too are generally enthusiastic about improving the look of the shopping area, increasing the range of shops, and making it more shopper friendly. People wish to see green spaces preserved, but accept the need to increase the amount of shopping floorspace available to increase the attractions of the centre.
I said that having enough parking will be vital to success. One of the advantages a smaller town centre like Wokingham should be able to offer compared to the large shopping centres, is easier access and cheaper and better parking near to the shops. The present government has said it will allow Councils to relax previous tight controls on parking, especially where it strengthens a town centre. Shoppers parking is better if there is a free period, and if there is a way of charging which means you do not have to guess in advance how long you are going to be for payment purposes. Wokingham benefits on Saturdays from use of the Council’s own car park.
The Council would be wise to phase the work, to avoid disrupting too much of the town at any given time, and to keep the financing requirements under control. If each phase is completed and let before moving onto the next phase we will keep vitality in the town, and avoid large cash needs from the Council against property which might prove more difficult to let if too much is built all at one go.
The Council is to be supported for wishing to improve our town centre. Success will reinforce success. If the first phase is popular and lets well, it should be possible to create a reinforcing movement to a a busier and more profitable shopping centre that serves customers better.