Out with the old in Farnborough
PUBLISHED: 14:13 12 November 2013 | UPDATED: 14:13 12 November 2013
Despite having its own airfield, trendy hotels and a vibrant business centre, Farnborough town centre leaves a lot to be desired, but all that is about to change writes Claire Pitcher
Many would say Farnborough has been due a facelift for years. Its Kings Mead, Queens Mead and Princes Mead shopping areas once revealed a glimpse of what is was like to shop in the town centre in the 1970s, with uninspiring shop buildings and little in the way of atmosphere. All that is about to change however, when the mayor officially ‘opens’ the new Queens Mead shopping area later this month.
Farnbrough’s regeneration story really began in 2012 when Rushmoor Borough Council, set about producing the Farnborough Town Centre Prospectus which was to set out how they would like to see the town centre develop over the next 10 years. A year later and work has progressed at a pace, as leader of the council Peter Moyle explains: “Now that the improvements are taking shape and other regeneration projects such as the new seven-screen Vue cinema, restaurants (opening next summer) and new town centre homes are coming along - there’s lots of excitement in Farnborough.”
Getting the plans, or ‘the vision’ exactly right from the start was important, but >> no mean feat, as a lot of peoples’ ideas and opinions had to be taken into account. The Farnborough Society had a major influence: “We took a long, hard look at Farnborough and decided that the proposals simply weren’t ambitious enough,” says Councillor Barbara Hurst, secretary of the society. The society realised that, although not affluent itself, and although there is a pocket of multiple deprivation, Farnborough sits in the generally affluent Blackwater Valley. It also has exceptional road and rail links, as well as Farnborough Airport and Business Park which have brought prestige, and a highly-paid workforce, to the town. “We became convinced that Farnborough had enormous potential that simply wasn’t being tapped,” she claims.
“We also became aware that, far from being the cultural desert it appears, Farnborough has a thriving cultural life. But little of it is in evidence in the town itself because of a woeful lack of facilities for either performance or exhibition. Since the draft Core Strategy made clear that creating an evening economy was a key aim, it seemed obvious to us that this lack of cultural facilities must be addressed.”
So the society created a vision for the town centre which they submitted during the consultation phase.
“We stated that Farnborough had no heart, and envisaged a town square surrounded by a small theatre, some exhibition space, a music venue and indoor/outdoor cafes and restaurants. We identified the so-called Civic Quarter as ideal for this purpose.” At the insistence of the inspector who approved the Core Strategy, the possibility for some sort of cultural offering in that area has become council policy.
The society presented their vision during the consultation for the Town Centre Prospectus and succeeded in getting the idea of a community-led theatre incorporated. “We were delighted to see that the idea of a town square had been taken up. Finally, Farnborough was to have a heart!”
The plans were approved in April 2012 and the council has been working alongside Hampshire County Council and St Mowden, who own and manage The Meads, on the £1m project since January. The first two phases of the regeneration are now complete with the relocation of Sainsbury’s into a new 62,000 sq ft store and 260-space car park. These phases also included a new Travelodge and creating new retail and leisure space for the likes of JD Wetherspoon, Starbucks, New Look, CEX and The Gym. The Kings Mead shopping centre’s makeover is still progressing and the Kings Mead multi storey car park is being refurbished and will be completed in early 2014.
Nearby, the ‘Centrus at the Meads’ scheme has created 45 high quality homes at the heart of the town centre and more than a quarter have already been sold. The Meads Business Centre, which is located above the shopping centre, has been refurbished and offers modern, fully serviced flexible office space. James Stockdale, development surveyor for St Mowden, is certain the area’s regeneration will revitalise the town: “Farnborough town centre will be established as a modern mixed use destination – an attractive place to live, work, shop and relax.
“While the Queens Mead improvements – including new lighting, paving, trees, benches and other street furniture – and a revamped Kings Mead shopping centre have given the town centre a fresh new look, the changes are more than just skin deep. The enhanced shopping area will attract more visitors from the surrounding areas and the new restaurants and cinema will create a more vibrant evening economy. In these difficult times the new occupiers are also creating jobs for the local community – Sainsbury’s alone is creating more than 400 full and part time jobs,” he says.
Indeed, boosting Farnborough’s local economy is a top priority, not least to the members of the Farnborough Jets, the Business Networking Group. Its 24 members cover an array of industries in the town, from building to finance. Debbie Field, chapter director, says they welcomed the news of the regeneration: “The area should develop and create more opportunity for employment and improve the look of the area, encouraging more people to visit and for more businesses to realise the value within the community.”
Despite the recession, Rushmoor has attracted massive investment in both its town centres over the past few years. With the Wellesley Aldershot Urban extension coming on stream, the area will see a population growth in the thousands. “These will all be potential customers for new and existing businesses. Opportunities will be limited only by the desire and capability of those businesses and our members are proud to be in the depth of this development as business owners and residents within Rushmoor,” says Debbie. According to the Jets, Farnborough’s future certainly looks bright: “Businesses of all sizes want to invest in this area and are doing so. It is a good time to do it before prices increase, which is inevitable due to the up and coming popularity of the area. They are bringing jobs and prosperity.”
It doesn’t end there
You only have to ask any of the members of The Farnborough Society about their feelings towards the area to discover a renewed passion for their home town, as Barbara can confirm: “Many of our members have lived in Farnborough for most of their lives and have watched its decline with dismay. That a town with Farnborough’s rich heritage and worldwide reputation for the International Air Show had such a dismal town centre was shameful to us all. But there’s a new sense of optimism among us now.
“We’re all thrilled that we can play a central role in the renaissance of Farnborough, and that we have, in our small way, helped it come about. These are exciting times for Farnborough, and for The Farnborough Society.”
What the locals say
“We are confident that the town is at last in a position to capitalise on its many advantages. By investing in Queensmead, the council has clearly shown confidence in the town’s future, and that is crucial.”
Barbara Hurst, secretary, The Farnborough Society
“It’s certainly an exciting time for Farnborough and a great opportunity for us to work with businesses and retailers to create a vibrant and modern town centre.”
Peter Moyle, Rushmoor Borough Council leader
“Farnborough will be competitive in attracting those businesses and consumers and offer the ‘shopping experience’ and opportunity for family days out.”
Debbie Field, chapter director, BNI Farnborough Jets