West Way Community Concern

New shops for old?

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by Stephen Parkinson, local resident and WWCC Committee member

For a redevelopment plan whose prime function was to regenerate a local shopping centre, the planning documents have remarkably little to say on retail provision. The scheme is claimed to be retail-led (Planning Document, para 5.3) and to “offer a number of important benefits, including the upgrade of retail and service facilities, additional convenience choice for consumers ” (para 5.5).

If you look more closely at the plans, two of these three claims look pretty weak.

Retail-led redevelopment: The new development will increase commercial floorspace by nearly 900m2, an uplift of 22% for the areas to be replaced, or 19% for the whole of the Centre. It will reduce the number of commercial units from 25 to 22. Given the loss of over 4000 m2 of office accommodation, and the introduction of large quantities of residential accommodation, the new development is self-evidently residential-led. The absence of any enhancement to retail provision is confirmed by a Retail Impact Assessment which shows that the new development will not attract retail turnover from anywhere else in the region.

Increase in choice: The only increase in choice is in the restaurant sector, where the plans anticipate seven large restaurants or coffee houses (with the possibility of smaller cafes or takeaways occupying other units). The new supermarket is barely larger than the existing Co-op, with another two units possibly appropriate for top-up food stores. This would leave no more than ten units to accommodate all remaining retail businesses, including banks, estate agents, chemists, newsagents, drycleaners, with only six “High Street” units of a size which might be accessible to independent operators. The current variety of retail offerings could not be restored, let alone enhanced. The need for local residents to shop outside the centre would increase, and Independent retailers would be even more concentrated in Elms Parade.

This leaves only one benefit: the replacement of old shop units with new. The cost to the community of this upgrading will be colossal: several years’ interruption of normal commercial functions, massive residential blocks overshadowing the existing buildings, an increased transient population competing for services and parking, etc. etc. Traders may also pay in higher rents and in the as yet unquantified management charges needed to sustain the operation of this high-maintenance development.

Is it worth it? Will it serve Botley well now, let alone for the next 20 to 30 years?

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