West Berkshire Council Weeknotes #78
The changing role of our town centres and high streets, and how we're helping them to meet the needs of existing and future residents, visitors and businesses for years to come.
This week we would like to focus on our town centres. West Berkshire is a great place to live and work, with its mix of beautiful countryside, excellent connectivity, picturesque villages and bustling towns. We want to do all we can to make sure this continues to be the case, which is why we are commissioning town centre studies to look in more detail at the specific issues facing our three largest town centres - Newbury, Thatcham and Hungerford. All three of them are very different and we want to work with local people and businesses to address their specific challenges and maximise their potential for the benefit of all.
We are particularly conscious that the pandemic has accelerated the changing role of our town centres and high streets, with many businesses struggling to operate in the most difficult trading period in living memory. We want to support our town centres and high streets to meet the needs of existing and future residents, visitors and businesses for years to come.
The first in this series of studies- the Newbury town centre masterplan- has now been published. The study, which was developed by a multi-disciplinary team of consultants working in partnership with our officers and members as well as the community and local stakeholders to provide a new vision for the town.
We were so pleased that over 4,000 local people gave their views on Newbury's strengths and weaknesses and that the vast majority of these were welcoming of change. This led to the development of a draft Vision and Spatial Framework for the town centre, which places the concept of the 'Crossroads' at its heart, and aims to ensure that as Newbury responds to the need for change, it remembers its market town heritage, and remains a focus for social interaction, economic growth, civic engagement and community activities. This vision was endorsed and further refined following a second online survey and public engagement session in July 2021, during which over 1,000 responses were received.
The final plan focusses on several key areas, recognising that needs within town centres have changed. There is less dependence on retail, and more on cultural experiences, leisure activities and communities coming together.
One area that's highlighted in the masterplan is the Wharf. This could allow the creation of new open space facing the canal, acting as a focus for cultural activities and outdoor events. There are also proposals for environmental improvements around the town centre to provide better access routes for pedestrians and cyclists along and over the canal. This would encourage movement to and from the shopping areas, Victoria Park and other parts of the town, encouraging people to stay longer.
We were also pleased to see focus on the lanes and alleyways across the town and how they could be better used to encourage independent businesses to establish themselves in the town. Weavers Walk is a good example of where this could work very well, with its existing mix of great small businesses. We are really excited about bringing forward some of the projects and initiatives suggested in the plan and we'll now be working with partners and seeking external funding to take the next steps. We hope to bring partners on board shortly to help us deliver the similar work we have planned for Thatcham and Hungerford, so do look out for further announcements shortly.
Next week is half term, which will give many of us time to take a rest and have some time with our families. Our teachers do a brilliant- and difficult- job and the past two years have made their job even more challenging as they've balanced delivering learning remotely with helping children return to the classroom after lockdown. We are so proud to have seen this work rewarded with some very positive Ofsted reports on schools in the district the past few weeks, including for The Willows Primary School, which has moved from a 'Requires Improvement' judgement to being found to be 'Good' in all categories. This outcome was the result of several years of hard work to address the previous inspectors' findings and we would like to pass on our congratulations to everyone involved.
We hope you have a relaxing and enjoyable half term break.