DCSIMG

Starting out from scratch

MODERN An artists impression of the new look Whiteley

MODERN An artists impression of the new look Whiteley

IT’S rare to get the chance to plan a new high street completely from scratch – particularly in an already established town.

But that is exactly what is currently happening in Whiteley, the town north of junction nine of the M27 that is only just over 20 years old.

The outlet shopping mall, Whiteley Village, had been opened in 1999 to draw in thousands of shoppers keen to snap up a bargain.

However, a mere decade later it was deemed a failure and the Whiteley Co-ownership consortium took the decision to demolish it and create a typical town centre in its place that would be built to service the existing residents, rather than attempt to draw shoppers in from miles around.

The £64m development will include more than 50 high street names – as well as a handful of local businesses and nine restaurants, centred around a new town square.

Big names confirmed early on included H&M, Boots, JD Sports, Bank, Sports Direct, Frankie & Benny’s and Starbucks.

And in September, it was announced they would be joined by River Island, Clarks, The Entertainer, Mamas and Papas, Schuh, Paperchase, Claire’s, Moss, Costa Coffee and Prezzo.

About 80 per cent of the scheme has already been let ahead of its opening due for next May.

Mike Evans, chairman of Whiteley Parish Council, who has been working closely with the firm behind the scheme, said: ‘It will create about 1,000 jobs.

‘With the range of restaurants there will be people working until 11 o’clock at night, and all the shops will be trading until 8pm, so there will be a huge number of part-time roles created as well.

‘The biggest issue at the moment is how the parking will be managed. There will be 1,136 spaces, which is a little bit down from the 1,300 we had before.

‘It will be free parking, but we do want to put time limits on some of it. How that will be achieved hasn’t been decided yet.’

There will be seven shop units allocated to local businesses, the sort that will aim to give it the feel of a ‘proper’ town centre rather than an identikit development.

Andrew Rollings, in charge of lettings for the scheme, says: ‘We are looking for the local businesses to go in that end of the scheme. The opportunities are very much alive and available for people – these are the shops that we want to be the butchers and bakers or whoever.

‘We haven’t made any decisions yet about what will go in there, but if anyone is interested, they should contact me.’

But not everyone is so enthusiastic about the new development.

Councillor Sean Woodward, the leader of Fareham Borough Council and ward councillor for Sarisbury, which covers half of Whiteley, has concerns that it is too large for the population it claims to serve.

He says: ‘I’ve always said that for the people of Whiteley to get that standard of shops is extremely good news.

‘But the traffic that comes with it will be a double-edged sword, and it is a lot, lot bigger than what Whiteley needs.

‘A reasonable comparison is the Locks Heath centre which caters for about four to five times numbers that Whiteley will.’

Fareham Borough Council lodged an appeal with the Government Office for the South East (GOSE), claiming the new development would have a detrimental impact on its own town centre, but they refused to call it in,

Today, of the 320 shops in Fareham’s West Street, High Street and shopping centre, only 24 units – or 7.5 per cent – are empty.

Cllr Woodward adds: ‘It’s about half the English average for empty units, so we are doing well, but you can’t afford to be complacent.’

The council has a £200,000 war chest that it is looking to spend on ways to boost visitor number to the town centre.

A £25 penalty charge in short stay car parks has already been scrapped in the past month, and a review of other parking charges is under way that is likely to see fees lowered at under-used car parks.

And there will also be a website, specifically for promoting the independent businesses that are prominent on High Street and the western end of West Street.

‘The big boys can promote themselves,’ Cllr Woodward adds. ‘It’s the independent, small traders which we want to give a leg up. You will never see those sorts of shops in Whiteley.’

To contact Mr Rollings about the local store units in Whiteley email ARollings@mkaml.co.uk or call 0207 010 7777.

GOSPORT

GOSPORT has recently created a new team of local businesses, shop owners and residents to champion its town centre.

The Gosport Town Team has a budget of £110,000 to help bring new life to the beleaguered town centre.

When the council carried out its last official count of shops in the town centre in June – including High Street, North Cross Street, South Cross Street, Bemisters Lane and South Street precinct – 24 out of 182 units, or 13 per cent were empty.

And Gosport’s shops have routinely found themselves losing out to neighbouring shopping centres, in Portsmouth or Fareham.

Maggie Allington, the owner of Weddings of Distinction in North Cross Street, is part of the new team.

Mrs Allington said: ‘I’ve been in business in Gosport for more than 30 years. It was a real thriving little town back then.

‘But we know we have to embrace what we’ve got now and build on it.

‘Rejuvenation is the key word, but it is early days yet for what we’re trying to do.

‘We are from various walks of life and we have got a lot of experience between us, so hopefully in a short space of time, the town will start to see improvements.

‘We want to smarten the town up, so people get a nicer impression, and we want to get the shops filled up with things that will bring something to the town, not just another charity.’

LEE-ON-THE-SOLENT

LEE-on-the-Solent has seen its shopping centre thrive in recent years.

Businesses and shops have made a concerted effort to promote themselves as something a bit different from the norm.

And it appears to have worked – out of about 60 units, there are currently none empty.

Rick Barter has run The Book Shop in Lee High Street for the past nine years and has seen things change for the better in that time.

Mr Barter, who represents the Lee Business Association, says: ‘When I first moved here someone from the South Hampshire Enterprise Agency told me that Lee was very inward-looking, and I don’t think they meant it as a compliment.

‘But it’s that idea of community, and I think that’s what a lot of town centres miss out on these days.

‘When I moved here 10 years ago, there were more empty shops, I think there are still too many hairdressers and charity shops, but that’s a common problem in most places.

‘There’s not many places like us left.

‘In one sense Lee’s part of this huge suburb from Portsmouth to Southampton, in others it’s a market town that happens to be on the seaside.

‘There are a lot of little things we’ve managed to avoid until fairly recently in the High Street.

‘The local business association is highly supportive – we represent the majority of businesses here.’

A year ago, Gosport’s planning committee approved installation of a new store front, signs and air conditioning units for a Tesco Express store on the corner of Pier Street and Marine Parade East.

It was a move that was bitterly opposed by the business association and many residents.

But despite that, the town centre has fought to retain its identity.

Mr Barter added: ‘There are statistics that show that for every pound spent in a local business, 68p stays in the community, if it’s spent in a national chain, it’s 43p.

‘It is the centre of the community, it’s very sociable – there’s this sense of it being the hub of the community, which perhaps you don’t get in a place like Gosport or Fareham.

‘There’s lots of new shops coming in and it does feel good – we don’t have a single empty unit at the moment.’

 

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