A SENIOR government minister has hailed a new £64m town centre redevelopment for ‘bucking the trend’ in the current economic climate.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander MP, visited Whiteley yesterday as a guest at the annual dinner of the Meon Valley Liberal Democrats.
But before the dinner he was given a brief tour of the town’s new development by its owners the Whiteley Co-ownership, which is due to open next May.
The shopping outlet village on the site was flattened last year after being deemed a failure and now a town centre servicing the local community is being built instead.
Mr Alexander said: ‘It’s absolutely superb that you have a development of that scale during the current economic crisis.
‘This is clearly a growth point for the county.
‘It was good to talk to the developers about the investment they are making and about the 1,000 jobs it will create when it opens next Spring.
‘In a lot of the country, companies are finding it hard to bring forward developments like this, it is bucking the trend.
‘These are companies that are looking ahead and investing now, it’s about the potential investment two or three years ahead.
‘It suggests to me they see a lot of potential for this area.’
The new town centre is expected to have more than 50 units, seven of which are earmarked for local independent traders.
Eighty per cent of the units have been let, and among the big names first signed up were H&M, Boots, JD Sports, Bank, Sports Direct, Frankie & Benny’s and Starbucks.
In September they were joined by River Island, Clarks, The Entertainer, Mamas and Papas, Schuh, Paperchase, and Prezzo.
Mr Alexander added: ‘And it’s good to see Winchester City Council taking economic growth seriously on the planning side.
‘That is something as a government we are really trying to encourage.
‘We see the planning system as something to encourage economic growth, not get in the way of it.’
During his visit Mr Alexander was told by Whiteley’s Winchester City councillors about the unusual situation which sees Whiteley split between two local authorities, Winchester and Fareham.
And he was also told about the divisive issue of traffic bollards on Yew Tree Drive.
Fareham Borough Council has previously refused to make the road accessible to all vehicles as it goes against its local plan.
But a poll is about to be held as to whether a six-month trial opening the road to all should be taken.
He added: ‘From what I have been told, it sounds completely ridiculous that a local authority would stand in the way of a much-needed piece of infrastructure.’