Presentation on the Renovation of Queensmead
Farnborough Town Centre Prospectus
In a presentation arranged by Rushmoor Borough Council on 29 February 2012, TFS members were invited to hear Steve Walker of Allies and Morrison Urban Practitioners speak about plans to renovate and invigorate Queensmead. Also in attendance were David Quirk, Director of Community and Environment, Keith Holland, Head of Planning, and Karen Edwards, Head of Strategy and Communications.
Setting the plans for Queensmead in context, Steve spoke first about the Farnborough Town Centre Prospectus that has been out for public consultation, which adapts the Town Centre SPD of 2007 and encompasses marketing/branding, additional planning guidance and consultation/information. It seeks to implement a new illustrative scheme true to the objectives of the SPD, but more deliverable, by minimising infrastructure change, working within ownerships, minimising contingent projects and adopting a more flexible approach to phasing. Steve said that the prospectus answers the question: why has the 2007 SPD not been delivered? He also stated that it was inevitable that the plans, if adopted, will change.
TFS Planning Group Chairman Brian Fyfe pointed out that the area of benefit identified in the prospectus is not in fact the geographical centre of the town, and went on to explain TFS’s vision for the underutilised green space that is the actual centre, as articulated in our response to the Core Strategy. Steve said that although viability is the key issue, the arts/culture could fit into the prospectus since it was agreed that a signature public space was needed. David Quirk promised that RBC would pick up Brian’s point.
Audience members expressed their concern that there is nothing in the prospectus likely to attract better quality retailers, and cited Winchester and Farnham as towns that have revitalised their centres by focusing on the arts and culture. Steve assured us of RBC’s commitment to Farnborough reaching its full potential, but pointed out that both Winchester and Farnham have some fine old buildings, while Farnborough is essentially a modern town with little of architectural merit, which places Farnborough at a distinct disadvantage. As one audience member put it, Farnborough lacks elegance, and has suffered 30 years of decline.
When asked about the potential deterrent effect of parking charges, Steve said that research shows that people do not visit towns based on their parking. He added that Farnborough has more parking than needed.
A final comment before moving on to the presentation on Queensmead was that in light of the long period of decline it was clear that RBC needs to think differently, to think bigger.
Steve first acknowledged that the current condition of Queensmead is a major barrier to investment. Moreover, it is so cluttered that it feels much smaller than it actually is. In drawing up their proposals, Allies and Morrison Urban Practitioners canvassed the shop owners and conducted a review with the town centre councillors, arriving at the following principles:
A simple scheme, avoiding clutter, visually appealing and accessible
Simple paving that unifies the space, is smooth and robust
Simple modern street furniture, with wooden seats and variety of styles
More suitable trees, with year-round interest
Street cafes and shop displays to add interest. More flexibility within certain rules
Market stalls that are semi-permanent, colourful and lively
The relocation of the taxi rank to part of the Iceland car park
We were shown a sequence of slides in which everything was removed from Queensmead, and then replaced with the features above.
The aim is to create distinct spaces connected by the street itself:
Northern junction€”a busy through space, with a large information board on the wall
Central junction€”a meeting point for users of the cinema and restaurants
Southern junction€”a very busy space in which the development of the Iceland site will be crucial to create a more pleasant street scene.
The ugly buildings along Queensmead could be clad, and other cosmetic improvements could be considered.
It is anticipated that the work will be carried out in two phases, but should be completed during 2012.
Judging by their responses, and from subsequent feedback, the members were unconvinced that the proposals represented any substantive improvement, and would do little to overcome the perception of Queensmead as a major barrier to investment. It was also clear that the Southern junction did not appeal as a market square because of traffic noise and pollution, and because of the lack of any reason to linger there.
Regrettably, some members felt that they were being patronised, though the presence of three senior officers suggests that this was very far from Rushmoor’s intention. It remains to be seen whether they take heed of our strongly voiced views.