A tale of two towns…

The Wokingham Paper - - FRONT PAGE - By GEMMA DAVID­SON gdavid­son@wok­ing­ham­pa­per.co.uk

Last Thurs­day, thou­sands vis­ited Brack­nell for the launch of The Lex­i­con. Wok­ing­ham was empty. If we want our town to thrive, we must do some­thing

LAST Thurs­day, af­ter 20 years in the mak­ing Brack­nell’s new shop­ping cen­tre, known as The Lex­i­con, was opened.

Thou­sands of peo­ple queued out­side shops such as Pri­mark and H&M ready for some open­ing day retail ther­apy. And busi­ness has re­mained brisk ever since.

How­ever, in Wok­ing­ham at the same time, as our pho­tos show, the town cen­tre was in­cred­i­bly quiet with few peo­ple brav­ing rain show­ers to shop or visit the mar­ket.

The leader of Brack­nell For­est Coun­cil, Cllr Paul Bet­ti­son said the com­ple­tion of its re­gen­er­a­tion ‘felt great’.

He told The Wok­ing­ham Pa­per: “I have been work­ing on the project per­son­ally for 20 years, and peo­ple said it wasn’t ever go­ing to hap­pen. I be­lieved that it would hap­pen, I just needed to find a way to make it hap­pen. You could write a book about all the things that came in the way, two re­ces­sions didn’t help. That said, I al­ways be­lieved that it should hap­pen, and if some­thing should hap­pen then in­vari­ably it will, even­tu­ally. It's just a mat­ter of find­ing the right peo­ple and putting to­gether the right team.

“At last the peo­ple of Brack­nell For­est have their own town cen­tre which they should be very proud of, and they have been very pa­tient.

“There’s a great pi­o­neer­ing spirit amongst the Brack­nell peo­ple which started from the first peo­ple who moved out from Lon­don in the late 1950s and 60s, they knew they wouldn't get ev­ery­thing they needed im­me­di­ately, but they had faith. They came out look­ing for a bet­ter life and by and large they got a bet­ter life.

“The old town cen­tre didn't age well, the 1950s and 60s bru­tal­ist con­crete ar­chi­tec­ture wasn’t some­thing we were go­ing to re­vere as time went by, and the con­cept of a 10ft con­crete over­hang be­ing the height of cus­tomer com­fort and con­ve­nience, so they could look in shop win­dows with­out get­ting wet in the rain, was state of the art at the time.

“The prob­lem we have had, that peo­ple in nearby Wok­ing­ham haven't had to over­come, is the fact that be­cause ours is a new town, it was all built over a fouryear pe­riod and so it be­came ob­so­lete over a four-year pe­riod, so it all needed to change.

“In an or­gan­i­cally grown town, like Wok­ing­ham, you can im­me­di­ately iden­tify which street needs re­de­vel­op­ing, but you can also point to the street which only opened last year. We didn’t have that, so we needed to find some­one with the vi­sion and the cash to make the whole thing for us.

“It is a thrilling day for Brack­nell.”

Brack­nell’s Ex­ec­u­tive Mem­ber for Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment and Re­gen­er­a­tion, Cllr Marc Brunel-Walker said: “I think we have been promis­ing this for so many years and now we have de­liv­ered on that prom­ise. There are thou­sands of peo­ple here to­day, peo­ple have been queu­ing since the early hours to get in.

“It com­pletes that miss­ing piece. We’ve al­ways said Brack­nell is a great place to live and to work and to have a fam­ily, but what has al­ways been miss­ing is that heart in the mid­dle of a re­ally good place, not just to shop, but the night time econ­omy too which is re­ally im­por­tant for this town. It’s in­cred­i­ble.”

Lib­eral Demo­crat par­lia­men­tary can­di­date Clive Jones backed our Make It Free To P cam­paign, aimed at help­ing Wok­ing­ham’s re­tail­ers dur­ing the re­gen­er­a­tion works.

He said: “It’s very, very sim­ple: the coun­cil need to get rid of car park charges.

“If they charged £1 for three hours it will en­cour­age peo­ple into the town cen­tre.

“And if they want to make Wokimgham town cen­tre work af­ter they’ve ru­ined it with re­gen­er­a­tion, they should keep the change.”

Let­ters page 16

EMPTY Wok­ing­ham was a ghost town

PACKED The Lex­i­con’s launch day

The Lex­i­con was packed out for its launch day (left), while Wok­ing­ham was empty in com­par­sion. Our pic­tures were taken at lunchtime and have not been ma­nip­u­lated

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