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'Unambitious' Newbury town centre masterplan needs more pedestrianisation, say councillors

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NEWBURY town councillors have labelled a draft masterplan on the improvement of the town centre “unambitious” and accused it of ignoring “two elephants in the room”.

A ‘vision’ commissioned by West Berkshire Council and put together by consultant HemingwayDesign was released at the end of June, focusing on ways to improve Newbury in a post-pandemic era.

Suggestions included a new footbridge over the canal between Bridge Street and the American bridge to link different parts of town together, transforming the waterfront with cafes and restaurants, converting Park Way road into a civic street and increasing the number of independent businesses in the town.

Northbrook Street. (49163293)
Northbrook Street. (49163293)

While councillors welcomed many of the suggestions – such as making much greater use of the wharf area – they zeroed in on the lack of extended pedestrianisation, which is a target of the majority Liberal Democrat town council.

Northbrook Street and Market Place are currently pedestrianised from 10am until 5pm.

Speaking in a town council planning and highways committee meeting on Monday, David Marsh (Green, Wash Common) said: “It’s got some good things in, but I was really disappointed with and baffled by the omission of pedestrianisation.

Market Place. (49163296)
Market Place. (49163296)

“Every single thing they come up with is either impossible to realise with the traffic there or would be much better and much more easily realised without the traffic.

“The point is made by the fact that anyone can walk down Northbrook Street between 10am and 5pm and see how much better it is. It’s absolutely obvious.”

Vaughan Miller (Lib Dem, East Fields) said: “It’s a glaringly obvious omission of this document, the lack of extended pedestrianisation as a recommendation – at the very least into the evenings.

Northbrook Street. (49163273)
Northbrook Street. (49163273)

“I just want to emphasise how unambitious they’ve been in terms of their language, as far as setting objectives which aren’t achievable without further pedestrianisation.”

The councillors also accused the masterplan of being quiet on the proposed redevelopment of the Kennet Centre, which will see the centre redeveloped with 402 homes, 5,355 m2 of office space, 2,413 m2 of lettable flexible commercial space and a two-storey car park extension.

The scheme has attracted criticism for its size, with parts of the development reaching 11-storeys high.

Mr Miller said there were two elephants in the room – Eagle Quarter and pedestrianisation.

He continued: “The section on Eagle Quarter is almost a contradictory statement.

“It’s all about the height – that should be reduced by at least 40 to 50 per cent.

“They’re afraid to address the elephant in the room. There’s two elephants.”

Jo Day (Lib Dem, Speenhamland) focused on a line of the masterplan which says the key issue for the scheme will be “whether it can create sufficient development value whilst respecting the historic character of the town centre”.

Mrs Day said: “That makes me feel very uneasy.

“It makes me think if we want a development, we’ve got to pander to their requirement for more profit at the expense of the nature of Newbury town centre and I object to that.”

Gary Norman (Lib Dem, Wash Common) added: “I agree, it has the emphasis wrong.

“It’s saying the main point is the development value and everything else is secondary.

“You need development value but you have to decide what you want the town to look like first, and then work within that framework.”

A public consultation on the masterplan is open until tomorrow (Friday).

To view the masterplan, visit https://bit.ly/2U2X0ZG

To take part in the consultation, go to https://hemingwaydesign.typeform.com/to/A8axFfMK

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