Newbury Town Masterplan is revealed: Read on to find out what is in store
A new footbridge over the canal, towpath drinking, more trees, pop-up events, a bigger town centre – and a lot of tidying up.
Those are just a few of the ideas mooted in the final Newbury Town Masterplan.
More independent businesses, creating parklets (mini green areas), creating more lanes and using empty shop fronts for pop-ups are some of the so-called quick wins in the report.
If adopted, those could be up and running in the next 18 months, including the partial or full closure of the Wharf car park and the temporary installation of large-scale planters and street furniture ahead of a fully-designed remodelling of the Wharf.
The Broadway/ London Road, Cheap Street and Bartholomew Street could also be in for a wash and brush up in the short term.
More than 5,000 people took part in the consultation exercise, and the plan goes before West Berkshire Council’s executive committee on Thursday (February 10).
Out of the 4,095 respondents to the initial public survey, only 182 people wished for the town to stay as it is.
The survey highlighted weaknesses in Newbury, particularly to the make-up and balance of the shopping, cultural and leisure offers, the amount and quality of open/public/green space, and the lack of facilities for younger people.
The top five priorities from the survey include more local and independent shops, cafés and restaurants, more green space and access to the canal, better spaces for public events and festivals, more street furniture and planting.
All this backs up national surveys that show a shift towards an importance of green spaces, al fresco dining and a shift to independent retail.
In forming the plan, Hemmingway Design consultants had to look at local statistics to forecast need.
Newbury has a total population of just over 42,000, which has increased by 19 per cent between 2011 and 2020.
Nineteen per cent of Newbury’s population is aged 65 and over, up 25 per cent since 2011.
Newbury benefits from a strong residential market, with average house prices standing at slightly over £400,000 – £50,000 above the district’s average.
Demand for properties has increased by 15 per cent since July 2020, with the market benefiting from the rise in people moving out of London and other cities within commuting distance of Newbury to take advantage of the increased flexibility of emerging working patterns.
The report authors also conceded that the masterplan needs to recognise the increasing number of people that live within and immediately adjacent to the town centre, and how they are affected by any proposals.
West Berkshire district has a population of around 160,000.
While these areas contain local centres, alongside the town centre of Hungerford, the retail studies show that many residents within this wider rural area look to Newbury for shopping and cultural activities.
The key structural objective of the masterplan is to expand the perceived extent of Newbury town centre.
“This may seem counterintuitive in the face of declining retail demand, but by broadening the leisure, community and cultural ‘experience’ Newbury can attract more visitors, encourage them to stay longer and use the town centre differently,” the report says.
The masterplan places more activity and destinations along the canal, both east and west of Bridge Street.
It encourages more pedestrian flow along the towpath and more people to arrive into the town centre via the canal.
The masterplan therefore puts Bridge Street and the canal firmly at the heart of the town centre.
The Waterside Centre will provide opportunities for café/restaurant and leisure activity to front the towpath.
Further east the proposed extension to the library should create a new destination at the Wharf.
The Wharf proposals are among what survey respondents feel to be the highest priority for Newbury town centre.
Proposals are to lose the car park and create an event space.
Space would be available for temporary street traders when there are no events proposed.
“Finding a new purpose for the Wharf that is not just a big, tarmacked parking- this area is a missed opportunity to connect with the park and create a large, dynamic and peaceful ‘lung’ for the centre of Newbury and doing this will help make Newbury feel ‘grounded and centred’ and stop it feeling so ‘bitty and disconnected’,” said one survey responder.
And west of Bridge Street there is potential to promote safe access to the water for small-scale recreational uses such as canoeing and paddle boarding.
Many of the operators on the eastern side of Market Place rely on space to the rear for outdoor eating and drinking.
The masterplan seeks to support this by creating a series of lanes and small spaces between the rear of the Corn Exchange and the museum.
The plans are split in to the aforementioned short term of 18 months, then medium term of up to five years, then long term of five years and beyond,
A price tag of around £4m has been suggested – although no budget has currently been set aside.
Among the medium-term ideas is one to run a competition to find designer to create a more attractive toilet structure which can also function as ‘public art’ to replace the Wharf public loos.
What about the Debenhams building?
The redevelopment/reuse of the Debenhams building in Parkway also gets a mention.
Plans are for a mixed-use scheme involving pulling back the building lines on to Park Way and West Street to create a more public realm allowing the park to spill over the Park Way.
“Newbury needs to embrace the demand for satellite offices and co-working hubs in a post pandemic world. This will reduce the number of people jumping on a train to London or Reading five days a week. Keep them in Newbury for two to three days a week,” said one survey responder.
The building of the rear of Parkway was cited as blocking the town from the park with one suggestion that the car park should have a green wall to help this.
Improvements to Victoria Park include more of an ‘activity’ zone connected by cycle routes; more trees and enhanced fitness and play areas.
Longer term plans see the pedestrianisation of Northbrook Street, Bartholomew Street and Market Place.
And a parking review to determine if a reduction in parking could enable a new series of lanes to be created, giving more prominence to existing pub gardens and eating areas to the rear of pubs and restaurants fronting Market Place.
A new bridge?
The masterplan action points also include appointing a consultant to determine best place for a pedestrian crossing connecting the Wharf to the Waterside Centre and improved pedestrian option at the ‘American Bridge’.
However, this report has little to no weight in the statutory town planning process.
In order to attract weight, the document must be turned into a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD).
The SPD will enable the district council to apply weight to the objectives and policy guidance within it to successfully implement the vision for Newbury to ensure Newbury is well placed to respond to change for years to come.