Trashing of Farnborough Town Centre

There are two ways of making fantastic quantities of money very quickly in Britain. The first is to be the director of a privatized utility. The second is to be a property developer who knows how to make the planning system sing to his tune. -- George Monbiot

As I have travelled around Britain, talking to local people and reading about plans for their regions, I have come to see that this is a problem which attends development schemes throughout the nation. Scores of local authorities, whose task is to represent the public interest, appear instead to have been swayed by private imperatives. In some cases the problem has become so grave that planning permission could reasonably be described as being offered for sale to the highest bidder. -- George Monbiot

The council's power to decide which places can be developed and what should be built there is the single most important agent of our quality of life... The quality of an area - whether it provides enough green spaces, attractive views, a vibrant community, safe streets, in other words all the factors which determine whether a place is pleasant and habitable or grim and bleak - depends overwhelmingly on the planning decisions made by the local authority. -- George Monbiot

Supermarket development compromises the economic viability of small independent retailers, increases traffic and destroys the social role that small shops provide in bringing together communities and fostering trust about the products supplied. -- Corporate Watch

Choice? and the destruction of the local: We may be able to buy a myriad of plastic-wrapped ready-meals or twenty varieties of frozen oven chips at six in the morning but as supermarkets take over from the high street, we increasingly have no choice who we give our money to. -- Corporate Watch

All the established businesses have gone. The redevelopment, instead of expanding the town and offering a competitive shopping experience, slashes over 70 retail units to make way for a supermarket that already exists in the town ... Do Sainsbury's really believe that moving a couple of hundred yards from their current location is going to improve trade? -- Peter Newman, Fingz Fashion, Kingsmead, Farnborough

In 1996 there were five empty units in Queensmead, right now there are five left. Is that progress? The whole plan is totally unrealistic. After four years and the destruction of the town centre, all there is to show for it is the loss of over 70 businesses. -- Peter Newman, Fingz Fashion, Kingsmead, Farnborough

According to the planners, who day by day it becomes harder to distinguish from property developers, who describe the trashing of Farnborough town centre as an exciting revitalisation, we are considering the redevelopment of Farnborough town centre. This is Stalinism, George Orwell's newspeak, at its worst.

Before KPI moved in like vultures and destroyed Farnborough town centre, there was no requirement or need for town centre regeneration. Relocating Sainsbury's a few hundred yards, relocating a few smaller retailers around the town centre like pawns on a giant chess board (at great inconvenience and cost to the retailers involved) and driving the few remaining retailers out of town, is not town centre redevelopment, even less is it town centre revitalisation.

The head of the government's urban regeneration task force says there are two ways of regenerating town centres. The first is top down (giving developers what they want) the second is bottom up (listening to what the local community want). Of the two, only the latter schemes are ever successful.

It is claimed that widespread consultation has taken place. Not true. Recently a hand delivered note went around, referring to road alterations on Victoria Road (not the development itself). This is the first notification (I emphasise notification, not consultation) that anyone has received. Those who received the note thought they were being invited to a public meeting to discuss the future of the town. If they were, it would be a first for Farnborough.

Maybe councillors should go round and talk to retailers. Now that would be a novelty. I can count on two fingers the number of councillors who have troubled to do so. Now what a coincidence, is two fingers not what the Council is sticking up to the retailers and the local community?

If it is too much trouble for councillors to walk around the town, then maybe a perusal of the Farnborough News and Surrey-Hants Star for the last four years where they will find in graphic detail the extent of the disaster KPI have been for the town and the strong local opposition to their plans.

Currently, or maybe I should say five years ago (ie before KPI trashed the town), we had choice. We had many small shops (usually independent retailers, the backbone of any town), a large supermarket (ie ASDA) and a medium size supermarket (ie Sainsbury). If the development goes ahead choice will have been almost eliminated: two large supermarkets (ASDA and maybe Sainsbury) and very few remaining shops. These will eventually wither and die as the two major supermarkets battle it out for market share.

Wal-Mart (owners of ASDA) are well known in the USA for turning small towns to dust (they even have a company song celebrating the fact). To date they have not followed this policy in the UK, but a gloves off fight with a rival store in Farnborough will leave no prisoners.

Visit neighbouring Farnham. Many attractive small quality shops, that make shopping in Farnham a pleasure. Compare the quality of the fruit and vegetables in the little green grocer in Downing Street with any local supermarket, the other major difference, apart from quality, is that produce is, whenever possible, sourced from local growers, not flown in from half way around the world or trucked up and down the country. Close by in the same street, an excellent and very popular lunchtime sandwich shop, of which we have nothing of comparable quality in Farnborough. Outside of the retail centre, green areas for relaxation. Then in the evening, small old pubs, excellent restaurants (not greasy national junk food franchises that serve what masquerades as food) or the Bush Hotel, once there was a theatre.

Why would any new retailer wish to come to Farnborough? Even the stalls on the Tuesday market are dwindling.

The reputation of KPI and the manner in which it treats its retailers will put off many.

The only retailer KPI claims to have brought to its new development (on The Mead) is JJB Sports. Is there any kudos in attracting a purveyor of products from sweatshop factories? And if it does move into the new development on The Mead, it is simply relocating a few metres within the town, a relocation forced by the threatened demolition of their existing site.

Christmas is the one time of the year when retailers look forward to their tills rattling and the coffers swelling. Not in Farnborough. Every season of goodwill KPI let retail units out at low rent to outsiders, here today, gone tomorrow, who cream off the Christmas trade. Just one of many examples of how KPI look after the Farnborough retail base.

Not that Rushmoor is any better. The last two French Markets were a disaster and retailers made it very clear they wished to see no more. What did we find, the first week of November 2002 and a French Market is back, no notice, no consultation. Unlike the Farmers Market which everyone welcomes as it recycles money within the local economy, the French Market extracts money from the local economy, as for that matter do High Street names. Unlike the Farmers who have to pay for their pitch, the French get a free ride.

The supermarket will create jobs. Actually no. Large supermarkets result in a net decrease in local employment, ie they destroy jobs. On average, every time a new supermarket opens 276 jobs are lost, the effect is felt up to 15 miles away. £50,000 is spent in a small shop to generate one job, it needs £250,000 to be spent in a superstore to create one job. Supermarkets are also major traffic generators.

In the short period between 1989/91 and 1994/96 the distance people travelled to go shopping increased by 14%, partly as a result of a decrease in choice, partly as a result of 'free' supermarket parking. This is not just a phenomena of out-of-town shopping, a survey in Inner London showed that just 8% of people visited high street shops by car, whereas 60% used their car to visit a Sainsbury superstore in a similar area. Supermarkets use 'just in time' for delivery to keep stock costs down, but this means more lorry deliveries, as those who are disturbed by lorry deliveries night and day to ASDA can testify. ASDA and Sainsbury are both members of the Freight Transport Association and lobby hard for no restrictions on 24-hour lorry deliveries, no restrictions on weight or size, and no restrictions on speed limits on lorries.

Is there a need for a second large supermarket, or even the demand? Cast your minds back. Farnborough used to have several supermarkets in town. They went, they went because Farnborough could not support them, and that was before we had ASDA and before we had the large out-of-town stores.

There are several large stores nearby, ASDA within Farnborough (a few hundred metres away from the planned superstore), Tesco at Aldershot, Tesco, M&S and Sainsbury only a little way north of Farnborough. Do we need more?

Supermarkets are becoming one stop shops. This is most noticeable in the north of England, but we are starting to see it in the south. One stop shops to serve all your needs. In addition to selling a lot more than food, ASDA also sells clothes and CDs, and having the town's only Post Office (which had a marked detrimental effect on the southern end of the town centre), ASDA now has an optician, newsagent, camera shop, chemist, film processing and snack bar. The film processing in the ASDA store is one of the most successful in the country, the staffing has been unable to keep up with the demand. It is reasonable to assume everyone is not taking more pictures, therefore this has been taken from other retailers, good for ASDA, whose profits are relocated to USA, not so good for the retailers who lose out. We have already lost an independent photographic/art shop from Farnborough.

Farnborough must be one of the few towns not to have a baker. We used to have more than one. There used to be five butchers in the town centre, now there are none.

In Leominster, the opening of a Safeway in the town saw trade in the small retailers drop by 30%.

The future trend of supermarkets is to relocate the high street within the store. For Farnborough there will be little left to relocate.

A supermarket can be rejected on the grounds of damage to the local economy. The effect is not just on the local town but also on the surrounding area. Surrey Heath have already lodged an objection on these grounds. Details of their case is noticeably absent from the planning agenda. Councillors kept in the dark about unpalatable facts when they don't support the developer.

The Competition Commission has recommended that an application for a new large store should be referred to the Office of Fair Trading if within 15 minutes drive of another large store. Has such a referral been made?

The superstore, and for that matter the office space and the so-called leisure facilities, will face away from the town centre. Far from adding to the cohesion and revitalisation of the town centre this orientation will deliberately accelerate its decline.

The Police wish to see 'crime free design' with potential crime spots designed out. Is that why we are having the open space between the Old Post Office site and the Pizza Hut reduced to a muggers alley?

Housing people like battery hens (and even battery hens are soon to get their freedom under an EU directive) is a failed social experiment. Other local authorities are pulling down their blocks of flats. These proposals include housing people in squalid shoe boxes in a multi-storey block of flats. A housing project of which even old Joe Stalin and his Soviet Bloc comrades could be proud.

Firgrove Court is not being relocated to the old Solartron site (we are not comparing like with like). Contrary to the false statement in the agenda, Firgrove Court has recreational open space. What we have is a community arranged around what is almost a village green, a quiet, traffic-free open green space. Do planners ever get out of the office and view these places, talk to the people whose lives they are quite happy to destroy?

The residents of Firgrove Court are being forcibly relocated to inferior accommodation on an inferior site to make way for a car park. The new site will be subjected to horrendous traffic disturbance as customers go to a regional B&Q superstore, they will have 24-hour a day lorry deliveries, floodlighting will rob them of night time. Victoria Road will be subjected to the same traffic problems. Those relocated are further from the town centre.

Destruction of these homes and the threat it poses to those living there is a clear breach of the Human Rights Act. No mention of this in the agenda. As the appropriate authority, Rushmoor has a duty to protect these rights, it is a criminal offence to fail to do so.

To date, the proposed new homes on the old Solartron site, lack even planning consent. Firgrove Court residents are being asked to sign away their housing rights to Firgrove Court when there is no where for them to go.

If 30 dwellings are to be built on the old Solartron site, it should be additional housing stock, not inferior replacement for Firgrove Court. This raises big questions re maladministration by Pavilion who seem to be failing in their objectives as a Housing Association. What other Housing Association would countenance destruction of good housing stock?

The development will result in significant loss of open space within the town centre. We have already lost part of the green park behind the library, open space between Pizza Hut and old Post Office and part of The Mead. Moving shop fronts forward, will lose even more open space from the town centre.

Where is better placed to meet PPG3 (Housing) 'access by non-car modes to jobs, shops and other services' than Firgrove Court? It also meets disability access criteria (ground floor flats), and putting people before cars. A site earmarked for destruction for a car park to serve a supermarket!

Do we need yet more office space? If we do, it should be of small scale that sits above retail space. There could be an argument for raising the existing street level, ie retain the shops and highway, raise by one level - shops, office, flats.

PPG3 (housing) requires local authorities to identify empty housing and bring it into use before expanding housing onto new sites (eg Innisfail and Manor Park, both in Aldershot), to bring dilapidated property into a good state of repair. Most of the flats above the shops are uninhabited, most are in such an appalling state of repair as to be uninhabitable.

Do we need more so-called leisure facilities in the town, 'leisure' at a price for those who can afford to throw their money away, whilst our open spaces, affordable to all, are being sold to the highest bidder? The worst example to date being the sordid affair of Manor Park in Aldershot, although there are numerous examples in Farnborough.

Our planners should be defenders of public space, not enablers to developers. Key decisions about how we live, how we spend our leisure, are being taken by people who hope to profit from our exclusion, whores to the highest bidder.

It is claimed that the plans meet government planning guidelines PPG1, PPG3 (housing), PPG6 (town centres and retail development) and PPG13 (transport). Curiously these are not attached as an annex. Could it be because if councillors were to read these various planning guidelines (and I recommend they do), they would soon note that far from meeting the guidelines the proposals are in serious breach on numerous counts, eg loss of open space, protection, retention, enhancement and increase of open space, mixed retail and other use development (we currently have this with sizeable flats above the shops, each with their own self-contained patios, not multi-layered claustrophobic shoe boxes), sustainable transport which minimises the use of cars.

Contraventions: loss of open space, loss of extensive green space, failure to be sustainable (destruction of a housing estate to build a car park), failure to match existing street scene, development not sequential, car parks for exclusive single use (not for all town centre users), place the needs of people before cars in designing the layout of residential developments, seek to reduce car dependence by planning for mixed use, facilitating greater walking and cycling, promote good design in new housing developments to create attractive, high-quality living environments where people will choose to live, re-introduce housing to town centres, put the needs of people and communities before those of the car, encourage housing types and sizes which are currently underprovided, such as for single-person households, elderly people, people with disabilities etc.

This list is only a small sample of the contraventions for illustration, not completeness. I urge councillors to read the guidelines and compare with what is before them on the agenda.

Do we want an evening economy? I suggest councillors visit Guildford on a Friday night and explore Bridge Street, then return on the last two trains to North Camp. They will then be able to experience at first hand the night-time economy. Whether they will arrive home in one piece is another matter.

The claims that the development will meet shopping, leisure and service needs of the local community, that it will revitalise a near lifeless corpse, are unfounded aspirations, not facts, the planners simply parroting what the developers want them to say. Or in the local vernacular, bullshit.

Such claims might have some validity if there had been extensive consultations with the local community.

Guildford, which unlike the town centres under the maladministration of Rushmoor (ie Farnborough and Aldershot), has a thriving town centre. An exercise is now taking place, that is looking at the future of the town. Unlike Farnborough, widespread consultation is taking place, including holding public meetings.

The small retailers, sadly few are now left, have repeatedly said the development is not wanted. Why are they not being listened to? At a meeting with Rushmoor chief executive Andrew Lloyd (also present Patrick Kirby) early this year, the only meeting to have ever taken place (and requests for further meetings have been refused), retailers made it very clear they were not happy with the current situation. The points they raised are curiously absent from the planning agenda.

Residents of Firgrove Court have said the development is not wanted. Why are they not being listened to? After all it is only their homes that are being destroyed, a mere inconsequential detail if it stands in the way of a property developer.

The few remaining shoppers, tell the few remaining retailers, the development is not wanted. They too are not heeded.

The KPI vision of Farnborough town centre will be a very strange place, a town centre lacking both retailers and shoppers. But not to worry, Aldershot tourist centre will be offering short breaks for shoppers from Basingstoke, the ideal break to visit a building site, what your town could be if run (or should it be ruined) by Rushmoor.

A potential cycle route through the town, running between Queensmead and ASDA, a north south route extending the approach from the south that ends at the Library, through to the Station, has been effectively wrecked by the development on The Mead, which has also resulted in loss of public space.

There is a desire for stronger links between the Library and the town centre. Why therefore reduce a well frequented highway to a narrow muggers alley?

Victoria Road is already badly congested with traffic. KPI will make a bad situation worse, and that is before B&Q overload the road. Have any measurements taken place of air quality along Victoria Road? KPI, together with B&Q, can only lead to deteriorating air quality along this road.

Many of the few remaining retailers are not paying their rent. Not because they are on a rent strike, though they would be well justified if they were, but because they no longer have the income coming in through the door. They are hanging on for Christmas. After the New Year they will be gone. We will then see town centre meltdown.

Of the High Street names, several are the worse performing in their groups. Maybe an entry in the Guinness Book of Records should be applied for. Why therefore would any more move into such an unrewarding retail environment?

Do we want more High Street names? Every grotty town centre looking like every other grotty town centre. Quality town centres with a rich retail environment are those that lack High St names, those where quality and service matter.

How many years have KPI had to get their act together? It must by now be approaching five. In that time they have still not been able to supply sufficient details for the determination of this planning application. KPI should be told to go back to the drawing board, preferably one as far away as possible from Farnborough, and the entire scheme looked at again from scratch with full public consultation.

KPI have been an unmitigated disaster for Farnborough. They have successfully emptied the town of shoppers and retailers. Will turning the northern half of the town into one large demolition zone improve matters? The Mead and the old Post Office site are already driving people away. For the short lived card shop at the southern end, the last straw was being on a building site. Does anyone seriously believe KPI can attract new retailers to the town when their record is one of driving retailers away, when they have not been able to lease their existing retail units in what are jokingly described as a prime retail location?

Why worry about Al-Qaeda when Kuwaiti-funded KPI can do the job for you. It will take years to recover from the damage KPI have inflicted on Farnborough.

Noticeable by its absence from the planning agenda: an environmental impact assessment, a retail impact assessment, a traffic impact assessment. More than sufficient grounds for deferment.

The New Economics Foundation should be invited to make an economic impact assessment of the proposed development.

What guarantee is there that any retailer is interested in moving into the northern end of the town centre? Sainsbury's have expressed an interest, nothing more. Do councillors need reminding of the extent to which they were misled by KPI that they had a cinema operator for the car park at the southern end of the town centre? How many years has KPI had planning consent for a bar/cinema complex on the car park? To date, no cinema operator has shown the slightest interest in coming to Farnborough. With KPI's track record we are likely to be left with the worst of all possible worlds, a demolition site left derelict for years. Look how long the old Post Office site has been left derelict.

It is time for councillors to act for the local community. To stand up and say no to further destruction of our town centre.

We are not dealing with the location of a garden shed. The proposal to give broad brush approval for the details to be decided in secret between the chairman and the head of planning, is not acceptable.

The plans put forward by KPI have nothing to do with revitalising the town or serving the needs of the local community. They have everything to do with maximising return for offshore Arab investors.

The recommendation by the planners to approve the KPI plans has absolutely nothing to do with revitalising the town centre or meeting the needs of the local community, it has everything to do with delivering a development opportunity for KPI.

The plans from KPI put before the committee represent the wholesale destruction of the town centre. These plans must be REJECTED.

Manor Park, Farnborough Airport, Farnborough town centre. These are just the tip of the iceberg. The Audit Commission must be brought in to investigate the planning department.

Planning documents

This document



Assessment of the Performance of Rushmoor Borough Council in the Matter of the Proposed Development of the Manor Park Annexe, Ample, 24 October 2002

Battle in store? A discussion of the social impacts of the major supermarkets, Sustain, 2000

Wendell Berry, Conserving Communities [in Jerry Mander & Edward Goldsmith (eds), The Case Against the Global Economy, Sierra Club Books, 1996]

Rebecca Chard, 'Councillors were misled', Aldershot Mail, 22 October 2002

Checkout Chuckout!, Corporate Watch and The Land Is Ours, July 2002

Simon Coughlin, Manor Park battle nears end, Aldershot Mail, 29 October 2002

Simon Coughlin, Green light for housing, The Rush, 7 November 2002

Martin Creasy, A shopping state of affairs, Aldershot Mail, 29 October 2002

Martin Creasy, Councillor's fear for local shopping, Farnborough Mail, 29 October 2002

Martin Creasy, Tories hitting back in town centre shops row, Farnborough Mail, 29 October 2002

Detailed Analysis of the Report No PLN0286 to the Members of the Development Control Committee, Ample, October 2002

Development Control Committee's vote on the Manor Park Annexe site 30/10/02, Ample, October 2002

Richard Douthwaite, Short Circuit: Strengthening Local Economies for Security in an Unstable World, Green Books, 1996

Eating Oil: Food Supply in a Changing Climate, Sustain, 2001

Corinna Hawkes and Jacqui Webster, How supermarkets destroy jobs, Corporate Watch journal, Spring 2000

Tim Lang and Hugh Raven, From Market to Hypermarket: Food Retailing in Britain, The Ecologist, July/August 1994

Caroline Lucas, Isn't there another route we could take? ... towards a sustainable transport strategy for the South-East, The Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament, September 2002

Caroline Lucas and Colin Hines, Time to replace globalisation, The Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament, October 2001

Chris Maile, Campaign for Planning Sanity, Corporate Watch journal, Spring 2000

Market traders are the business, Farnborough News, 1 November 2002

George Monbiot, Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain, Macmillan, 2000

George Monbiot, High street chains of woe: The superstores have all but destroyed the food economy, The Guardian, 12 October 2000

George Monbiot, Buying up Britain, The Ecologist, November 2000

George Monbiot, Brecon Reckoning, The Ecologist, December 2000/January 2002

Lucy Nichol, How can planning help the local food economy? A guide for planners, School of Planning, Oxford Brookes University, 2001

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Secker & Warburg, 1949

Keith Parkins, Localisation: A Move Away From Globalisation, November 2000

Keith Parkins, Trashing of Farnborough Town Centre, UK Indymedia, 11 November 2002

Keith Parkins, Trashing of Farnborough Town Centre, UK Indymedia, 14 November 2002

Hugh Raven, Tim Lang and Caroline Dumonteil, Off Our Trolleys?, Institute for Public Policy Research, 1995

Mike Roberts, How will the Blackwater Valley compete with Festival Place?, Surrey-Hants Star, 31 October 2002

Andy Rowell, Suckers, The Ecologist, September 2000

Rushmoor planning report PLN0290, Rushmoor, 11 November 2002

What's wrong with Supermarkets, Corporate Watch, April 2002

This report is to be placed in full before the planning committee. Failure to do so will be treated as a serious breach of the Human Rights Act.
Surrey-Hants ~ Farnborough
(c) Keith Parkins 2002 -- November 2002 rev 2