A HEALTH hub and supermarket remains part of the vision for Bordon town centre according to a development bigwig.
But don’t expect building work to start before spring 2025 – and it might not be a Morrisons coming to town after all.
The Herald was given an exclusive copy of an interview between Cllr Andy Tree and Robert Smith, head of major disposals at the group responsible for MOD-owned land around Whitehill and Bordon.
Mr Smith said he doesn’t want to see any more land released for housing development until contracts have been issued for a new supermarket and health hub.
Although he sees the facilities as the “next bits of the jigsaw” for the town centre he accepts there has been delays. And when pressed about Morrisons, Mr Smith hinted another retailer could take its place given the volatility of markets...
Councillor Andy Tree: What is the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO)?
Robert Smith: The DIO is responsible for the land owned by the Ministry of Defence around Whitehill & Bordon. This was a military town for around 100 years and the MOD continues to own and train on land around Whitehill & Bordon.
AT: What is the DIO’s relationship with the Whitehill Bordon Regeneration Company?
RS: After the Army withdrew from the barracks, rather than simply sell the site, we decided to hold the asset and contract in a development partner to deliver the regeneration plans that we had collectively designed for the town. In this case that partner is the Whitehill Bordon Regeneration Company (WBRC). Our relationship is governed through a Development Agreement, with WBRC acting as lead – WBRC is a 50/50 joint venture between Taylor Wimpey and Dorchester Group.
DIO owns the land, with WBRC acting as the development manager. They have a right to use a percentage of land for development. There is a programme whereby infrastructure and facilities are delivered in parallel with development. This provides some certainty that the facilities that are planned, will be delivered.
AT: Thank you for that answer and on that note, many people believe that the regeneration project is all about building houses. Are those in power interested in facilities and infrastructure?
RS: To be clear, this is not just about allowing WBRC to build houses. We want to leave a legacy and a big part of that is other facilities, such as the new town centre. I do not wish to see any more land to come forward for housing until we’ve issued contracts to build the new supermarket and health hub. It’s taken a lot of work across the various partners involved to get us this far.
So far we have invested significant sums in variety of facilities to transform this site including the relief road, Bordon Inclosure, Hogmoor Inclosure, Bordon and Oakhanger pavilion, The Shed – which has been a huge success – the Future Skills Centre, BASE, Oakmoor School and the new leisure centre. So there are elements of infrastructure that have already come first.
I hope this reassures residents that we are committed to investing for the long-term.
So far of 2,400 homes have been given outline planning permission, 500 or so have been completed so we still have some way to go along with the town centre plans.
AT: Residents are concerned that progress is slow and deadlines are missed. As a local councillor, and specifically my role is to represent our community, I need to ask these questions about delivery. Can you demand more from WBRC?
RS: Actually, this project is performing well above the levels you can see in comparable projects around the country and we worked through Covid without too much slippage, but yes this year has presented challenges in getting commitment from operators like food stores.
The health hub and the supermarket are the next bits of the jigsaw and we acknowledge and accept there have been delays. However, a couple of years ago we were opening a new facility every few months it seemed, and while we recognise things have slowed, considering the challenges posed by the pandemic, changes in the economy and the rising inflation, we continue to push the project forward.
We did not postpone the final date for opening the Shed, despite this meaning we had to open it in the middle of the pandemic.
However, let me reassure you and the residents you represent that we will hold WBRC to account but they are as committed as we are to maintaining the right pace over this project.
As I said earlier, it is important that the food store and health hub are secured before we go further in terms of housing land releases.
AT: Will that lead to speculative planning applications from other developers for land not owned by the DIO in Whitehill & Bordon Area?
RS: We own the vast majority of the land around Whitehill & Bordon but there may well be other smaller parcels of land not owned by the DIO that may come forward.
AT: When will the town centre be finished?
RS: Our number one priority is to get the first phase of the town centre done. We have invested a considerable sum getting the town centre prepared. We have already begun delivering the services infrastructure as well as the Shed and other facilities. East Hants has completed the Leisure Centre.
Once this phase of the town centre is finished, we will move on to the Mess Hall, which is the exciting next step.
AT: When are we getting a supermarket in Whitehill & Bordon and will it still be Morrisons?
RS: We are fully committed to delivering a supermarket that will be a long-term stable success for the town. The supermarket is a very important part of the town centre regeneration and drives how many people come to the town and to support the local economy.
We have been working with Morrisons for a long period of time, but of course other operators have been showing an interest and we have a responsibility to do what is right for the town and its residents.
The markets have been volatile. The industry went through challenges during lockdown and the financial situation has been difficult. The national chain Wilko is a clear example of that.
Subject to planning permission being granted, we can expect the supermarket and the health hub to start being built once planning permission is granted, targeted for the spring of next year.
AT: Will the DIO find a new home for the youth building, Building 94?
RS: We are conscious that we need to provide something for teenagers and young people.
There is land opposite the skate park that we are looking at, but we need to look at how it will be funded and who will operate it.