A NEW town-centre shopping, food and leisure complex, packed with independent retailers and producers, skilled tradesmen, craft-makers, creatives and entertainers is set to open in 2021 – not at Farnham’s ever-struggling Brightwells Yard scheme, but a short trip down the A325 in Bordon.

The Shed is set to open at the heart of Whitehill & Bordon’s new town centre this Easter – and a host of new tenants were announced by the Whitehill & Bordon Regeneration Company last week.

These range from a bicycle hire shop to an arts-and-crafts store, artisan brewery, Dylan’s Ice Cream, Thai, Japanese and Mexican eateries – the latter being run by Farnham’s ‘Taco brothers’ James Rolfe and Rupert Barter.

Meanwhile, a full 17 years after Crest Nicholson was awarded the contract to construct Brightwells in Farnham, Waverley Borough Council’s head of planning, Andy Mac-Leod, gave another gloomy update to councillors on December 15 – reiterating the council’s “concern” that just two of the scheme’s 25 retail units have been filled prior to its own mooted opening in July.

Mr MacLeod added Crest are “talking to a great number of people” and “express every confidence they will have sufficient tenants” in July.

But he also warned that, while Farnham town centre was previously faring better than most equivalent UK towns in terms of empty shops, “unfortunately the Covid situation has made this quite a bit worse and we’re now about average, with something like 20 closed shops”.

“That’s something of a concern in terms of getting extra tenants for Brightwells,” he said.

With Bordon’s rival town-centre development looming large, The Farnham Society has called on Waverley and Crest to quit coveting the Covid-hit national chains, and instead follow Bordon’s example in creating a new centre for independents in Farnham.

David Howell, chairman of the society’s planning committee, said: “The society is delighted Whitehill & Bordon town centre is effectively following the same concept we have suggested for Farnham’s Brightwells.

“We have sought and have encouraged the concept of more community-driven ideas and independent outlets which are different from those supplied by so many other clone towns.

“Like some other towns’ new retail developments, Brightwells has been constructed on the periphery of the existing retailing area so it is critical there is connectivity for visitors and shoppers between the two retail centres.

“Having a grouping of specialist shops or permanent internal stalls offering artisan merchandise of exceptional quality, together with businesses providing unique experiences, is exactly what Farnham needs, not the repetitive nationals that so many shopping centres house.

“There is a unique opportunity for Farnham here. The developers of Whitehill & Bordon town centre have taken the leap, we hope Crest Nicholson and Surrey will, building in the essential connectivity to bring the town together.”

The Herald approached Crest Nicholson and Surrey County Council, which is funding Brightwells’ retail element, for comments.