Bricks & Mortar: How much longer must Farnham residents suffer Brightwells delays?

By David Howell   |   Planning and property correspondent   |
Wednesday 16th March 2022 7:00 am
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Brightwell House, the once-attractive 18th century Grade II-listed town house at the heart of the development, is currently receiving the ‘Crest Nicholson treatment’
Brightwell House, the once-attractive 18th century Grade II-listed town house at the heart of the development, is currently receiving the ‘Crest Nicholson treatment’ (David Howell )

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I WAS lucky enough to be invited to talk to members of the Alice Holt Women’s Institute in Rowledge last month. What a lovely group of ladies. There must have been 40 or so who attended their meeting, all very eager to know more about the Brightwells development.

Numbers

By way of introduction I gave a brief overview of the development in numbers. 9,814 sq m of retail, that’s one and a third football pitches, 239 flats, a six-screen cinema and 426 car parking spaces. Allowing one car parking space per flat, that results in 187 spaces for the shops and cinema or one space for every 50 square metres of shop or restaurant space. Not exactly extravagant!

Remember the Dogflud car park had 227 spaces without having to support any shops on the Brightwells site.

Retail’s names

I encouraged the WI members to interrupt me with questions and, I must say, there was general concern at what is happening to their town. I talked through the retailers’ names we know, those which have withdrawn, those that remain in the running and those I think have taken, or are taking, space. There were some gasps when I spoke of what I had heard from several sources – that tenants are being offered a period of two years rent free as an inducement.

Until quite recently, a three-month rent free period was considered a generous offer.

The model

The ladies commented on the huge scale and height of the buildings, and reference was made to the model, constructed long after the plans were approved, rather than at an early stage by the applicant, the architects or the council, as party to the development.

This would have allowed residents to understand what was proposed and what really hit home was how poorly the whole episode had been communicated.

There were more than 5,800 objections to the proposals in 2008. Imagine how many more there would have been had everyone understood the sheer scale of the development.

Cannot be undone

One thing the model demonstrated was the height of the buildings and how they dwarfed Grade II listed Brightwell House.

Farnham has lost its individuality, its scale, and precedents have been set which cannot be undone.

Chasm-like

Someone commented on the chasm-like alleyways and the worry they would become unsafe routes at night for many residents.

Opening August 2021

I talked about the time scale for completion, currently November 2022, we think. We weren’t told the year when it was last reported.

M&S had publicised opening in August 2021, so only 15 months late on their already-delayed opening.

Like many other residents, there was a general feeling of looking forward to shopping in M&S.

We await events

Crest’s original programme had them completing all the housing shortly, spring 2022, the commercial units spring last year, 2021, the cinema summer last year, 2021. We await events…

Time, budget & quality

One thing I was taught at the start of my career was to be on time, be on budget and, lastly, make sure the quality of the work is uncompromised.

So, on time – one wonders when they will finish.

On budget – I very much doubt it, and we are the ones that will be picking up the tab.

Uncompromised quality – from what I have seen and illustrated in articles before, no way. Parts of the development we are seeing are indicating a significant dumbing down of the approved proposals, not to mention the poor selection of some components and materials. It is truly a sad state of affairs.

How many years

Providing an illustrated summary of the history of the development made me think of the period that we, the residents of Farnham, have suffered as a result of this development unwanted by so many.

The Regal cinema closed in 1985, 37 years ago. The last performance at the Redgrave was in 1999, 23 years ago. The bowling green closed in 2007, 15 years ago. And The Marlborough Head closed six years ago.

Held to account

The fact that Surrey are investing £50 million in the scheme prompted an inevitable response and the question arose as to whether the councillors who promoted and allowed the development to be approved should be held to account.

Or, indeed, the Waverley planning officers.

Who pays for the delays?

Last week the Herald reported the development’s completion has effectively been delayed by two years.

Had some explanation or apology been forthcoming from Crest Nicholson, or in fact Surrey County Council, I am sure it would have been published.

Nothing was. Also, there is the fact that existing businesses are being enticed out of the town centre, for example Lion & Lamb Yard. The response from Crest was “all prospective tenants were offered market rent”. Offered, but what deal did they accept?

Thinking about that delay, every contractor I have ever worked for or with would be charging for ‘Preliminaries’; costs of setting up and maintaining the site. So, portacabins, cranes, power, lighting, security.

On a project this size that would be hundreds of thousands of pounds a year. The cost of the access bridge alone will probably be thousands a month.

Who is going to pay for these charges ? I fear it will be us, but I will ask the question and get back to you.

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