The Herald has been on a mission this week to discover when the first shops and restaurants are likely to open at Brightwells Yard – and we have an answer (sort of)...

The opening of the new REEL Cinema at Brightwells Yard next Friday (February 2) has raised hopes that more openings may soon follow. 

But the tight-lipped trio of developer Crest Nicholson, investor Surrey County Council and landowner Waverley Borough Council are keeping schtum on other new arrivals.

There has been some movement this week – with a location now confirmed for the new Nando’s restaurant three doors up from the cinema and plans afoot to subdivide the former M&S Food unit into three separate commercial premises.

Coppa Club are confirmed to be opening a restaurant at Brightwell House once its refurbishment is complete, and the Herald understands Heaven's Kitchen is set to relocate its East Street, Farnham restaurant to Brightwells.

Also rumoured to be coming to Brightwells are Charters estate agents, Jetts gym, Franco Manca, Pret A Manger, a dentist and a nail salon.

But the REEL Cinema remains the only commercial unit with a set opening date – screening its first films next Friday, February 2 – despite many of Brightwells’ 25 shop units and eight restaurants appearing almost complete and ready for tenants.

The Herald understands those businesses who have signed pre-lets for the development are yet to be given ‘fitting out’ dates – with some even approaching the Herald for updates.

But the most revealing answer on opening dates came in an interview with the director of REEL Cinema, Sunil Suri, who confirmed his “understanding” that no further units will open until late in the first quarter or the second quarter of 2024.

That means no further shops, restaurants or other commercial tenants are likely to open at Brightwells until at least April.

Waverley Borough Council has also confirmed there is “no confirmed date” for it to take possession of Brightwells’ new 183-space multi-storey car park from Crest, which is currently open only to residents.

Instead, REEL is urging customers to park at Riverside, Central or South Street, where a new staircase connecting the revamped 210-space Sainsbury’s car park to the development site is also incomplete after some 15 months of works.

Double yellow lines are to be painted in Threadneedle Road, connecting the development to Dogflud Way, ahead of the cinema's opening day to prevent problem parking.

So what is causing the latest delays? Why is REEL Cinema opening its doors more than three months before anybody else?

Crest Nicholson has not yet responded to the Herald's questions.

And Surrey County Council, which agreed in 2016 to hand over around £30 million to Crest in exchange for a long lease on the commercial element of Brightwells, gave little away in its response.

In 2017, the county council confirmed its investment was conditional on receiving a higher income from the rent of the commercial units than the interest it would pay on a loan to make the finance possible.

So could soaring interest rates be to blame?

Asked if this condition was now holding up the development, unsurprisingly the county council refused to reveal the conditions of its investment.

But it did reveal its "total" investment in Brightwells is included in this year’s budget, as part of a £30m pot of cash for “investment in new assets within Surrey” – indicating its investment is a long way short of the near-£60 million rumoured.

A Surrey County Council spokesperson said: "Brightwells Yard is an important long-term investment for Surrey County Council. Our interest isn’t just financial, it’s a regeneration scheme to support a vibrant and growing local economy in Farnham which benefits the whole town now and into the future.

“That’s why the council is pleased that the Reel cinema is opening shortly. It is a demonstration of the progress being made towards the centre’s full opening this year. This is supported by works to upgrade and improve the appearance of East Street, which will being taking place this spring as the project moves towards practical completion.

“The details of the agreements with Crest Nicholson are covered by commercial confidentially, but – as with any project like this - they are regularly reviewed with partners to ensure the project continues to offer value for money for the taxpayer.

“However, paragraph 2.5 of the council’s Capital, Investment and Treasury Management Strategy 2023/24, highlights that the council is allocating £30 million for ‘investment in new assets within Surrey’.

"This includes the council’s full financial contribution for Brightwells Yard alongside other investments. This can be viewed here: Item 5 - Annex F and G - Capital Investment and TM Strategy 23-24.pdf (”

So no concrete answers – but at least after two decades of delays there is plenty of new concrete at Brightwells, ready to be transformed into shops, restaurants and other businesses in coming months...