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Farnborough town centre in its final death throes

Keith Parkins | 21.04.2008 15:38 | Repression | Social Struggles | London

Farnborough town centre is now little more than a ghost town, a once viable town centre destroyed by a greedy developer, with more than a little help from friends on the local council.

the pretense ... then the reality ....
the pretense ... then the reality ....

derelict demolition site
derelict demolition site

boarded-up shops
boarded-up shops

last remaining dry cleaner
last remaining dry cleaner

closed down pie shop
closed down pie shop

closing down sale
closing down sale

boarded-up shops
boarded-up shops

'There is nothing in front but a flat wilderness of standardization either by Bolshevism or Big Business.' -- G K Chesterton

Farnborough lies southwest of London on the Surrey-Hampshire border, about 30 minutes from central London by train.

Farnborough used to have a viable town centre, a large number of small independent businesses, many family owned, many had been in the town for thirty years a more.

The town centre now lies derelict, little more than a ghost town, destroyed by a greedy developer.

About ten years ago Farnborough town centre was bought by KPI (a Kuwaiti-financed front-company for St Modwen). With the connivance of the local council, known locally as the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor, KPI laid waste to the town centre. Retailers were driven out.

Last summer half the town centre was demolished. No precautions were in place to protect the public. Three members of the public were almost killed by flying debris. The buildings were contaminated with asbestos. No special precautions were taken to remove the asbestos. Asbestos laden dust was everywhere. Everything was carpeted with white dust.

Two weeks ago demolition started at Firgrove Court, a small estate of social housing earmarked for demolition for a car park for a superstore. Garages with asbestos roofs were demolished. No special precautions were taken to deal with the asbestos, it was simply dumped by the roadside, then dumped in an open skip destined for landfill. The contractors lacked protective clothing, not even gloves or dust masks. Asbestos dust was blowing everywhere.

Over the last few weeks, late afternoon early evening, part of the public highway has been unlawfully taped off (unlawful obstruction of a public highway), workmen blast away at the overhead canopies balconies. Dust and muck everywhere. Blowing into the faces of passers by. This goes on until 11pm, sometimes until midnight, disturbing residents in the flats above the shops. Girls in the flats have been freaked out by workmen peering in through their windows late at night. Shopkeepers have opened in the morning to find their shops flooded.

An electric lamp was dislodged from the canopy, left swinging in the breeze all day on its electric flex, waiting to smack someone in the face as they walked by. The shopkeeper was worried, that come nightfall, yobs would smash the lamp, or worse still, smash it through their plate glass window.

The local council was notified, no one turned up, even though only a few minutes walk from their cozy offices, but then it was a cold damp windy day with a high chill factor. The developers were also notified. They did nothing either, other than to assure the shop it was ok as the electric flex was not live!

During the demolition and other work, the remaining shops regularly had their services cut, electricity and telephones cut, access blocked. All of which hits businesses.

A key part of the development was what was called the gateway into the town. It was eventually let to two charity shops, a local hardware shop, and a tacky fast food café, all of which had been forcibly relocated from other parts of the town centre.

Within the last few months, more shops and businesses have pulled out or been driven out. Those that remain are looking for massive rent and rates reductions, else they too will pull out.

A long established estate agent has seen his business ruined as all the shops around closed down. The final straw was to be kicked out of his office in order that it be demolished. He has since been reported as being declared bankrupt. A nearby estate agent like a bloated vulture after carrion has been gorging on the carcass.

The lawyers who were in the offices above, have also gone.

As with the demolition of the town centre last summer, nothing was in place to protect the public passing by on the adjacent road.

There used to be two newsagents, now there are none.

There used to be butchers and bakers, now there are none

There used to be three dry cleaners in town, now there are none.

The one remaining dry cleaner saw his business dwindle as the town centre died. He was then forced out of his premises by the developer. All he now has is a corner in a shopping centre where clothes can be left and picked up, to be cleaned elsewhere.

The dry cleaner and the estate agent were 'helped' out of their premises by having their plate glass windows repeatedly smashed.

The one remaining florist would have long gone were it not for telephone and on-line orders. There is little or no passing trade.

Where there used to be a baker selling bread, filled rolls and cakes, the building was demolished.

In its place an eyesore. A pie shop has opened and closed. JJB Sports, relocated from another part of the town centre, are now closing down.

Two staff at JJB Sports have already been sacked. They were only there for a short time so no compensation. The others are being forced to come in on their day off, made to work until at least 8pm, even though their shift finishes at 6pm. They dare not refuse, for fear, they too will be sacked.

What is quite appalling and degenerating for the shop workers at JJB Sports, is that they are virtually strip searched as they leave the store. The girls find it particular degrading and humiliating. It is nice to know that they are trusted by their employer. It beggars belief that anyone would want to knick the shoddy crap they sell.

JJB Sports are in financial difficulty and are closing down over 70 stores, laying off 800 staff.

When the going gets tough, national and international companies, having destroyed local retailers, have no hesitation in pulling out, leaving behind a retail wasteland. Local retailers, on the other hand, tend to have greater staying power when there is a downturn in the economy.

A chill wind is blowing in from Iceland. Within a matter of days, bank rate has gone up twice, now standing at a high of 15%. The banks have overstretched themselves, having financed the buy-out of the British High Street.

A High Street clothes shop, that only moved in a couple of years ago, has already pulled out.

All that now remains, apart from a derelict demolition site left from last summer are empty and boarded-up shops, a tattoo shop, tacky junk-food takeaways, and of course the ubiquitous charity shops, plus a handful of clone town High Street stores.

The one shop left worth visiting is Book Boyz, a rare example of an independent bookshop. But for how long as they are now reduced to one member of staff?

The discerning shopper goes to North Camp where they can still find a butcher and a baker, though not a candlestick maker.

North Camp is what was up until the 1960s, the original town centre for Farnborough, dating from when the Army moved to Aldershot and Queen Victoria was still on the throne. Local councillors seem to have a nasty habit of destroying local businesses, they destroyed North Camp too. Its heyday was in the 1900s, when its streets were thronged with shoppers. Now its streets are quiet, but it still has many specialist shops. It even has, very rare these days, a quality food shop, The Deli, a shop restored to its Victorian splendor, for which those in the know travel for miles to visit. North Camp also has a very wide range of restaurants.

If people wish to travel further afield, they visit Farnham or Guildford, where they can shop in a pleasant environment and find a wide range of shops.

The one town people avoid like the plague is Aldershot, which like Farnborough, is a failing town centre. It has all the signs of a failing town centre, charity shops, boarded-up shops, junk food outlets, yobs on the streets. It has got so bad in Aldershot that even the charity shops are pulling out!

Both Aldershot and Farnborough, fall under the maladministration of the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor.

The vacant demolition site, the hole at the centre of Farnborough town centre, may one day become a large superstore, facing out of the town. The few remaining shops will be at the rear of the superstore. Firgrove Court is to be demolished to provide a car park for the superstore.

That demolition has already started at Firgrove Court before all the residents are rehoused, is a clear breach of the planning consent.

For at least five years, the developer has been claiming a new town centre is about to be built, starting, summer, autumn, spring, take your pick. Gullible hacks on the Farnborough News, who can't tell the difference between a press release and a news story, but can cut and paste, gleefully report on an exciting new development.

Gullible local councillors do the same, regurgitate verbatim everything, every lie, the developer tells them. In last year's local election, one even used pictures supplied by the developer of the exciting new town centre, carefully omitting to say it was primarily a large superstore facing out of the town, requiring demolition of social housing. One year on, on the ground, an empty demolition site. This year, they are once again claiming lots of new exciting shops, shops whose rent will keep the council tax down! As the shops, if ever built and occupied, will belong to a Kuwaiti-financed developer, it is interesting accounting to say the least to see how these rents will keep the council tax down!

Within the last few weeks gaudy hoardings have appeared showing lots of new shops. A few people have been fooled, those who seem not to have noticed that shops are pulling out and closing down, not moving in and opening up. Those who have looked a little closer at the hoardings, have noticed they are all fake shops with fake names. A clear case of 'passing off', using a well known brand to enhance ones own reputation by association.

The brand names whose brands have been abused, have not failed to notice, and are not amused. They will be taking unspecified action against the developer.

Not satisfied with destroying Farnborough town centre, St Modwen, in collusion with the local mayor (who regularly features in the Private Eye Rotten Boroughs column), and against strong local opposition, are trying to destroy the popular Queen's Market at Upton Park in London.

In Upton Park, St Modwen is known as The Developer from Hell!

Queen's Market explodes the myth that food is cheaper in a superstore. Unlike staff in a superstore, the stallholders know their onions. At the end of the day, there are further bargains to be had, if not fruit and vegetables given away free, as no one likes to see waste. Cheap food in superstores is unhealthy food bulked out with sugar, salt, water, palm oil, cornstarch. Ready-mix ready meals have the same basic ingredients, with a strong seasoning of artificial flavours and colours to give the illusion of choice. The only real choice is the picture on the front. Queen's Market per square foot, generates double the employment of a superstore. Nor, unlike a superstore, does Queen's Market destroy surrounding businesses. Green Street is packed with thriving independent retailers, including at least half a dozen large greengrocers.

Nothing is more depressing and demoralising than shopping in a superstore. Quality food shopping, be it at Queen's Market or The Deli in North Camp (the old part of Farnborough) is by contrast, a pleasure. Queen's Market provides a vibrant atmosphere, cultural diversity, something no superstore can provide, even though it tries to con us with its little deli counters, a shadow of what once may have been or could be.

Planning should determine the best for local communities, not be a deathly embrace with Big Businesses, not an opportunity for local councillors and officials to stick their snouts in the trough and line their pockets.

None of it had to be in Farnborough. The councillors had no excuse. They could have said no. They could have looked at the arguments and alternatives put before them. Instead they did as they always do, voted as instructed by their officials and rubber-stamped what was put before them.

As a consequence, everyone has suffered, many local businesses have been destroyed and a town centre is now a ghost town.

Part way through the destruction of the town centre, businesses groups were allowed to determine the town's future, making explicit what had hitherto been implicit.

Not only was the town centre destroyed, handed on a plate to big business to do with as they pleased, there was even a suspicion that public land was sold on the cheap.

In Farnborough, the local Tories, the ruling group in the the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor, put out a scruffily produced newsletter for the May 2008 local elections bragging that they are responsible for the town centre destruction. If nothing else, demonstrating the extent to which they are in bed with the developer and out of touch with the local community. One councillor, an honourable exception, has been prepared to speak out at what is happening.

It is strange, to be proud of destroying a town centre, driving out of business many local businesses. Local businesses recycle money and wealth within a local economy, national businesses drain it from the local economy. There will be very little employment generated compared with what has been destroyed. There will also be the loss of indirect employment. Local businesses generate employment in other local businesses, plumbers, electricians, lawyers, accountants. National companies bring in outside contractors, use their own law and accountancy firms. The superstore will be a massive traffic generator, its car park will have destroyed 28 perfectly good maisonettes (albeit in need of repair), displaced families from their homes, lead to more job losses elsewhere, its impact felt up to several miles away.

For every pound spent in superstore, 90p is immediately drained out of the local economy.

But then intelligent thinking has never been the hallmark of Rushmoor councillors. Not that they very often think, they are usually content to let themselves be led by the nose by their officials, as they did when they granted planning consent for the destruction of Farnborough town centre.

Three of the councillors who sat on the planning committee that pushed through the planning decision had a vested interest, they sat on the board of Pavilion, the housing association that owns Firgrove Court! They were investigated by the Standards Board for England and found guilty of a very serious offence, the planning consent had to be quashed (to be rubber-stamped later). After nine months of investigation it was found that not only did the three guilty councillors fail to declare a prejudicial interest, not only did they fail to withdraw, they also improperly sought to influence a planning decision. Although found guilty, the Standards Board decided to take no further action as all three had allegedly received bad advice from the Borough Solicitor! All three still remain as Rushmoor Councillors (though did resign from the board of Pavilion), the Borough Solicitor remains in her post. Two of the three guilty councillors now sit on the council's own ethics committee, the local equivalent of the national Standards Board (the husband of one of the guilty councillors also sat on the committee)!

But it does not have to be, it does not have to be big business, corrupt politicians, deciding the future of our towns, dictating to the local community.

It can be, as seen in Curitiba and many other places, the local community determining their own future.

In a small market town in East Anglia, local people said no to big businesses, and now have a thriving town centre.

Saxmundham said no to Tesco, as a result they have a thriving market town, butchers, bakers, fishmongers, that in turn help support local food producers.

Mike Lane has produced an excellent documentary The Regeneration Game, looking at how corrupt local government, developers and housing associations are destroying communities in Liverpool.

He is now looking to produce a new documentary on local community empowerment and the role played by local councils in denying local empowerment. Is local government oppressive?

If we are to have viable, sustainable local communities, town centres that have variety and diversity, we have to move away from the top down approach where communities are dictated to by vested interests, and instead, let local communities determine their own future.

Also read:

Keith Parkins, A sense of the masses - a manifesto for the new revolution

Keith Parkins, Localisation: A Move Away From Globalisation

Andrew Simms, Tescopoly, Constable, 2007

Keith Parkins
- Homepage:


Display the following 9 comments

  1. unbelievable ignorance — Keith
  2. Has the Hasty Tasty gone too? — Simon
  3. Small businesses — Keith
  4. hasty tasty — Keith
  5. Hasty Tasty — Simon
  6. superstores v small stores — Keith
  7. Tumbledown Dick — Keith
  8. Corruption — What`s New
  9. Obviously wrong on so many levels — Clive Thomas
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