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More shops to close in Farnborough town centre

Keith Parkins | 23.06.2008 15:14 | Repression | Social Struggles | South Coast

Several shops in Farnborough town centre closed or announced their closure in the first half of the year. More shops are now closing down. If the trend continues, soon there will be nothing left of what was once a viable town centre with a wide range and diversity of shops.

Jean Jean closing down sale
Jean Jean closing down sale

A decade ago, St Modwen, via a Kuwaiti-financed front-company KPI, bought Farnborough town centre. They have spent the last ten years laying waste to the town centre, many retailers have been driven out of town or into bankruptcy, family businesses that have been in the town for years have ceased trading. Last summer half the town centre was demolished, leaving an empty and unsafe demolition site. Firgrove Court, a small estate of social housing, is to be demolished to make way for a supermarket car park, the few remaining tenants are expected to be kicked out of their homes next month.

Farnborough is now a ghost town, boarded-up shops, one huge demolition site. Even the charity shops are leaving or thinking of leaving. One charity shop has already left, another may be on its way out as the money it raises is simply going in rent to St Modwen with little left over to support its charitable aims.

In the first six months of this year, several shops closed down or announced their intention to close down. More are now going.

Retailers should be seeing a massive cut in their rents to reflect the damage St Modwen has done to their trading position, instead, St Modwen is imposing massive rent increases.

Jean Jean, an independent family businesses that has traded in the town for 25 years is closing down and will be gone by August. They are being forced out by an extortionate rent increase. The owner has decided to call it a day and take early retirement. The rent increase was the last straw.

Jean Jean is an Aladdin's cave of top quality jeans. All going at bargain prices in a closing down sale.

In addition to Jean Jean, two more clothes shops, this time High Street names, are closing, one is expected to close down in August, the other January 2009. A charity shop may also be pulling out if it does not get a rent reduction. Several other shops are also likely to pull out if they do not see big rent reductions.

It therefore beggared belief when last month the local comic splashed across its front page that Farnborough was on the up, that shoppers were returning. And it was not even April Fool's Day! But to long suffering retailers and the few remaining shoppers who have not voted with their feet and taken their custom elsewhere, it was a sick joke. The claimed turnaround in fortune was based on the claim by KPI/St Modwen that footfall, ie the people on the street, was up by a little over 1% for the first quarter of the year. This is statistical noise, and ignores the fact that Easter this year was early, and thus was not comparing like with like. Had footfall risen by 100% it would still be insignificant as 100% of not a lot is still not very much!

Walk through the town centre after lunchtime and the streets are empty, and when there are people about, they are not, as several retailers have pointed out, spending.

Last year the local rag ran a similar story, claiming that the long-waited redevelopment of Farnborough town centre was about to start. A story the rag has been running every few months for at least five years! The tale a year ago was that by September 2008 retail units would be available just in time for Christmas shopping 2008. It is now June 2008, and nothing has been started. The story last month was that the shops would be open in time for Christmas shopping 2009!

No development is likely to happen anytime soon, as St Modwen has recently filed a planning application to increase the height of one of their blocks by several floors.

Maybe one day the juvenile hacks at the local rag will realise real journalism involves slightly more than cut and paste a developer's press release and regurgitate as a news story. They might even get off their backsides, do a bit of investigating and report facts, rather than as they do at present, act as the public relations arm of big businesses and local government.

Democracy can only function where there is a rigorous fourth estate. In Farnborough there is neither.

Farnborough once had a viable town centre. Before KPI/St Modwen trashed the town, it was not in need of regeneration, now it is on its knees, giving out its last dying breath.

If any redevelopment ever does take place on the empty demolition site, it will be a large superstore facing out of the town which will kill off what little retail remains in the town. This in a town centre where there is already a large superstore facing out of the town. Above the superstore will be several floors of yuppie flats for sale. Ideal for yuppies, tumble out of bed, a few minutes walk to Farnborough Station, 30 minutes to Waterloo on a fast train. Firgrove Court, an estate of 28 maisonettes, social housing, is to be demolished for the car park for the superstore. This is to ensure the shoppers shop in the superstore and are not tempted to wander around and shop in what little retail experience if any will remain.

KPI/St Modwen claim to have a range of High Street stores lined up ready to move in, 'clone town' writ large, or at least that is the impression given by the glossy pictures on their hoardings and regurgitated by a compliant local press. This ignores the fact that many have already moved out and begs the question move into what? And why would they wish to when there are no customers with money to spend on the streets? A closer inspection of the hoardings shows these all to be fake shops with fake names, a clear case of 'passing off' using another's brand name to enhance ones own piss poor reputation by association.

A carrot KPI/St Modwen dangled before the council was a cinema complex. They were granted planning consent within a couple of years of moving into Farnborough. There is no cinema. Planning consent is only valid for five years, it expired some years ago.

There is an acute shortage of 2- 3-bedroom houses with gardens in Farnborough, but the planners at the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor approved St Modwen plans for a superstore topped off by several storeys of yuppie flats. To help maximise St Modwen profits, the planners waived the requirement for social housing to be part of the development

Farnborough is not the only location St Modwen are determined to destroy. Across the country, ancient markets, town centres, seaside resorts, green belt is being threatened by St Modwen. It is like a modern version of the plague, only this time it is businesses that are wiped out not people.

Queen's Market at Upton Park in the East End of London, is one of the few remaining old East End street markets. St Modwen with the help of their Blairite crony the local mayor want to destroy the market and replace it with an unwanted superstore, above the superstore yuppie flats for sale. An entirely inappropriate development in a deprived area. Not for nothing are St Modwen known locally as the Developer from Hell. Over 12,000 people have signed a petition to say St Modwen are not wanted.

Walthamstow has one of Europe's longest street markets. With the help of their cronies at the local council, St Modwen wish to erect an eyesore of a tower block that would be out of keeping with the surrounding Victorian houses and the inclusion in the development of a Primark superstore would lead to the destruction of the street market and many local shops. Inclusion of a Vue Cinema complex would put paid to hopes of restoring to its former glory a 1930s Art-Deco cinema, that as well as showing films has been the live venue for groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Early this month local people held a demonstration against St Modwen, market traders donated rotten tomatoes which were put to good use. The good news is that one of the first acts of the newly elected Mayor of London Boris Johnston may be to block the eyesore. The question being asked is should not local money be better spent in providing social and cultural events and facilities for a deprived borough, not an opportunity for a greedy developer to make a fast buck?

Primark is run by a Dublin-based Irish recluse in his seventies. One in ten of clothing sales in England is bought from Primark. Their key selling point is low price (no doubt helped by their reported use of child labour), which puts them in direct competition with the stallholders in Walthamstow.

Primark extracts money from a local economy, local stallholders recycle money within a local economy.

Hatfield looks very much as Farnborough did a couple of years prior to demolition of half the town centre, a street lined with empty boarded-up retail units.

It is not only town centres, seaside resorts are also under threat.

The historic West Pier in Brighton was burned down in an arson attack. This paved the way for redevelopment of the seafront owned by the trust that owned the pier. Around the same time a senior council official joined the board of St Modwen!

St Modwen is not the only threat to the historic seafront and regency backdrop in Brighton. In 2006 Skidrow-on-Sea granted planning consent for a tower block overlooking the marina. More unwanted yuppie flats for sale.

Bognor Regis is under threat of redevelopment. Plans for a tower block which would be a blight on the seafront. Yet more yuppie flats for sale. In a referendum, which St Modwen cronies on the council are trying to ignore, St Modwen plans for the seafront were overwhelmingly rejected.

It is not only town centres and seaside resorts that are under threat from the rapacious greed of St Modwen, Green Belt is also being threatened. Local residents have formed The Friends of Coombeswood to fight St Modwen.

Attempts by St Modwen to destroy a community woodland outside Swindon were successfully blocked by local residents.

St Modwen and their acolytes and apologists claim they consult. They do not. In Farnborough this so-called consultation consisted of a poorly publicised exhibition in one of their many empty retail units. Those who took the trouble to visit the exhibition made it very clear in spite of the St Modwen propaganda, that the proposals were not wanted but their comments fell on deaf ears. The St Modwen idea of consultation is that we tell you what we are going to do to trash your locality.

In Farnborough, the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor played their part to perfection, rubber-stamping anything and everything St Modwen put before them, regardless of the views of local traders and the local community, with the leader of the council and chief executive acting as St Modwen cheerleaders and calling the opponents trouble makers.

It is local people who should decide how their towns develop, not a greedy developer with the local council in their pocket.

St Modwen claim to be "The UK's Leading Regeneration Specialist". The good folk of Upton Park got it about right when they called them 'The Developers from Hell'.

It is too late for Farnborough, the town centre has been destroyed and is highly unlikely to recover. The best that can be hoped for is that with falling land prices and the credit crunch, St Modwen have overstretched themselves and are forced into bankruptcy. For everywhere else, Farnborough should serve as a warning. If you let them, St Modwen will destroy your town too.

Keith Parkins
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Display the following 3 comments

  1. yet more shops to close — Keith
  2. The towers high on Boris Johnson's agenda — Keith
  3. ignorance is bliss — Keith