Will Blightwells in Farnham enter the brave new retail world post COVID?

WE DIDN’T foresee the virus coming, although there is evidence the government had modelled a response to such a situation.

In anticipation of its eventual control, we should be reviewing options and considering our response to all the matters affecting our town.

 

One critical sector is retailing. Retailers are in trouble. I don’t know whether you have been keeping track, but numerous national companies have gone into administration, and it has been reported that almost a fifth of UK small businesses are at risk of collapsing within the next month as they struggle to secure emergency cash meant to support them through the coronavirus lockdown.

The hardest-hit sectors have been high-street businesses such as retailers and restaurants that rely on shoppers and nights out.

Carluccio’s was one of these and one of the restaurant chains to be included in the original proposals for Farnham’s Brightwells scheme.

They were reported as losing their battle against higher costs and increased competition in March 2018 but survived by closing down a third of their restaurants as part of a CVA (Company Voluntary Arrangement) rescue plan.

It was about then we discovered the name missing from Crest Nicholson’s list of ‘already signed up’ companies.

Other companies to have disappeared from the list include Byron Burgers and Wagamama.

Brands that have already disappeared from our high street include Carphone Warehouse in West Street and Laura Ashley in the Lion and Lamb Yard. Another retailer has also shut-up shop in Lion and Lamb Yard (WW)

Poundland has temporarily closed 100 of its 850 stores amid the coronavirus crisis, including the Farnham branch.

Monsoon Accessorize, located in West Street, is looking at a range of options, including a potential sale of part or all of the business, raising fears for the future of its shops.

Outside the town, Debenhams, the department store chain, went into administration on April 9 with the Guildford branch scheduled for closure in 2021. WW We now understand this store will not re-open. Middle-range fashion outlets like Dorothy Perkins, which might have come to Brightwells, are facing financial turmoil as a result of the lockdown, and brands like Cath Kidson, potentially a good fit, have gone into administration.

I have spent some time thinking about the proposals for the commercial element of the Brightwells development, and a couple of things struck me.

Firstly, Crest Nicholson should now accept loss of face and engage with the residents of Farnham, as they were asked to do at the society’s 2018 residents’ associations meeting. Their reply? “No.”

They should accept they need to incorporate some flexibility into the construction of the buildings with commercial uses.

A community asset to replace the Redgrave Theatre should be considered to increase the footfall when part of this site becomes unsustainable.

Another small observation – why aren’t there any public toilets, with disabled access, in the development?

The impact of the coronavirus will be with us for several years, if not a decade. Retail has to adapt.

* By David Howell, chairman of the Farnham Society planning committee

Almost all Waverley’s eggs are in the baskets of Haslemere and Farnham. However, Surrey County Council has splashed the cash all over the country. They have a Martini portfolio of properties – ‘any time – anywhere.’

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