THE borough council spent £200,000 on a previous town centre masterplan in 2014 but said the ideas did not come to fruition because of the pandemic.

This is despite the Covid-19 pandemic not happening until six years after the plan was created.

The Gazette questioned the borough council on its former masterplan, which cost £200,000 of public money and included a 63-page document presenting ideas including scrapping the one-way system on New Road and replacing it with two-way traffic.

The exact same proposal has been included in the ‘new’ masterplan created by Allies and Morrison and Hemingway Design at an additional cost of £187733 to the taxpayer.

The previous plan was meant to set out how the Top of Town could be developed over the next 20 years and was approved by the council’s cabinet in 2014.

However, most of the ideas were never implemented.

This included plans to turn Top of Town car parks such as Central car park into specialised zones of new ‘niche retail’ and higher end independent shops, cafes, restaurants, and businesses.

The new masterplan also pledges to increase the number of independent shops in the area.

The 2014 plan proposed improving access to the town centre for motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, and public transport – something which is again repeated in the new plan.

The document produced in 2014 proposed building a new 470-space multi-storey car park in Southern Road. The new masterplan also includes this idea.

Residents and businesses were consulted on the 2014 plan. However, it appears that few of the suggestions have been implemented.

We asked the borough council why the proposals approved 2014 plan never came to fruition.

It said: “An initial masterplan for the Top of the Town area was drafted in 2014 as this was the area that was considered to need the greatest support at that time. However, the masterplan was drafted some time ago at a time of significant change in customer behaviour, with the pandemic accelerating this even further.

“As a result, alongside our partners we must act now to create a new ambitious vision for the whole town centre area which looks ahead for the future, responds to changing behaviours and ensures the area is sustainable for years to come by incorporating more leisure, community, and cultural activities.”

The council said much work has been done to improve the Top of Town in recent years and described a programme of work for this area as “successful”.

It added: “We must consider the future of the town centres and respond to the long-term challenges they are facing. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors with these sectors facing a crisis that we couldn’t have imagined in 2013.

“To ensure our town centre is a top shopping and leisure attractions for years to come, together with our partners we need to respond to changing habits and make fundamental changes to the way the town centre works to incorporate a wider range of uses such as independent shops and businesses, restaurants, and mixed leisure.

“Since 2013, the council has also declared a climate emergency, agreeing that urgent action must be taken to work towards becoming a carbon neutral borough by 2030. As the town centre is a vital part of the borough, it is important that we also consider how the evolution of the town centre supports this target through improved biodiversity, walking and cycling opportunities.

“We want the town centre to be the thriving heart of our borough, so it is vital that we look at the entire area and not just the Top of the Town. The new draft masterplan is an ambitious take on the future and a massive step forward in shaping the future of the entire area, shaped by residents, businesses and visitors.”

Asked what assurance it could give to businesses and the public that the new ideas in the plan will be adopted this time, the council responded: “The Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors with these sectors facing a crisis that we couldn’t have imagined in 2013 and we cannot stand still.

“We are committed to working with our town centre partners to shape an ambitious long-term strategy and lay the foundations for the town centre we will enjoy for the next 30 years. It is vital that residents, businesses and visitors let us know if these ideas illustrate the town centre they would like to see in the future before a final decision to adopt the strategy is taken by councillors early next year.

“But we cannot do this alone. Large parts of the town centre are owned by a number of key stakeholders and we have been working closely with them throughout the course of this project to ensure the early ideas align with their vision for the future of their assets.

“We are in a different place to where we were in 2013 and we must grab new opportunities with both hands by working with our partners to identify shared opportunities and jointly lobby for inward investment from the public and private sector to deliver this ambitious strategy.”