Another shopping mall is not the answer

As councillor for Leamington’s town centre, I will support any development that enhances the economic well being, vitality and viability of the town. On the other hand, this does not mean that a development has to be supported without comment.

Your leader has described my submission to the planning committee as “picking holes”. I would prefer to describe it as constructive criticism.

My comments were not based upon a predetermined view. Since May, I have had the opportunity to study in detail all of the documents available regarding this major development. I have also been in discussion with the developers, objectors and residents.

I think we all have a common purpose. We want Leamington to be a place where people will want to visit and to spend their time and money. A town cannot stand still and in principle I support the development of the Chandos Street car park.

On the other hand, the development as proposed needs reassessment. The current plan is too large for the development area, is in places architecturally unsympathetic to the Regency style of the town and will have a devastating effect on local residents.

We have been told that we must compete with Birmingham, Solihull and Coventry and claw back some of the advantage that these commercial centres have experienced with their new retail developments. That is all well and good but if our offer is merely a smaller identikit of other shopping centres, I believe that we will surely fail.

A town must have a USP in order to attract visitors. If we build another shopping mall, just like all the others, it will fail our aspirations for the rejuvenated of our trading centre. I believe that the design and impact of any development but particularly in the conservation area must be particularly special to reflect the reputation of Leamington noted for independent retailing or smaller specialist chains and a very distinctive environment which includes the splendour of the Parade, the Pump Room and our distinctive public gardens.

We must also bear in mind that although the commercial viability of the new arcade would probably be secure, we do need to look at the town’s retail future as a whole.

There are continuing concerns that there will be a drift north as retailers vacate the Royal Priors and the Parade to the new development as well as the continuing rapid development of internet trading.

I believe that the refusal of the planning committee has given us an opportunity for reflection; to reassess the best options for a successful retail future for the town. - Cllr Jerry Weber, Clarendon ward, Leamington.