To consider the attached report.
Contact Officer: Teresa Lane (01296) 585006
The Committee received a report setting out the challenges facing Kingsbury and Market Square, Aylesbury and which outlined the plans to bring forward improvement schemes for both spaces, as well as the associated costs. This regeneration of the Aylesbury town centre was reflected in the Aylesbury Town Centre Plan (published in 2014) and in the draft Vale of Aylesbury Local Plan.
It was abundantly clear that the demand for physical retail space was changing across the UK almost every operator including Marks & Spencer’s and John Lewis partnerships were committed to undertaking portfolio reviews. Others such as House of Fraser, were already part way through that process and it was well known that the Aylesbury branch would close at some point. Whilst some of this change was offset by big box operators such as B&Q and Screwfix opening smaller, high street formats, users of town centres were undoubtedly looking to their towns (particularly those the size of Aylesbury), to provide a more social experience. National spend on casual dining and the increase in the number of restaurants and cafes had been phenomenal and whilst the dining out market had also seen a softening in recent months, spend generally in this area continued to grow, with shopping being only part of the reason to visit. Aylesbury was no exception to this trend and had seen a number of new cafes and restaurants open in recent years, with more opening as part of The Exchange development.
A theme central to the entire Town Centre Plan, was the recognition that Aylesbury needed to improve the quality of its environment and public space to help create the experience people were looking for whether living, visiting or working. Whilst it was difficult to quantify a direct financial return on investment from public realm improvement, there was strong supporting evidence which showed that it could deliver both intrinsic and non-economic benefit, and these were set out in the Committee report.
While good progress had been made on delivering a range of public space improvements including decorative colourful planters and agreeing a parking order for Kingsbury to enable enforcement of illegal parking on the central area, a range of street entertainment and events in Market Square (such as Aylesbury on Sea, Whizzfizz and the Christmas lights switch on), there were still operational and aesthetic challenges which required significant schemes to come forward.
The background and context of Kingsbury was detailed in the report. Use of Kingsbury had changed and whilst it still retained many fine buildings it had struggled in recent times to attract the footfall of its former years and to find its own identity. In 2004, a Government funded scheme to improve the public space had attract private investment in the commercial units and made it more integral to the retail circuit. However, this had not brought about the hoped for transformation. The on-going decline in footfall had led to new challenges and an increase in anti-social behaviour ranging from parking on the central area to public drinking outside the agreed areas. Much effort had also been made by AVDC and its partners to address these issues, but the overall feedback was that more significant investment was needed to enable Kingsbury to thrive and become a greater asset to the town.
The Action Plan for Kingsbury was attached as Appendix 1, which had a mini vision for the area to “create a more attractive environment for residents, visitors and businesses and improve it as the gateway to the old town.” A number of the actions listed had already been completed. However, one of the key outstanding actions was to, “form a stakeholder group to identify options for improving the physical environment, looking at seating, lighting, surfaces etc so that better use of the open space can be made all year round.”
Some preliminary work had already been undertaken by the Town Centre Manager to gauge interest by the business community in a scheme being brought forward. This engagement had been on the basis that whilst AVDC (working potentially with BCC who own the highway around the central area which wasis failing in parts), might be able to deliver enhancements to the public space, the land and buildings also need to be considered to achieve the best outcome for this relatively small area. This meant that the investment and commitment from the 40 landlord and tenants in Kingsbury would be needed as well.
The potential to transform Kingsbury through a joint approach was significant and any stakeholder engagement would also extend to other key partners such as the Aylesbury Town Council, Thames Valley Police and the Aylesbury Old Town Residents’ Association. Some initial thought had been given as to what the future look and feel of Kingsbury could be taking into account the need to reduce the reliance on retail and ensure that Kingsbury complemented other areas of the Town Centre. An initial concept based on bringing the Roald Dahl theme from the museum in the adjacent area, to Kingsbury (both land and buildings) had been suggested and well received. However, as part of the development of the concept, significant more work would need to be undertaken with stakeholders to ensure that the vision was shared and jointly owned.
Aylesbury Market Square
The background and context of Market Square was detailed in the report. Market Square was still a very popular space and was home to four markets a week – the Vintage & Craft Bazaar, general, foodie Friday, special markets, concerts, Christmas light switch-on, the Christmas Carol concert, Whizzfizz and more. However, despite its popularity, the square was constrained by key issues including accessibility (cobbled square) and poor infrastructure which collectively prevented all of the space from being used for a wider range of activities.
The Action Plan for Market Square was attached as Appendix 2, which had a mini vision for the area to ““make more of the area’s presence as a key retail, catering and leisure hub”
As with Kingsbury, a number of the actions were already underway or complete. For example, significant investment had taken place to deliver the action about improving the markets. New stalls, and the development of the Vintage & Craft Bazaar and the foodie Friday markets, had all helped to revitalise the popularity of the town’s historic market tradition. However, the one key actions required was for a review of the public realm to ““create a more attractive and usable environment for shopping, eating, drinking and leisure (including large scale events and socialising).
The Action Plan also stated that the review should include looking at better links between areas; vehicle, pedestrian and events use, and the public space (including layout, surfaces, street furniture, signage, lighting and electricity supply).
Unlike Kingsbury, there was no plan at this stage to introduce a theme to Market Square unless the stakeholder engagement identified one. The brief was in essence set out in paragraph 4.18 of the Committee report but within the clear context of retaining the square’s heritage look and feel.
Indicative costs of the improvements
Members were informed that developing the concept to implementation of a scheme had a number of phases which would be applicable to both spaces. The key phases were:
· inception, concept preparation and stakeholder engagement.
· design development to planning.
· tender and construction pack
· delivery and project management.
Each phase carried costs which included to associated costs of specialist advice. Most were common to both spaces although with Kingsbury there would be an additional requirement to develop a design guide for the buildings. Both spaces would be considered together. This would ensure a cohesive approach to the improvements and possibly also deliver some economies of scale in terms of commissioning the various elements of work.
The fee and capital costs of both schemes were only indicative at this stage. However for the purpose of this report they had been identified as:
Collective fee costs for Kingsbury and Market Square: £180,000
Capital costs of delivery – Kingsbury: £2m
Capital costs of delivery – Market Square: £2m
This would be funded from 3 sources:
· existing section 106 funding allocated to aylesbury town centre but not to any specific scheme: £1m.
· Heritage Lottery Fnding townscape grants: £2m (potential funding source).
· New Homes Bonus: £1.5m
At this stage there was no guarantee that the bid for Heritage Lottery funding would be completely or partially successful. It was proposed that any gap in funding from the lottery would be met by additional new homes bonus monies.
It was anticipated that phases (i) to (iii) would take until late 2019 to complete, enabling procurement for the delivery in early 2019 with construction starting on site in spring 2019. Depending on the nature of the finally approved schemes, it was probable that work would be phased rather than carried out at the same time.
Members views were sought on the improvements schemes and the following comments were provided:-
(i) the need to ensure that proper Business Plans had been put in place and agreed with stakeholders before committing to spend money. The Scrutiny Committee asked that the Business Plans come back to scrutiny before there were firm commitments made to spend money.
(ii) that just because Council might agree capital expenditure of up to £4.5m on the 2 schemes, it didn’t mean that all of this money needed to be spent to improve the squares. Business Plans needed to be properly costed, including maintenance/running costs for the future and have measurable KPIs.
(iii) the need to ensure that the schemes fitted in with the wider visions / aspirations for the Town Centre and of partners and allowed for flexibility to react to what else is going on.
(iv) Aylesbury was the county town with a long heritage which should be capitalised on in promoting the town as a destination. Could it also be branded as the ‘Gateway to the Chilterns’? It should also be possible to make the most of the town’s past as a live music venue.
(v) the need to be clear that Kingsbury was looking at a Roald Dahl inspired theme, rather than Roald Dahl theme.
(vi) while accepting that the current markets in Market Square were restricted by the supporting infrastructure and cobbles, the set up was lacklustre and needed to be livened up, and to attract more stalls. Aylesbury was increasingly becoming a commuter town so some of the themed markets held during the week could be switched to weekends.
(vii) look at the feasibility of a saturation policy regarding betting shops in the Town Centre.
(viii) Illegal parking at Kingsbury remained an issue (Members were informed that all enforcement had now been handed over to BCC).
(ix) Other issues raised that the plans needed to consider included transportation infrastructure (including use of bicycles), town centre accessibility, looking at the linkages between the town / The Exchange / the canal basin / old town (this had featured in the Crest Nicholson plans a number of years ago), car parking (including parking charges, especially on Sundays), signage (new finger posts and monoliths would be erected soon), Bowie statue signage, analysing shopping and retail issues in the town centre, more trees and greenery, a water feature (fountain) in Market Square, make the current statues the centrepieces of the 2 squares, making the best use of the theatre, more music / literary festivals, making best use of the former Courthouse, and having an area in the town centre where business meetings could be held (current options were a coffee shop or pub).
That while the Scrutiny Committee was supportive of improvement schemes going forward for Market Square and Kingsbury, Aylesbury, Cabinet was requested to consider the feedback from scrutiny at points (i) to (ix) above in making recommendations to Council, in particular on the need to ensure that there was proper scrutiny of the Business Plans before there were any firm commitments made to spend money.