We have just been through the worst recession in British history, and one which hit the commercial property sector particularly hard. It was so bad that it wiped out most of the large-scale regeneration plans in the country, with project after project collapsing under the weight of the new economic realities. So, against this background it is quite something that Basildon Council will be signing a joint-venture contract for the redevelopment of Basildon Town Centre, a project that could bring in over £1bn of private investment over the next 20 years.
It has taken us three years to get to contract signature and the ambition is to build nearly two thousand homes as well as new retail and office spaces as well as public buildings in the Town Centre. Public buildings includes an expanded theatre by the way. Our selected development partner is Barrett Wilson Bowden, a blue-chip British company. We will be working with them on a first phase on the old swimming pool site as well as a detailed master plan exercise for the rest of the Town Centre. This will involve extensive consultation with public, businesses and other bodies in order to ensure that we get the best set of plans on which to build the future Basildon Town Centre.
At a Cabinet meeting a few months ago Cllr. Lynda Gordon plaintively asked 'why we need to change anything' in the Town Centre. The answer is pretty simple: without continued investment then Town Centres tend to decline, with lower quality retail and eventually empty shop units. Big, integrated Town Centres like Basildon don't support small incremental investment like a traditional High Street. Basically, if you want to change anything then you have to spend big. Without the sort of investment framework represented by the Council's joint venture agreement then decline is the only future for Basildon Town Centre. The trouble is that we can't wait for the Town Centre to reach a state when even Cllr. Gordon decides something must be done before we act. It would be far too late by then. Predictably though the local Labour party have decided to oppose the project. They don't have much in way of argument against it, so it is the usual overblown trivia and a calculation that this will allow them to oppose any planning application that turns out to be unpopular. This is the attitude of a pressure group, not a political party with aspirations to control Basildon Council. It is also a political mistake, but I don't think I will explain why.
Do carry on Lynda.