Shropshire Star

Planners recommend green light for controversial Oakengates redevelopment scheme

Planners have recommended that councillors give the go-ahead to multi-million pound plans to entirely redesign Oakengates town centre.

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Planning application documents show what Oakengates could look like

The plans, backed by money from the Government, have been drawn up by Telford & Wrekin Council and involve the contentious demolition of some long-standing business units in Market Street and Limes Walk.

Other businesses have been invited to relocate as 14 retail units are refurbished and 10 first-floor homes are added. There are also plans for a drastically changed town square area.

Christine Orford, of Christine’s Florist, is a member of the local Chamber of Commerce. Her business is not directly affected by the plans but she was shocked to learn of that the issue will be decided next week.

"It is absolutely disgusting," she said. "They are not interested in what the people of Oakengates want, it is what they want.

"I did not know that the meeting is next week until the Shropshire Star told me."

Planning application documents show what Oakengates could look like

She and other protestors are planning to present a petition with 2,375 signatures to the council's planning department on Thursday.

Telford MP Lucy Allan has put her support behind a redevelopment of Oakengates but thinks not enough has been done to ensure that benefits have been properly explained.

"Oakengates needs investment and renewal," Ms Allan told the planners. The plans have been given levelling up funding by the Government.

"The growth of Telford Town Centre has left Oakengates behind and in decline; action is needed," she added.

Planning application documents show what Oakengates could look like

Ms Allan recognised that the proposals are controversial because many felt "that there was a lack of transparency, with inadequate consultation and engagement".

She said: "It is vital to ensure those with concerns feel listened to and are not disregarded.

"It seemed that Towns Fund monies were to be used to create development gains for Telford & Wrekin Council as a primary objective. The creation of opportunities for the local community must be the primary objective and this needs to be a clear output of this project."

Telford was selected as one of the 101 towns invited to develop proposals for a Town Deal and has been offered £22.3 million funding to help regenerate Telford Town Centre, Wellington and Oakengates.

Planning application documents show what Oakengates could look like

Ms Allan added: "Levelling up is not something to be done to communities, it needs to be done with the consent and agreement of local people and high quality engagement is key to this.

"Having reviewed the material online, visited the location on many occasions and spoken to businesses and residents affected, it appears that concerns are being glossed over, and that engagement has been perfunctory rather than genuine.

"There is more work to do to make the case to local people that Oakengates will benefit."

Planning application documents show what Oakengates could look like

One objector has commented: "Oakengates needs regeneration but not this kind.

"All this will do is push more traders out of business. Move 'The Place' [theatre] to Southwater."

Another said: "I believe the new plans have no forethought to businesses that have been in residence for 30 years, and also the footfall that they bring.

"The Place doesn't do this, Nutcracker for example would bring 300 to 400 customers a week, which would diminished if this ridiculous proposal goes forward."

However, another member of the public said: "This deprived area of Telford is in desperate need of redevelopment and I welcome this proposal and agree with all points made by the council in this application. My condition for supporting is singular: ensure that the current retailers get a fair opportunity to retain their livelihoods."

In their recommendation to next week's meeting of the council's planning committee, officials recognise that the issue of consultation has been raised. But they say the application has been publicised through a site notice, press notice and direct neighbour notification.

They add though that there are no Compulsory Purchase Orders proposed.

Planners say that the proposals "have been designed to take account of the site constraints and deliver much needed development and regeneration in this area.

"The businesses currently operating out of the units to be demolished have been rehoused within Oakengates centre except where the business has sought a different format of commercial premises, such as within an industrial estate.

"Therefore, there is no overall loss of businesses operating within Oakengates Town Centre."

In the plan-supporting documents, the application agents say the "removal of the retail units between Limes Walk and Market Street is aimed at bringing the theatre and Market Street closer to the High Street helping to consolidate the town centre".

It adds: "The redevelopment will support the provision of an enlarged public realm space to create a focus for amenity and events/activities as well as creating attractive spaces for improved retail within an enhanced, pedestrian focused environment.

"As part of the proposals, the retained units on Limes Walk will be reconfigured to create additional units, introducing diversity into the retail offer and support an active retail frontage to encourage footfall and spend in existing businesses and those relocated as part of the development proposals.

"The significance of introducing residential development into a town centre is well documented as being key to sustaining vibrant town centres in the face of changing retail habits. The introduction of residential units will also increase the sense of ownership to this part of the town."

It further adds: "The masterplan has been produced to ensure the reconfigured layout benefits a modern and thriving town centre. This reconfiguration will help attract more footfall and spend in the whole centre on a day-to-day basis through establishing alternative creative outdoor uses and addressing issues such as dead frontages and closed shopfronts in the evenings or weekends."

The application is due to be discussed at a meeting of Telford & Wrekin Council's planning committee on Wednesday, February 8 from 6pm.