'It needs more than some trees and benches' – Residents weigh in on plans for town centre
Two weeks after a major re-development was approved, Oakengates residents weighed in with their views on the controversial plans.
Council proposals to revamp Oakengates town centre attracted push-back from some businesses, whose stores faced demolition in the multi-million pound plans.
Plans to tear down six business units on Limes Walk and Market Street and create a plaza for weekly street markets and community events were approved at a council meeting on February 8.
Fourteen other retail units are set for refurbishment, while 10 first-floor residential properties, one- and two-bedroom flats, will be created.
Telford & Wrekin Council said it wants to "increase footfall and transform the 1960s shopping precinct into a modern, welcoming shopping experience".
Plans to refurbish the Telford Theatre are also in motion, which could include improved facilities and an increase in the size of the audience that the theatre can accommodate.
But residents of and visitors to Oakengates are still torn on the matter.
Former Oakengates mayor, Steven Wood, 60, said the town was still struggling to accept the proposals.
He said: "The problem I have with it is the lack of public consultation. I'm on the fence about the plans, and it could be great, but not the way it's been handled.
"When we did the consultation on the last regeneration of the high street, there were probably six or seven rounds. But with this, it's all been a bit cloak and dagger.
"This is a thriving town, some small towns are ghost towns. I think all this is going to do is take away shops. How will that increase footfall?"
Oakengates resident John Shepherd said the town needed "more than some trees and benches".
"You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear," John, 50, said, "We're a small town and there aren't that many shops. I'd like to see more clothes shops, a shoe shop, a greengrocers.
"You don't need to do the theatre up, it doesn't need to be here. They should be giving the people that live in Oakengates everything they need.
"We don't need more visitors, we need to be able to use our own town. It needs more than some trees and benches, it won't make much difference."
One visitor to Oakengates, Penny Walden from Craven Arms, said she was concerned the plans were going to take charity shops away from the town.
The 63 year-old said: "Oakengates is affordable, a lot of people rely on the charity shops and more and more people are depending on them.
"They are people's lifelines, especially for larger families or people that have just come to the country.
"All the plans will do is make the theatre look nicer. There's so much culture here and everyone's welcome, it's a big community. All of that will be lost."
But not everyone was so sceptical - as one passerby yelled: "I think they all need to give it a chance!"
Kevin Jones, 66, who has lived in Oakengates for 42 years, said he was thrilled to hear about the plans.
He said: "I'm very excited about it! If you can get that sort of development into a small town like this it goes to show we obviously deserve it.
"It would be nice to see the theatre attract more people, and bigger stars.
"It'll draw people in, I'd love to see more places that will allow people to get together and sit outside. I think it'll be a big benefit to the town, bring a bit of colour to the place."
Staff at Proactive Personnel were the first business to relocate in Oakengates ahead of the plans.
Andy Wardroper, senior regional transport manager at the company, said they were settled into their new home.
Andy said: "We're settled now, we've still got a presence in Oakengates and that's what's important. As people who work in Oakengates, the plans do look nice. I'm sure it'll look smart when it is done."
Those in local government are still optimistic about the project, and insist the project will enhance the town.
Councillor Lee Carter, the council's cabinet member for neighbourhood services, regeneration and the high street, said he was delighted at the decision to approve the plans.
He said: "This is a fantastic outcome for Oakengates. The transformation of Oakengates high street will not only bring economic benefits but also enhance the area for residents and visitors alike. We are committed to supporting the local community and delivering projects that make a real difference.
"The project is expected to create new job opportunities and improve the overall shopping experience for visitors. The plans have been carefully designed to assist the relocation of existing businesses so that we retain these while incorporating modern amenities and facilities, future-proofing Oakengates for generations to come.
Sarah Williams, chair of Oakengates Chamber of Trade hailed the approval of the plans.
She said: "This is great news for the businesses of Oakengates. The transformation of this key part of the town will create a vibrant shopping district that will attract more visitors and boost the local economy.
"Our committee members strongly support the idea of a weekly street market and we look forward to continuing to work closely with Telford & Wrekin Council and Oakengates Town Council to develop these plans."
Oakengates Mayor, Councillor Stephen Reynolds, said he was "delighted" to see the proposals come to fruition.
He added: "This is an exciting step forward for our community and we are looking forward to the positive impact it will have on our town.”