3 June, 2014
Re-generation is a particularly hot topic in Wokingham at the moment. The market town is known as one of the UK's most desirable places to live and has for years offered homebuyers plenty in return for their money. Rapid expansion has, however, seen plenty of change take place in the area and the council's latest plans have made it to the front of most local newspapers.
What's going on?
Plenty of work has gone into the redevelopment of this once-humble market town already, with residential sites and transport infrastructure both spending time in the spotlight. At present, much of the focus is on Elms Field, where Wokingham Borough Council is dedicating a significant portion of its £95 million regeneration budget to the creation of a brand new retail and leisure complex.
Until very recently, the centrepiece of this scheme was set to be a state-of-the-art Sainsbury's superstore, although the supermarket giant eventually pulled out. According to council officials, however, at least two more national retailers are still in the running to fill the spot. Whichever brand ends up building on the land, local residents are likely to be affected in a number of ways.
A growing population
Wokingham Borough Council says that its regeneration project will see the town's population boosted by around 10,000 in total - quite a jump considering the current figure is little more than 30,000. The most obvious part of catering for these new residents will be to create extra housing, but the infrastructure that goes with it is just as important. This includes transport, education, healthcare and retail facilities - the last of which will be helped massively by the presence of big-name retailers.
Employment rates are already low in Wokingham and its surrounding areas but an influx of new people could jeopardise this unless infrastructure improvements provide enough jobs to restore the balance. The proposals for Elms Field certainly seem to have taken this into account - as well as the superstore, residents and visitors will also benefit from a range of new leisure facilities, including a hotel and a selection of smaller shops. These companies will no doubt look to the local area for staff.
At the same time, it's important to realise that 10,000 people won't be turning up with their possessions on the same day; this is a long-term goal and the development will be ongoing to support it. Until then, the work and the finished results is likely to create a wealth of jobs for existing residents as well as the gradual waves of newcomers.
Closing the gap
Part of Wokingham's appeal lies in its proximity to Reading and this closeness does generate revenue by attracting visitors and new residents. Former council leader David Lee, however, says that any failure to consistently improve Wokingham's infrastructure will see the gap between the two towns - as well as nearby Bracknell - stretch beyond repair.
At present, it's normal for people to venture away from Wokingham to find work and even to shop; especially as Reading itself grows. However, while the council wants to create a town centre that will thrive in the future, it is a waiting game to see what real value the redevelopment plans will bring to Wokingham.