The New Year sees the beginning of a new start for Wokingham Town Centre as Wokingham Borough Council's regeneration project enters the most ambitious and exciting phase yet.
Work starting on Monday (9 January) will transform the outdated 1960s style Peach Street parade in to a high street fit for a 21st Century market town and create a vibrant new pedestrianised square of cafés, restaurants and shops where Rose Street car park now sits.
Cllr Mark Ashwell, Wokingham Borough Council's executive member for planning and regeneration, said: "January is going to see spades in the ground on a project that we’ve carefully planned, with residents and businesses, for many years. We will be getting rid of the dated 1960s parade and replacing it with attractive new buildings that have been designed to improve the look of the town centre and with the flexibility to adapt to the changing needs of the town centre for years to come.
"It also allows us to strengthen the things that make Wokingham unique compared to larger neighbours, such as the increasingly popular café culture and the strong mix of independent stores alongside larger nationals. Whilst it’s early days yet, we have been really pleased with the level of interest from businesses in taking on units within Wokingham and firmly believe that we can deliver the great town centre that Wokingham and its residents deserve to have."
From Monday 9 January:
- Rose Street public car park will close - signs have been on display at the car park letting regular users know of the closure and pointing them to the Regeneration Company website where they can find out more about alternative parking
- The last of the shops and other businesses in the section of Peach Street to be rebuilt (from Clintons Cards to, but not including, the Redan) will move out and the borough council has been working closely with them to try to find suitable alternative premises for those that want to relocate
- Pedestrian access to the Methodist Church and Bradbury Centre will be maintained from Rose Street throughout the works
- Initial works on site will include the internal stripping out of the empty shops along Peach Street
- During the demolition work in Peach Street (expected to start at the end of February) the road will be reduced to one lane for around 15 weeks. The footpath will also be closed for the remainder of the works. This closure is necessary to allow for the safe demolition of the units closest to the road. Exact dates are currently being discussed and will be published shortly
- The contractor, Dawnus, will be based in a site office in the former Domino's Pizza unit in Bush Walk
While all this is happening, the town centre will remain open for business with plenty of car parking and easy access to all its shops and other attractions.
Cllr Ashwell said: "The message to shoppers planning to come to the town’s great shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs is - don’t panic, Wokingham is open for business and is still a great place to visit. We've got 1,600 town centre parking spaces within close walking distance of Market Place, we've got 65 independent shops, 30 bars and restaurants, four markets a week and a farmers’ market every month. We will also be making sure any roadworks are clearly communicated so people know what to expect when they make their way into and out of town."
During the past five years the council has used the empty shops in Peach Street to allow new local businesses and start-ups to trial being in the town centre, and there have been some real successes with a number of the businesses opting to stay in the town in new premises.
Finding suitable space has not always been easy because competition for vacant units in Wokingham is often strong, but successes include Helen & Douglas House, Sanpa, Mac’s Hair and Beauty, and Dragon Nails that have all found new homes. Others will be opening up again in the coming months or are interested in coming back once the regeneration is completed.
All the latest news and updates on the building work will be available on the Regeneration Company website.