Hungerford’s Town-centre Strategy – update 5 February 2024

See the “Background” section at the foot of this post for information about the scope, scale and schedule of this project.

Update 5 February 2024

As mentioned previously, the Town-centre Strategy (TCS) project was started in late 2022 and paused before the May 2023 elections. See this post for information on the progress so far.

Councillor James Cole gave the following report for the meeting:

“The process continues, as you have heard from the Mayor.

  • At the meeting of the TCS Steering Group (TCSSG) last week we agreed to keep moving on the two projects at the top of the list – some questions have been asked of WBC.
  • Councillor Fyfe has started on another on the list by requesting WBC to get its act together: this is the Cuttings where one can argue that there is no real justification for a separate project but the group is performing a useful service by prodding action. Thank you, Alistair.
  • However as far as the two main projects are concerned we are nowhere near a point where a proper press release could be produced.
  • There are published minutes on the WBC website (see here for the December 2023 ones) and there will be minutes published of this last meeting: however, we have been told by WBC that they can no longer afford to do the admin – another way will have to be found to do these.
  • We will look at adding a further person to the committee. The general view was that ideally it should not be a member of this council and ideally it should not be a commoner but it should be a resident of the High Street. We will see how that pans out. If you’re interested, please contact Cllr.james.cole@hungerford-tc.gov.uk.
  • Lastly I refer back to the Mayor’s comment: “It’s important to remember it’s the town’s residents who has determined the discussion points following over 800 consultation responses.” I brought this up at this last meeting and I would like to re-emphasise it now. We are attempting to make work what the town asked for.”

At the meeting, the Mayor and the Chair of the TCS Steering Group (TCSSG) stressed that the TCSSG was entirely reactive with regard to the matters it was considering, these having already been identified in the extensive consultation that took place during the first stage of the TCS project in 2022-23. The six which had received the most support (see list in the 2 January 2024 update) are the ones currently being considered.

The TCSSG would not be making decisions, only recommendations: although it has decided to drop the bottom four for the present, concentrate on the top two and press WBC for some answers in respect of these. There are no done deals involved in the process and the issues surrounding all of the ideas will be looked at carefully by the TCSSG.

Any recommendations which were made would be sent to HTC and other represented bodies like the Chamber of Commerce and the Town and Manor for consideration and these will be given publicity for people to comment before any decision is taken.

Even then, the problem of finance will need to be overcome. The chance of a bid being successful are greatly increased if it can be demonstrated that (a) the basic idea has popular support; and (b) serious work has since gone into looking at the details. Point (a) is what the original consultation has identified; point (b) is what the TCSSG is considering.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the TCSs for Hungerford, Thatcham and Newbury were WBC initiatives. Hungerford had to fight quite hard to ensure that it had a strong and effective voice in the future discussions. This included the TCSSG Chair being from the town and not, as was originally proposed, from WBC. This model has now been adopted for the two other TCSs.

All the projects should be regarded as long-term. In addition, any which ends up being adopted by WBC will then be funded by WBC and subject to WBC’s own consultation process. Any such projects will, however, come from the same pot of ideas already produced by the consultation.

The minutes of TCSSG meetings can be seen here. As mentioned above, any recommendations will be given wide publicity before anything is set in stone.

If you would like to communicate with the TCSSG, please email Cllr.james.cole@hungerford-tc.gov.uk.

Update 2 January 2024

As mentioned previously, this project was started in late 2022 and paused before the May 2023 elections. See this post for information on the progress so far.

Councillor James Cole told the meeting of HTC on 2 January 2024 that the most recent meeting of the Town Centre Steering Group had taken place on 14 December. Members had sent him their views on prioritisation of the ten options then up for discussion (all of which had resulted from the considerable number of public responses received during the consultation organised by WBC in late 2022). The result of the meeting was agreement to further discuss the top six:

  1. The Town Hall, specifically the area immediately in front of it. Ideas included signage, parking and its possible use as a public space.
  2. The Canal, particularly the towpath to the east of the High Street bridge, where there is some serious work to be done. The aim of any improvement would be to encourage tourist boats to stop in the town.
  3. High Street facade improvements, with particular reference to certain shop fronts and perhaps also signage.
  4. Station Road and The Cuttings, a main entry-route into the town which could benefit from better lighting, pavements and vegetation-management.
  5. Parking, a matter that WBC was not keen to see as part of the discussion which is an aspect that no responsible town-centre strategy can ignore.
  6. Church Lane, improvements to which could include additional street lighting.

Discussion at the meeting stressed that the town-centre strategy project was still at a very early stage: most projects were very long-term and all would be dependent on securing funding.

Update 4 December 2023

The following update was provided by the Chair of the Town Centre Steering Group, HTC Councillor James Cole, at the meeting of Hungerford Town Council on 4 December 2023:

“In the original town-centre project under the last WBC administration, consultants went to consultation on it and in Hungerford this resulted in about 800 responses. That gave us some views on what should be done.

“We have at last started the new town-centre project. Delays to this resulted from the change of administration at WBC following the May 2023 election and negotiation of the Terms of Reference (we are indebted to Julie Lloyd of the Town and Manor for her work on these).

“The result is a more balanced set of terms of reference with a committee run by Hungerford. That committee is now called the Hungerford Town Centre Steering Group and has representatives from the Town Council, the Town and Manor, the Chamber of Commerce, the antiques trade, Hungerford Youth Centre and the Heritage side. It is sponsored and backed by WBC. A similar approach is now being used in Thatcham.

“We have taken the results of the original consultation and have consolidated these into a number of potential projects. The priorities will be set by the Town Centre team. We know there will be a balance between what can be achieved quickly and what may take a year, or two, or more. Money also has to be found. When the priorities have been set there will be a press release.”

Update 5 October 2023

The first phase having been completed in March 2023 (see below) there was then a pause while the election took place and, resulting from this, the new administration got its feet under the table. That having now happened, Martin Colston, the portfolio holder responsible for these initiatives, has recently confirmed that the first Hungerford steering group meeting will be on 16 October at 6pm in Hungerford Town Hall and will be chaired by Councillor James Cole. Various stakeholders have been invited including from the Town Council and the Town & Manor.

As well as studying and perhaps commenting on the terms of reference which have been specified, the first order of business is expected to be identifying the top two or three priorities to focus on from the seven outlined in the Hungerford Town Centre Strategy (p38 if you’re looking at the thumbnails or pp74-5 if you’re following the numbers at the foot of each page).

Update 25 March 2023

Please click here to see further information on the results of the consultations.

Due the election, there was then a pause in this project. It’s expected that during the summer of 2023 the new West Berkshire Council will, in conjunction with the main organisations in the town, agree how the work will continue.

Update 23 January 2023

A Visioning Workshop was held on 19 January in Hungerford Town Hall, involving a wide range of stakeholders including councillors, business and community representatives.

During this workshop, HemingwayDesign presented the results of the latest public engagement survey in relation to strategy development process. The participants were invited to provide further input (many had already done so at the meeting on 9 November 2022, see below) into identifying opportunities and areas of improvement in Hungerford’s town centre. These focussed on unlocking growth in the areas of economy, local heritage, connecting places and, in general, on making the town an exciting and inviting place to live in and visit for those of all ages.

The survey results will be published by the end of February 2023.

Update 12 January 2023

The formal consultations (see below) have closed but over the next six weeks or so there will continue to be engagement with stakeholders, including the town council. The exercise is on course to be concluded at the end of February 2023 and the results will be published shortly thereafter.

Update 4 January 2023

The consultation remains open (see section below).

The high-speed accident in Hungerford High Street on 13 December (see our separate report here) has made participating in the consultation all the more important. If you have concerns about traffic and road-safety issues in the town, and if you believe that solving or ameliorating these will help to create the positive results that the place-making strategy is designed to achieve, then make these points in the consultation. If you have already completed the consultation you should be able to go back and edit your response.

Update 5 December 2022

The consultation deadline is midnight on Monday 9 January. You can click here to take part.

The consultation covers both Hungerford and Thatcham: you can reply to either parts or to both, as you decide. The survey takes about 10 minutes. The more responses are received, the more relevant the conclusions will be and the greater the chances of securing funding for the towns from the government and other bodies.

You don’t need to live in or work in the towns (or even in West Berkshire) to contribute. If you visit either place, even occasionally, your views are important.

Please pass the survey on to as many others as you can, particularly young people and those who may not regularly be online. Paper copies will be available from Thatcham Town Council, Hungerford Town Council, Thatcham Library and Hungerford Hub and Library.

Your feedback will be taken into consideration and used to develop the final placemaking strategies, which WBC aims to complete by the beginning of March 2023. Once the strategies have been finalised, WBC will work with Hungerford and Thatcham Town Councils, business, residents, community groups, and other stakeholders to take the proposals forward. You’ll be able to view the final strategies and keep up to date with progress on WBC’s town centres’ webpage.

Update 28 November 2022

It’s been announced that the public survey for the Hungerford and Thatcham place-making strategies will run from Monday 5 December 2022 to midnight on Monday 9 January 2023. Further information, including the link to the survey, will be provided in due course.

Update 9 November 2022

A workshop was held in the Hungerford Town Hall on 9 November which was attended by local retailers, town and district councillors and representatives of several local organisations – about 35 people in all. The purpose was not so much to provide solutions – though several were proposed – but to identify what the issues were which this exercise could help address. Several of the these were identified by all four groups. Many of these also touched on matters outside the core area (see below).

The Place-making team will then use comments and ideas to formulate specific proposals which will be the subject of public consultation. It’s hoped that this will start in December and run until early to mid-January. This schedule should give the team enough time to consider and evaluate the responses and finalise the recommendations before the project’s end date of 31 March. As mentioned below, this will be given wide publicity in Penny Post and elsewhere.

Background

As part of its programme of work to protect and enhance the high streets and town centres of the district, West Berkshire Council has appointed Hemingway Design to develop a Place-making Strategy for Hungerford town centre (similar work is also being done in Thatcham as part of the same project).

Hungerford’s strategy is focusing on the High Street area (roughly speaking from Atherton Crescent to The Bear), although the team is aware that areas outside this such as The Croft, the canal and the railway station are also vital parts of the town and consideration will need to be paid to how these can also be improved or enhanced..

Place-making Strategies are visual plans for the town centres with a range of suggested improvements and uses which will enhance their vitality and economic success in the future. Hemingway undertook similar work last year with the Newbury Town Centre Masterplan, details of which you can see here.

The place-making strategies will involve the following stages:

  • The first step will be discussions with organisations such as the town councils, retailers and local organisations. This will enable the Place-making team to understand not only the aspects of the town that should be preserved and enhanced but also the ones that need improvement.
  • This will then lead into a public consultation process, which is a vital part of this exercise. The open public consultation will be held to formulate the final plans: it’s hoped that the success of these will match that of the Newbury Masterplan consultation which received about 5,000 responses. We’ll announce soon when the consultation will take place so that you can provide your input. You can in the mean time find more information by clicking here.
  • This will then lead to the creation of a strategy document which will include visioning of what the future might look like.
  • How many of the aspirations are realised will depend on the availability of grant funds. This kind of inclusive and detailed exercise is an important pre-condition for many organisations and government departments to consider releasing funds. In addition, the higher the level of public engagement with the consultation, the more convinced any funders will be that the proposals have widespread community support. Your involvement will, therefore, be influential.

Each important stage of the process, including the consultation, will be given wide publicity, including in Penny Post. This post will be updated as necessary and the changes promoted in the weekly and monthly newsletters.

Note that the place-making strategy is completely separate from the Hungerford 2036 neighbourhood development plan which is being created for the town; and from the local plan refresh which will affect the whole of West Berkshire and which will also be the subject of a consultation at about there same time.

Please click here to see a post that covers the same exercise which is also taking place in Thatcham.

Photograph © Hungerford Chamber of Commerce.

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