The Town Council is very aware that there is considerable interest in the town centre and many demands to deliver it. There is an assumption that the Town Council, East Devon District Council and the Developer Consortium should be delivering shops and cafes. But this is not how a town centre is delivered. The Developer Consortium owns the land but beyond that delivery of commercial activity and some buildings depends on commercial interest. With around 1,900 occupied dwellings in the town we understand there is not yet the level of footfall to attract a great deal of commercial interest from large stores, supermarkets and others with the ability to build commercial properties. In addition the Consortium are not currently required to have provided such development as the triggers have not yet been reached which are set out in the legal agreements which were signed when Cranbrook first received planning permission.
So the question is what is being done?
Members of the Town Council are meeting weekly with East Devon District Council’s planning team, the Exeter and East Devon Growth Point, the Developer Consortium and their architect. The aim is to identify particular uses which can be delivered and strategies for their delivery. Importantly uses which are being discussed are the town hall, health and wellbeing hub, children’s centre, youth centre, town square and a market hall. The work will lead on to ways of unlocking funding for this infrastructure and that is very much linked to the development of the expansion areas. Without that investment there would not be sufficient funding within the current legal agreement (“Section 106”) terms to deliver what the town requires in key buildings.
The challenge is to design and create a town for the 21st century. We are all aware of the pressures on high streets, especially from competition by on-line retailers. What we do not want is a town centre which is designed on traditional grounds which could result in empty premises.
Cranbrook is a 21st century town and we need a town centre which delivers what we cannot do online and a town centre which complements and enhances online business rather than competes with it. The town centre should incorporate social and green space as well. This is a massive challenge but one which we are meeting. We will communicate updates when progress has been made.