CONSTRUCTION of the Brightwells regeneration scheme is finally set to commence this summer, Waverley Borough Council has declared, some 14 years after developer Crest Nicholson was awarded a contract for the development.
The future of the mixed-use development on land south of East Street looked in real jeopardy earlier this year after five Farnham residents, including two councillors, mounted a legal challenge against the scheme at the High Court.
However, this was curtailed after a judge ruled the claimants didn’t have the necessary standing to take forward their challenge, and Waverley’s leader Julia Potts has since told The Herald that the main construction phase is set to commence “in the coming months”.
Construction of Brightwells is expected to take between 18 and 24 months - raising the prospect that its long-promised 239 new homes and 9,814 square metres of retail and leisure space, including a six-screen cinema, could be ready by early 2019.
It is proposed the estimated £108 million (plus VAT) cost of Brightwells will be met in part by Crest Nicholson, which will fund the infrastructure and residential elements of the scheme, and Surrey County Council which has offered to invest around £30m in the commercial element as part of its “support for economic growth in the county”.
Waverley will receive a capital payment of £3.19m from Crest for the lease hold interest on the land, as well as sharing the commercial rental income with the county council to “support the ongoing delivery of council services”.
Miss Potts, who is also the councillor for Upper Hale, said: “This is a very exciting time as the first initial surveys have already taken place. The next steps are to agree the hoarding plan and timetable for the bulk of the works.
“Crest Nicholson, Surrey County Council and Waverley Borough Council are all working to finalise the required legal agreements to facilitate this regeneration project, which will breathe new life back into an underused part of Farnham.
“As long as the target date for the completion of the pre-commencement tasks is achieved, Crest Nicholson should take possession of the site later in the summer.”
The next step, Miss Potts added, requires the developer to implement a number of conditions in accordance with its 2012 planning permission. These include:
• Stripping the roofs from buildings where bats may reside, and building a bat house to provide a new habitat for the existing ones on site.
• Demolishing the existing buildings, including the Redgrave Theatre - an annexe to the Grade II-listed Brightwell House, which will be retained.
• Clearing trees adjacent to the A31 and building the temporary construction access bridge across the River Wey, connecting the site to the A31.
The council leader continued: “The main construction phase is estimated to start in the coming months. A specific start date will be published once the pre-commencement tasks are finished and we have received the developer’s timetable.
“As well as this, the extension of the Memorial Hall, which will be the new home of the Gostrey Centre and Waverley Training Services, is going well.
“Once the scheme is complete, Farnham will have some fantastic new homes, leisure facilities and more than 800 jobs to help the local economy. We are so pleased to be part of the team delivering this amazing project.”
It comes just weeks after independent Farnham-based architect Damien Blower questioned the viability of the development, which he said would be “out of keeping” with how Surrey’s market towns are used by the walking public.
• Waverley was forced to bring in extra security at the Brightwells development site this week following a fresh spate of break-ins at the derelict Redgrave Theatre and Brightwells House.
The recent incidents have seen culprits using crowbars and angle grinders to gain entry to the buildings, which were closed to the public in 1998 and have been frequently targeted by squatters over the proceeding decades.
Just last year Waverley spent £5,000 to secure the site with metal shutters following an increase in anti-social behaviour in the area and information provided to the council by the police.
Council leader Julia Potts said: “It is not safe for anyone to be in there without appropriate permission and protective equipment. It is extremely dark inside and there are hazards everywhere, including pulled up floorboards and debris.
“That’s why we have made the decision to provide added protection by temporarily hiring in security personnel to patrol the area over the summer - when we typically see an increase in seasonal anti-social behaviour, due to the warmer weather and lighter evenings.”
The latest vandalism has infuriated the Farnham Theatre Association (FTA), which has long campaigned for the Redgrave to be reinstated as a performing arts venue and blames Waverley for neglecting the theatre since its closure in 1998.
The FTA said in a statement: “Dereliction will always attract vandalism. The Brightwell tennis courts are no longer in use and now that The Marlborough Head pub joins the Redgrave as an abandoned building the whole Brightwells area is uncared for and without purpose. Vandalism is entirely predictable.
“Waverley’s council tax payers will now be required to fund extra security measures for a situation that has been entirely created by Waverley and Crest Nicholson.”
To report a break-in at the site, contact Surrey Police on 101. Waverley’s executive committee will meet on July 11 to agree how long the security patrols will be in place for.