AS Molson Coors prepares to bow out of Alton, bringing an end to the town’s long and rich brewing history, it is striving to leave a lasting legacy.
And it is one that councillors are hoping Alton will be proud of.
The Lower Turk Street brewery closed at the end of May, ending 52 years of brewing on the Manor Park site and triggering 108 redundancies.
Decommissioning of the site is currently under way and is due to be completed by Christmas. In the meantime, Molson Corrs is looking for a redevelopment partner, but first it has to be clear on what planning uses would be considered appropriate for this highly-sensitive 12-acre town centre site.
As such, it has joined forces with East Hampshire District Council (EHDC) and Alton Town Council with a view to producing a development brief by the end of April that will set out how the site can be best used and advise planners as they decide on future planning applications.
The team has jointly commissioned specialist consultants AECOM to work on the brief to ensure the resulting document is deliverable and viable. The team will also monitor the project’s progress and approve the various stages of development.
During a meeting of EHDC’s development policy panel on November 25, to understand and agree the process needed in order to deliver the development brief, councillors heard how part of Molson Coors’ early marketing strategy was to see if another operative could take on the site as a working brewery, but without success.
In considering the redevelopment and reuse of this sizeable brownfield site, both Alton’s draft neighbourhood plan and EHDC’s joint core strategy stress the importance of retaining at least part of the site for business use, so that it does not result in a loss of jobs.
Any redevelopment will have to take into account site constraints, such as traffic access and generation, flood risk from the River Wey which runs through the site via a culvert, land contamination, on-site heritage as the site lies adjacent to Alton’s Historic Centre Conservation Area and includes Grade II Listed Culverton House, and bad neighbour uses as the site lies within a largely residential neighbourhood and would not be suitable for uses which generate significant nuisance, noise or odours.
Nonetheless, the site is considered to present a “significant regeneration opportunity” for mixed use development, including employment, housing and community use, while complementing the adjacent conservation area, adding some additional town centre car parking, and with an emphasis on the development of a “parkland” setting.
Speaking at the development policy panel meeting, Alton councillor Graham Hill stressed the importance, as set out in Alton’s neighbourhood plan, of developing a “parkland setting” for the site.
Describing Manor Park as a “jewel in Alton’s crown”, Mr Hill said Molson Coors had made it clear that it wanted to retain its reputation as a good employer by leaving a “lasting legacy for the town”.
As such there was a need to be as creative as possible in both design and usage, while taking what could be “a golden opportunity” to open up the River Wey, to develop a ‚“park-like setting” in the centre of Alton.
Mr Hill was keen that there should be sensible mix usage, with the emphasis on innovation and good design and developing the site for high-end employment provision, such as service industry and software development, using the opportunity to “up-skill” employment levels.
In looking at the draft principles to be considered in the preparation of the development brief, councillors agreed that “the intention is not to set down prescriptions or limitations but to stimulate a responsive design process that will deliver something special for the site and for Alton”.
In agreeing the setting up of a project delivery team comprising representatives of EHDC, Molson Coors and AECOM and a project board to monitor its progress, comprising representatives of Molson Coors, EHDC and Alton Town Council including district council portfolio holder for planning Angela Glass, Graham Hill, town council leader Peter Hicks, town clerk Leah Coney, and Alton neighbourhood plan chairman Mike Heelis, the development policy panel also agreed a two-stage public consultation process that will take place over the coming months.
Commenting on the process, Mr Glass said: “This is a great opportunity for Alton. The old brewery is a key site in the centre of town and it is vital to think carefully about how the land is developed in the future.”
Leah Coney added: “The regeneration of the brewery site is of great interest to local residents and as such the Alton Neighbourhood Plan includes an action point specifically to work with EHDC to achieve the appropriate mixed-use development of the brewery site.
“It is therefore incredibly positive that the town council can contribute and work collaboratively with both the district council and Molson Coors in preparing the development brief for this site.”
In the meantime, work is nearing completion on a new outdoor bowls provision in Chawton Park Road, and improvements to the football enclosure at Anstey Park, paid for by Molson Coors as a planning condition for housing development on the Coors Sports Ground in Anstey Road.