THE first stage in the redevelopment of the Molson Coors brewery site on Lower Turk Street got under way last week when more than 200 people flocked to Alton Assembly Rooms for a public consultation.
Molson Coors closed the brewery 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 Coors is looking to achieve a redevelopment partner, but first it has to be clear on what planning uses would be considered appropriate for this sensitive 12-acre town centre site.
As such, it has joined forces with East Hampshire District Council (EHDC) and Alton Town Council to produce a development brief that will set out how the site can be best used and advise planners as they decide on future planning applications. It is expected to be ready by next April.
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.
Last Wednesday’s public consultation marked the first step in the preparation of the development brief. People were asked what their priorities would be for the redevelopment of the site, what they considered the main opportunities, and what were the main challenges and issues to be addressed.
The public will have further opportunity to comment as the brief is developed. This will include a formal six-week consultation period when the draft development document is put out to formal consultation in the spring.
It was made clear at last Wednesday’s consultation that the development brief for the brewery site will have to take account of national and local planning policy. The Government’s National Planning Policy Framework, released in March 2012, promotes sustainable development, with the planning system designed to help build a strong economy and vibrant and healthy communities while protecting and enhancing the natural, built and historic environments.
Alton is covered by East Hampshire’s joint core strategy (Local Plan) which was produced by EHDC and the South Downs National Park Authority and formally adopted in 2014. Policy CP4 dictates that while trying to maintain employment opportunities, it may be appropriate to allow for alternative uses on sites that are shown to be no longer suitable for employment use.
The brewery site also lies within the area covered by Alton’s emerging neighbourhood plan which encourages the redevelopment of the site for a mix of different uses.
Alton has a brewing history spanning more than 500 years, and since 1763 has seen the coming and going of a number of larger commercial breweries in the town. The present Coors brewery was built in 1963 to make Harp lager, and the inaugural mash was started by Earl Mountbatten.
In 1979, Bass purchased the site from Harp and Courage. The brewing division of Bass was acquired by Coors in 2002 and three years later Coors merged with Molson, changing the company name to Molson Coors.
For the seven years prior to closure, Molson Coors’ Alton brewery had been reliant on brewing Heineken, which was around 75 per cent of the total Alton brewery production. In 2014, Heineken announced that it would not be renewing the contract and, as a result, Molson Coors embarked on a review of its UK brewery network.
A number of options were considered by Molson Coors prior to announcing the closure of the site, including redistribution of Molson Coors brands across UK facilities, and reviewing how the Alton site could be reshaped to accommodate lower volumes, but neither was considered commercially viable.
According to Molson Coors, significant efforts were taken to seek alternative contract brewing opportunities, but this proved unsuccessful, as did investigations into the feasibility of building a smaller new brewery at Alton.
The announcement of the closure of the Molson Coors brewery was widely communicated however, according to the company: “At no point during the period following the closure announcement was Molson Coors approached regarding a possible sale of the site as a going brewery concern.”
Visitors to the consultation exhibition heard that future development proposals must contribute positively to the town, but must also be commercially viable and attractive to developers to ensure they can be delivered.
The development brief is expected to cover a range of issues embracing employment opportunities, housing, community use, town centre access, highways, town centre parking, amenity, public access and open space.
Situated adjacent to Alton’s Historic Centre Conservation Area and with Culverton House, a Grade II Listed building, sitting within its boundary, it will also need to take into account heritage issues and flood risk since the River Wey runs across the site, with an area of land either side categorised as flood zone three (potentially high risk of flooding).
This first consultation is open until January 8. Information and feedback forms are available online at easthants.gov.uk.