In an interview with the Herald, Mr Follows, who is standing for election in South West Surrey on December 12, questioned whether the current Brightwells scheme is “appropriate” given its gloomy financial outlook – and expressed a desire to reinstate a theatre at the heart of the mixed-use redevelopment of East Street.
Responding this week, Mr Follows praised his colleague’s “honest” appraisal, and called for “another body, not the council, to have a look to the development”.
He said: “Brightwells has been tagged as a big material part of our budget for the whole of Waverley, so if it’s not delivering, it’s a problem and not just for Farnham.
“Is the current content of the Brightwells site appropriate? If it’s not making the money that we think it should, or we were told it should, maybe we need to start looking at parts of that.”
Mr Follows added he “would love to see a theatre” incorporated in the Brightwells development, supporting the position of Waverley’s 15 councillor-strong Farnham Residents group, and was one of the few councillors to vote against the Redgrave Theatre’s demolition in January last year.
He acknowledged there were “clearly issues” getting people through the doors at the Redgrave prior to its closure in 1997. But believes the increased footfall promised by Brightwells could still make a theatre viable – and that a theatre could itself improve the attraction of the scheme’s retail and dining offering.
He said: “It would be great if we could bring some other cultural things back into Farnham through Brightwells if there is an opportunity to. The current economic climate means we kind of have to, because we can’t just expect to fill it with shops.
“Crest keep telling us that more shops will come as they get closer to the [spring 2021] completion date, but at what point do we start getting worried about that?
“It doesn’t fill me with an immense amount of confidence that they’ve got nothing so far.
“It’s about making visits to Farnham and Brightwells an experience, not just somewhere you go for retail shopping. Without things like the Redgrave, does that happen? I don’t think so.”