Tap into Molson Coors site debate

Monday 2nd May 2016 6:00 am
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ALTON residents are to have another chance to have their say on proposals for the re-development of the Molson Coors brewery site during a series of consultations in May.

A development brief for the future of the site is being put together by a project delivery board comprising representatives of East Hampshire District Council, Alton Town Council, and Molson Coors.

While the first attempt, put forward in March, drew fierce criticism that the proposals resembled “a massive town centre housing development” which bore no resemblance to the ideas put forward by local people during the first public consultation, the hope is that this time the delivery board will have got it right.

Alton Society chairman Bob Booker is clear about the importance of the town centre site.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our town to take the lead in providing a mixed development which will provide enjoyment, living space, community facilities both indoor and outside, plus the provision of a source of clean energy for all the residents and tenants.

“We would be leaders in this provision for a market town,” he said.

He was reflecting the views of the Alton Society which has already registered its views on how it would like to see the 12-acre site developed and, at a recent meeting with the delivery board, was able to expand on its innovative ideas.

Alton Society built environment group chairman and architect Nick Carey-Thomas said: “The Society is pushing for a real legacy for the town embracing clean energy technology, a community multi-purpose building, and a Wey river walk from the station and Kings Pond all the way to Flood Meadows.

“It is urging for flats and apartments with balconies and roof gardens for the top end of the market as well as affordable units, at a relatively high density, that would release more of the site for public amenities.

“It is calling for the demolition of the brewery wall adjacent to Drayman’s Way, replacing this with a street-scape and easy crossing from the site to the alleyway which runs along the side of the river.

“Finally, the Society has suggested that parts of the development could be subject to a design competition in which innovative ideas would be encouraged.”

As an Alton resident of 33 years, John Grace, was deeply disappointed with the delivery board’s first attempt at producing a development brief for the former brewery site. And he has criticised the lack of promotion of the public consultations.

“It has been suggested that there is no ‘vision’ from the people of Alton for this town centre site. Given the manner in which engagement with the public by the board has been carried out it is not surprising that some would reach that conclusion.”

By contrast, he points out, the Alton Neighbourhood Plan, which was strongly supported by Altonians throughout its development, and has now been adopted as an approved, legal document, makes clear that the town has exceeded its housing quota, set out in East Hampshire District Council’s joint core strategy.

And he argues that the delivery board is choosing not to pick up on the town’s ‘vision’ for the brewery site, skewing the figures to come up with a plan for yet more housing.

As the chairman of Alton and District Residents’ Association, Mr Grace believes that what the people of Alton want is a community and leisure complex on the site to “breathe new life into the town centre”. One that would include a new community and sports centre, cinema, craft workshops, small starter business premises, and a museum dedicated to the history of brewing in Alton.

“The site is large enough to encompass all these things and affordable housing to the level of 40 to 50 dwellings,” said Mr Grace, adding that he had approached East Hampshire District Council leader Ferris Cowper about the possibility of the district council buying the brewery site as an investment for the taxpayer.

This view may be alien to Molson Coors whose consultants, Aecom, state that following the March consultation the majority of residents (65 per cent) agreed with the emerging plan for the brewery site, praising the “good mix of uses and welcoming the option for a community centre”.

It added that respondents also liked proposals to reveal the river which runs through the site, creating a “green corridor”, the building of a new community hub, housing, a health centre, a hotel, and flexible business space.

Jim Strike, of Aecom, said: “This consultation is an important opportunity to come and have your say on the development brief while it is at a formative stage. This site is a crucial opportunity for Alton and it is important to put it to the best possible use for the town.

“We can’t do that without the input and support of local residents, so I would call on the people of Alton to come out, examine the presentations, and have their say.”

The consultation events take place at Alton Assembly Rooms on Wednesday, May 4 (2pm-5pm and 6pm-8pm); Saturday, May 7 (10am-4pm); and Tuesday, May 24 (5pm-8pm).

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