£25 Million To Breathe New Life Into Old Huntingdon

hinchinbrooke_house08:40 Wednesday 15th May 2013
Bigger Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: Huntingdon town centre is to be spruced up to the tune of twenty five million big ones. A new town centre multi-storey car park is due to be completed by December, and with Sainsburys moving to a new site, more brand new shop units are planned, as well as a redevelopment of the wider Chequers Court area. Jason Ablewhite of course is the Executive Leader of Hunts District Council. He’s with us. Morning.
JASON ABLEWHITE: Good morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: £25 million! Where’s all this come from then?
JASON ABLEWHITE: Well, some of it, a small portion of it, about £3 million, has come from the District Council. Us again investing in our the vibrancy of our market town centres. And the rest has come from private investors. So I think that’s a … it’s a culmination of many years of negotiations, a lot of give and take between the partners, which has come to this fruition over the last week to this absolutely phantastic news of this massive investment in one of our market towns.
PAUL STAINTON: Some would say long overdue.
JASON ABLEWHITE: Yes. Very much long overdue. This negotiation, like I say, has been going on for many years. The Chequers Court building itself an eyesore, a blot on the landscape of Huntingdon town centre. And I think there’ll be many cheers when that starts to come down. Though again what we will see in the future is very much the retail parks that we’ve all grown to expect on the edge of town very much coming back into the heart of the town centre, and the service centre of the local community.
PAUL STAINTON: And how are you going to do that? How are you going to entice them back in? Not with a lick of paint and a new shop window surely?
JASON ABLEWHITE: (LAUGHS) Well this isn’t about licks of paint. This is about a pretty big wholesale redevelopment of the town centre as it is. The heart of the town centre will stay the same. We’ve got a really good traditional high street, voted one of the top ten last year in the country for the diversity of shops et cetera. So that very much will be supported by this tandem development next door, which will bring a lot of these bigger hub stores back in, some of the big high street names you’d expect to see on the edge of the town actually in the town centre.
PAUL STAINTON: Who have you got interested?
JASON ABLEWHITE: Well, we can’t say names at the moment, but there are some significant retail names that are ..
PAUL STAINTON: The worry is, you say big shops and people think, hold on a minute, it will be charity shops and mobile phone shops and William Hill and Ladbrokes.
JASON ABLEWHITE: No. No is the case there. What you will see is some of the bigger chains coming into the heart of the town, rather than being on the edge of town, which of course is a complete reverse of many councils’ policies ion the last, where out of town shopping has become the norm, and the life blood has been sucked out of the town centres.
PAUL STAINTON: I’ve been watching the Mary Portas thing. It’s not just about retail is it? You’ve got to entice people into the town centre as well with other things, other than shops.
JASON ABLEWHITE: Well this is the whole point. This is an experience. Regardless of what Mary Portas is saying, and of course she’s very right in her analogies of what’s going on in our town centres at the moment, but this is a council, we are a council that’s ahead of the game yet again in looking at what is the future, what is the future of our market towns.
PAUL STAINTON: What is it then? What is the future?
JASON ABLEWHITE: Well I think it’s going to be very much an experience. People will be looking for an experience. It’s too easy to go online and buy stuff cheaper these days, so what’s the point of going into a town centre? Well, the point will be if you’ve got good clean environments, a good selection of shops, some good hub shops. Let’s not forget that £65 million worth of white goods are bought outside of Huntingdonshire by people who live in it, every year.
PAUL STAINTON: So if you get some of that back, you’ll be ..
JASON ABLEWHITE: If we get some of that back into the local economy, how good is that going to be?
PAUL STAINTON: How long is this all going to take Jason?
JASON ABLEWHITE: Well, we’re talking about the diggers on the ground now. The multi-storey car park which the District Council is investing in will be done by the end of the year. And now the agreements are signed, have been signed, we expect work to start very very quickly.
PAUL STAINTON: Are you interested in our Bigger Breakfast Bowl, for Cambridge United and Peterborough United to play in? Have you got anywhere you could put it?
JASON ABLEWHITE: Well, you know, we’re always open to negotiation with anyone that wants to come here. If Cambridge United want to become Huntingdonshire United, we’ll be happy to sit round the table with them.
PAUL STAINTON: Have you got a strip of land for my Bowl .. anywhere?
JASON ABLEWHITE: (LAUGHS) We can always find a strip of land Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: (LAUGHS) Jason, thank you very much for that. Jason Ablewhite. £25 million revamp of Huntingdon town centre, and you’re going to get the big shops back. It’s not going to be charity shops. It’s not going to be Bookie Alley. It’s going to be … things like Currys probably and stuff like that, I would imagine.