Opinion is divided on a new regeneration project in Caterham Valley. Following their original application in January 2019, BP Ropemaker Properties Ltd recently submitted revised plans for its proposal to Tandridge District Council for the redevelopment of Church Walk Shopping Centre.
It includes planning for 174 homes, a cinema and an upgradedmulti-storey car park. It also reduces the number of existing retail units, instead creating bigger spaces to encourage larger chains into the area, and increase visitor numbers.
Local residents are concerned that the site will exacerbate existing flooding and parking issues, already contentious topics in the Valley. Older small businesses may suffer from the arrival of new companies, with the possibility of many being forced to close if they are unable to compete.
There is also apprehension over Caterham's aesthetic. If planning permission is received, several existing Church Walk properties will be demolished and there are worries that some of the town's striking architecture will be lost. Other areas in the region have guidelines that ensure new builds preserve their character and many are asking why Caterham is not protected in this way.
Nick Keable, speaking on behalf of Ropemaker, addressed these concerns, stating that the plans had been carefully designed to alleviate flooding. A large tank will sit beneath the new development, collecting and slowly releasing the rain water that runs down surface roads and pools in the valley during peak rain periods, the cause of the flooding. The provisions have been fully approved by the Environment Agency, Surrey County Council and SES Water.
Nick explained that rather than adding to parking woes, the new build will provide expanded parking for users. He said:
"Although the accepted standard ratio in Tandridge for residential parking is one space per property, the UK standard for build to rent properties, as these will be, is 1:0.5, or one space for every two dwellings. We will be providing Church Walk's residents with a ratio of 1:0.75 parking provision which, given the young, professional demographic the housing is aimed at, many of whom won't own a vehicle, is likely to be more than is actually needed.
The proximity of the train station will attract people who would rather use public transport so many of these spaces allocated to the housing may not be used. If this is the case, as we believe it will be, then more, in the future, could be released to businesses and retailers."
Once residential, staff and car club spaces have been accounted for there will be 577 parking bays in Church Walk for public and business users, an increase of 124 on those currently available. Businesses will have access to 80 of these, a rise of 35.
In regards to design worries, Nick stated that the existing buildings in Church Walk's footprint could not be included in the new plans as they were not fit for purpose.
"The design of the new development is intended to be a sympathetic but modern take on the existing character of the town. It replicates the variety in building styles and was approved by the council."
A second spokesman for Ropemaker Properties said:
"In these very difficult times, we remain very excited about delivering this much needed step change to Caterham town centre. The proposed cinema, new cafes, restaurants, shops and apartments as well as the significantly enlarged and improved car park, will help make Caterham an even more vibrant place to live, work and visit."
The Caterham Business Improvement District (BID) is supporting Ropemaker's application, with information available on their website, www.caterhamvalley.co.uk.
BID Chairman Andrew Browne:
"BID is supporting the Church Walk development proposal as it presents a unique opportunity to invest £50m of private funding in our town centre. We're confident an improved retail centre will benefit local residents through the provision of a broader offer to complement the town's independent businesses and, in turn, increase footfall.
Caterham Valley has a minimal evening economy but the inclusion of a cinema and restaurants will enhance the experience available in the town centre. The flats, which will only be available to rent and are aimed at young professionals, will attract a younger demographic who will spend some of their income in Caterham, and this can only be a good thing for the business community."
Tandridge District Council says that, if permission is granted, it will work with Ropemaker to ensure disruption to businesses and residents is minimised. The development will be completed in stages, and access to existing facilities will be maintained where possible.
The consultation period for this application ended on 17 March and there has been consternation that a decision is still pending. Tandridge Council's Interim Chief Planning Officer, Charlotte Parker, sympathised with those who were expecting confirmation of the plans:
"We know this planning proposal is of huge interest to Caterham residents and businesses and are aware the delay in reaching a decision has been far from ideal. We are continuing to work on it over the next few weeks and aim to present a report to our Planning Committee for discussion as soon as possible, although this may be delayed due to the current situation with Coronavirus. We have received many comments on the application, reflecting the views of individuals, businesses and community groups and these will all be taken into account in the decision making process."