Back in July 2007, when I was a fresh-faced reporter still learning the ropes, my editor gave me what was then my biggest job to date: the ‘Waterside Shopping’ scheme.
It was exciting stuff – a new department store, supermarket, restaurants and shops to complement the amazing theatre we were going to get.
The £100m plans, to be paid for with private money, were generally well received.
To be frank, people just wanted the blimming thing built as the scheme had been in the pipeline since at least 2000.Fast forward another seven years and only the theatre and supermarket (Waitrose) have gone up.
We now have what is essentially the third lot of proposals for the town-centre side of Exchange Street. And just as the recession destroyed the 2006 proposals, so it also informs the new plans, with its emphasis on restaurants, homes and open spaces rather than shops.
The district council has been attacked for using public money to build Waitrose and buy Hale Leys, but – so long as it has done its calculations correctly –I think it should be applauded for doing its upmost to improve the town at a time when, due to the credit crunch, it is in danger of decay.
I like the new plans.
The ‘cloisters-style’ building housing the restaurants looks wonderful, as does the wide town square which will be very pleasant in the summer.
With the right mix of restaurants (please can we have one serving decent seafood?) Aylesbury could become an eating destination of choice from miles around.
I only have one reservation, which I touched upon in a comment piece a couple of months ago and that is the lack of fun, family-friendly things to do in Aylesbury, such as a replacement bowling alley or ice skating rink.
I am told the council would welcome these types of venues but leisure firms are reluctant to move to Aylesbury because of they are already in nearby towns such as Milton Keynes, Wycombe and Hemel – they don’t think there’s a market for them here.
I think they’re mistaken, but I guess that’s capitalism.
The danger is that – especially in the winter and after the rail link to Milton Keynes is opened – ever more people will opt to go elsewhere for their fill of fun, to the detriment of Aylesbury’s economy.
And that would be a shame, because I truly believe that in every other aspect Aylesbury town centre’s future is very bright indeed.