Regular Gazette readers will know that for a long time I’ve had serious reservations about the plans to redevelop The Oaks Shopping Centre on Acton High Street.
It’s been in the local news again recently because the Council has been consulting the public on the Acton Regeneration Company’s latest plans for the site after the previous ones were sent back with ‘not good enough’ marked all over them in big letters. Unfortunately, we haven’t moved on much since then.
The major problem is that this truly is a big missed opportunity at a very important site for Acton. We all know that Acton High Street is absolutely ripe for regeneration. And with Crossrail coming, we need to be encouraging people to get off the train and spend their money in Acton.
But how will The Oaks offer that when the plans are for little more than the same tired old shops we already have? We need a new shopping centre with the sort of retail on offer that will attract people into Acton, lift the High Street and complement the thriving Churchfield Road. Sadly, we’re nowhere near that at the moment with these plans.
One positive is that the developers have listened in one or two small respects. Thankfully, the bizarre metallic cladding that featured so prominently in the previous designs for the main building has been dropped and replaced with familiar Acton red brick which is much more in keeping with the surrounding area. It was good news, too, when we heard that the tower will be reduced in height, but this inevitably means a more dense development which brings its own problems.
Overall, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the proposed new building is completely out of proportion and will blight the surrounding area. Certainly the projected views I’ve seen looking at the site from Derwentwater School confirm this. Light is so important in London and the last thing we want is for important parts of central Acton, like the burial ground adjacent to the site, to be cast into darkness. We need a development that will lift the area, not overshadow it.
And perhaps most importantly, with 142 new homes planned, there is also the question of how we will be able to cope with a huge influx of new residents. What thought has been given to how our existing infrastructure – schools, shops, emergency services, medical facilities, local roads – will be able to manage? A good example is poor Churchfield Road. How is it supposed to cope with big lorries servicing the new underground supermarket planned for The Oaks? Residents already rightly complain about how dangerous the sharp bend at the end of the road is when big lorries have to turn in. It’s the same on the site itself where there is little room for big vehicles to turn around safely.
Concerns like these from local residents are really important and need to be given proper consideration by those assessing the merits of the application. My fear is that to date, little if any time has been given to listening to all this valuable local knowledge. But there is still time before the Planning Committee meets to consider the application so I really do hope the developers and Council officers take advantage of this. The Oaks is too important not to – it’s a big opportunity for Acton. And don’t let’s forget this is a once in a generation chance, the site is unlikely to come up for grabs again anytime soon.