The first Exec of the new Council saw an interesting community topic for new Councillors namely whether Camberley should get a temporary ice rink at London Road Recreation Ground for Christmas.
Now the romantic side of anyone will naturally find this idea appealing – who can fail to get a warm feeling about the idea of families skating together with grandparents looking on supping their mulled wine and nibbling their Christmas biscuits? That is why iconic venues across the UK such as Somerset House, Winchester Cathedral and Windsor are so popular and ambitious town centres wish to grab some of this spirit and the monies that may come from it.
But would we seriously say the same about the London Road Recreation Ground on the edge of Camberley Town Centre? Now granted, I have played football there on many occasions and it has the Leisure Centre next to it but it’s not exactly a Christmassy venue no matter how many “Victorian pavilions” aka “changing rooms” are based there.
Ah, but what about all those other Town Centres that operate ice rinks around the country? Now it is true that there are city centres which operate similar ventures but they are based in the centre of a large city usually right in the middle of the main shopping area. They compliment rather than compete with the shops. Other Councils have tried and failed to make them work hence why you don’t see them in every town. The attraction of financial success has proved to be a pipe dream.
In contrast, London Road Recreation Ground does not adjoin any shops and is removed from our main shopping areas. Yes it is a 5 min walk but to access you would have to cross a number of busy roads not suitable for children and walk to a part of town that apart from the leisure centre has few natural visitors. Personally I doubt that many will choose to do so unless they park at the Arena (discouraged)
Therefore, by definition, anyone who is visiting the ice rink/Christmas stalls will not be visiting our shops at the same time. Instead,the Council have decided to set up a rival town centre location such that customers could park in Main Square and walk there without passing a single shop. How is this possibly promoting town centre redevelopment of our shopping area? Even if this did attract new destination shoppers to try Camberley (which I doubt), the distance means that there is no guarantee they will bother to look round our town centre which is actually what we want people to do. To use a football analogy, it seems the equivalent of scoring an own goal.
The venue also lacks any kind of visual presence as it will not be seen by drivers along the A30 (blocked by the Leisure Centre) and will have limited viewing from Southwell Park Road. Most people will not realise that it is there without a heavy marketing campaign that would be better spent on the town centre itself. I dread to think how much officer time will now be sucked up trying to make this work that could and should be spent elsewhere.
Some Cllrs did realise this at the meeting and there were increasingly desperate attempts to put forward alternative town centre venues such as Park Street and both the ground floor and top floor of a car park but apparently it was here or not at all. At this point, it should have been obvious that we were trying to fit our town centre to match an ice rink and not the other way round and immediately scrapped the idea with regret. Sadly that didn’t happen.
Ironically, even if the idea is a roaring success, that brings a range of other problems which were articulately raised by Cllr Colin Dougan namely parking, noise, policing and traffic impact to his local residents. None of these were answered at the meeting although he will at least be consulted on progress along with the Town Cllrs whose residents won’t be impacted at all.
The emotional argument for an ice rink in Camberley is inviting and I suspect that some have been carried away with the success of events like the cycle race such that judgement has been clouded. The logical argument against using London Road Rec is compelling and the risk to the town centre vision alarming.