THE story of Bracknell’s town centre regeneration has been laid bare in a new report which goes back to when the plans were first imagined.

Henley Business School’s research documents the highs and lows of the project, which reached a major landmark in the ongoing scheme when the Lexicon opened in September 2017.

Victor Nicholls, former Assistant Chief Executive of Bracknell Forest Council (BFC) and lecturer at Henley Business School, said: “This piece of research was a fitting conclusion to a period of over 17 years where the regeneration of Bracknell town centre was my primary focus.

READ ALSO: Bracknell regeneration plans for The Deck unveiled

“Putting this report together gave me the opportunity to stand back from a project in which I was closely involved, review the approach and celebrate its success. It is particularly appropriate that the research should be published on the 70th anniversary of the New Town.

“And it is a reminder that developing a community never stops, something that I’m sure the original development corporation would have agreed with.”

The report outlined how initial regeneration plans were thrown out by Inspectors in the late 1990s, which led to BFC working with major landowners in the town centre to deliver the scheme – something the School deemed “critical” for the regeneration’s success.

Following this rejection, the council took a cross-party approach that was “instrumental” in the eventual delivery of The Lexicon.

£300m regeneration plans could see 700 town centre homes

Three years after the Inspector’s refusal, BFC approved a new town centre masterplan and in 2003 the Bracknell Regeneration Partnership was borne from an agreement between the landowners.

Early suggested designs indicate the regeneration scheme was known as ‘The Eye’ with the shape of the new town centre including a covered street and a single five-storey development.

However, the global financial crash of 2008 meant a serious review of the financial viability of the scheme was needed, resulting in a redesign of the layout close to today’s town centre plan.

According to the report, the delivery of Waitrose three years later was a key point in the regeneration as it “provided confidence to residents that the regeneration was going to happen”.

But the next few years would prove to be tricky for the council, according to the School’s report.

After the demolition of the town centre began in July 2013, one of the partners involved in the Bracknell Regeneration Partnership took the decision in October that year to dispose of their town centre assets after the retail market continued to get worse.

New Lexicon events area opens up

BFC responded with a rescue package of £12.4 million which encouraged the partner to stay on board, meaning a ‘development agreement’ could be rubber-stamped and building work could commence.

An interviewee involved with the report commented: “The biggest single milestone for me is something that most residents won’t understand, which was the signing and execution of the development agreement and when that went unconditional.

“That was a huge day, that was happy dances around the office at 2 o’clock in the morning…‘this is going to happen, this is now, this is real’.”

The Lexicon opened in September 2017 and during its first year, more than 16 million people visited the renewed town centre, meaning Bracknell reached 33rd in the national retail rankings, up from 255th.