Regent Circus - Some thoughts...

Submitted by Matt on Sat, 10/08/2013 - 08:40:57

I'm not one to lift images from the web, but I have borrowed the above from the PDF brochure available on the Regent Cirus website to show what the development should look like once it's finished. 

There's no doubt in anyone's mind that the former Swindon College site at the end of Regent Circus was in poor shape when the college moved out in 2005 and it being left derelict, much like Aspen House which became vacant at around the same time certainly has left its mark at the 'top-end' of new town, not only aesthetically, but also economically.  Ashfield Land purchased the Regent Circus site in 2006 and now the former eyesore is starting to morph into a clean and modern structure. 

According to the promotional website, the site will include eight retail/leisure units, a Cineworld Cinema, and a Morrison's foodstore.  Many will see this development as the shot in the arm that Swindon's ailing town centre has much needed for many years.  Just a quick look around the Regent Street for example highlights a number of empty retail units, some of which have been closed for some time. 

While Regent Circus is an exciting chapter in Swindon's redevelopment, I can't help but feel that the introduction of Regent Circus will actively pull people away from the main shopping drags of Regent Street, Canal Street and The Parade.  For example, I would generally choose to park for free at Asda Haydon, Asda West Swindon or at the Tesco on Ocotal Way for a main shop (if I didn't do it on line) but on the odd occasion I need to go to the bank which is located, ironically, on Regent Circus and stock up on a couple of essentials while in the town.  At present I'd drive into Swindon, park in the Multi-Storey opposite the law courts head into Tesco Metro, Sainsburys, Iceland, or the butchers on Havelock Square, then to the bank and back home.  With Regent Circus, I'm more likely to park there, head into the Morrisons, pop over to the bank and back out again without giving the rest of the town centre a second look. I personally think that the development will move a lot of activity from the centre of 'New Town' to what I would say is its periphery.

The Cineworld development is also quite interesting. 

Cineworld owned the 12 screen property on the Greenbridge Estate until their merger with UGC in 2005.  Shortly after the merger, as part of an OFT ruling, and in what I felt was a surprise move, they disposed of the purpose built property to Empire Cinemas favouring the former Cannon/MGM/Virgin/UGC property with only 7 screens at Shaw Ridge instead.  This is particularly interesting given their plans in 2004 to extend the Greenbridge site to 15 screens by way of an extension to the rear.  That said, Cineworld moving into the Regent Circus development could be seen a shrewd move; they end up with 13 screens on their Swindon estate, with two distinct geographical areas to operate in.  There are two possible drawbacks - (1) you will have to pay to park to go to the Town Centre cinema.  Why would someone with a car pay to park when Greenbridge and Shaw Ridge have free parking? and (2) if the 'film planners' stuff both properties with the same films, they're effectively reducing choice and sending people to the Empire at Greenbridge.

Parking is always a contentious issue, and the 450 spaces that Regent Circus offers is warmly welcomed, however I take issue with the Car Parking Management Plan which forms part of the plans submitted to Swindon Borough Council.  The plan states that "The parking tariff will reflect the Council's town centre Premium Short Stay Car Parking pricing strategy (i.e. the pricing strategy currently used at The College car park on the site) and will be designed for short stay use, with the exception of any permits provided in relation to the proposed offices which can be used in the leisure car park."

Fair enough; you need to placate the council to get the planning permission and make them think that you're not going to eat into the £7m profit they allegedly made on car parking over the last three years.  I've always been against the council's parking pricing policy as I think they are grossly out of touch with reality, but the next bit is interesting...

The plan further goes on to say: "Any changes to the Council’s Premium Short Stay Car Parking pricing strategy will be implemented at the foodstore car park and leisure car parks within three months."

The way I read this is that if Swindon Borough Council upped their prices, the owners of Regent Circus would follow within 3 months.  This seems to suggest that there won't be any car-parking competition in the town (which is deperately needed to, at the very least, make a point to the council) and as a result going into the town centre by car will still remain extremely expensive.

I'm going to be keeping an eye on developments at this end of the town; my thoughts and opinions here could be a complete load of tosh, but by the same token, I could be talking sense.