Exhibition charts the crucial developments

By Ian Dipple Friday 28 February 2014 Updated: 28/02 09:22

THE SUCCESS of the development of Redditch as a new town is set to be examined as part of an exhibition marking the start of the borough’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

Members of Redditch Local History Society have analysed scores of archive material left behind by the Redditch Development Corporation for the History of Redditch exhibition from 1964 to 2014 which runs from Wednesday, March 12 to 30 at Forge Mill Needle Museum.

Among them is Brian Stallard, a former chartered engineer with the corporation, who has first hand knowledge of the challenges faced in developing the new town to grow from a population of 24,000 to a projected 100,000 by the end of the 20th century - a target which won’t actually be reached on current projections until about 2030.

The exhibition will focus on seven key areas of the development and set out the planners’ vision, how it was implemented and an analysis of the success of the plans.

One of those areas is the town centre which was the most heavily affected by the changes, with large residential areas such as Evesham Street and Walford Street cleared to make way for The Kingfisher Shopping Centre. Many ‘Old Redditch’ residents feel it was a mistake that ripped the heart out of the town and a new centre should have been constructed in what is now known as Oakenshaw.

But Mr Stallard is not convinced that would have led to a better situation than the town finds itself in today.

“The other side of the coin is what would have happened if we had built the town centre somewhere else? With a new shopping centre on another site this centre would have declined. You would also have had to move the health centre, the banking sector - it was more than just the shopping centre,” he said.

Mr Stallard revealed the bandstand area survived, partly because it was a conservation area, and also because the corporation’s board felt it had ‘ambience’ and the shops were generally uniform in design.

There are a number of quirky features to the town centre design including the car parks which were constructed so motorists would pass the maximum number of spaces going up and the least going down, allowing cars to leave within an average of seven seconds per car.

Special dispensation was also granted from the Government to have the name Redditch included on road signs directing people to the town centre to avoid confusion as there were so many surrounding town centres.

Mr Stallard said the town centre plan had worked but modern developments had pulled it apart, particularly the rise of out of town supermarkets with the loss of Sainsbury’s and Tesco from the Kingfisher Shopping Centre.

“It was conceived as a consumables town centre as opposed to durables. The bullk of the shopping was intended to be done in Redditch,” he said.

“When Tesco opened in the town centre it was the biggest supermarket in Europe based on area, over two floors. When they moved out the centre declined. The development corporation was against out of town shopping.

“But the biggest problem is the internet and that’s going to affect every town, whether a new town or not.”

Derek Coombes, one of the historians working on the project, said another example of where the corporation may have made a difference was flooding. In the 1970s a series of balancing lakes were constructed, including Arrow Valley Lake, to avoid possible future flooding as part of the new town expansion.

“Redditch has been very fortunate to avoid such problems, but is this due to good luck or the work of the Development Corporation?”

The exhibition is open during Forge Mill’s usual opening hours with normal admission charges applying, although entry is free to Redditch residents on Wednesdays.

It is also the first event in the So Redditch programme to mark the 50th anniversary of new town designation, which will culminate in a week of events from July 26 to August 3.

Visit www.so-reditch.info for more information.

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