Campaigners fight to transform neglected Camberley shopping parade

  • ITV News Meridian's Nicki Woodcock spoke to local people about their hopes for the Old Dean area

Business owners, residents and local councillors in a Surrey town are fighting to transform their local shopping parade which they say has been neglected for years. The shopping precinct at Old Dean in Camberley has scores of empty shops. Some have been left derelict for more than 15 years.

The owner of the barbers, which opened five years ago, says building a customer base has been tough.

Hafez Awad said: "I got to a point that I thought I would regret opening as it was just dead and now people have begun to know us, we get people in.

"Some people, they just travel to different places. We have free parking, but six or seven shops are closed.

"We want these shops to be open so we have more businesses in the area."

Many of the shops have been shut for years. Credit: ITV News Meridian

Ali Cox, who owns the butchers, said: "A couple of guys came in looking to start up a greengrocers or a small bakers, and they are asking who owns the shops so they can get in touch with them, but they're just coming up against brick walls, trying to find out who owns them."

Campaigners hope a recent change in legislation could be the turning point they need to bring a new lease of life to the area.

The government introduced Part 10 of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill in October 2023 which gives councils the power to work directly with landlords to bring empty buildings back into use.

Councillor Trefor Hogg, Surrey County Council, Camberley East, Con, said: "Fundamentally we've got the key to the door. Before then it was just hopelessly difficult.

"People who have abandoned properties for decades. People who became bankrupt and the insolvency service locked out the property from any transactions and landlords occasionally demanding totally unrealistic rents with unrealistic expectations of the value of the property.

"The legislation changes everything because it now provides that key to open the door, unlock the shops and get them back into use."

Campaigners hope a recent change in legislation could be the turning point to bring a new lease of life to the area. Credit: ITV News Meridian

Resident Pat Carswell says a wider variety of shops is desperately needed.

Pat said: "Being disabled, we do get forgotten. But being able to come up here and have more shops and more services. It'll only make my life and everyone else's life better.

"We cannot do it alone, the businesses can't do it alone. We need to make sure our local councils are 100% fully behind us. If we tick all of those boxes, it's a goer."

In a statement, Surrey Heath Borough Council said: "Surrey Heath Borough Council is aware of a petition to reactivate empty, privately owned shops on the Old Dean Parade, potentially using new powers recently enabled by parliament, and welcomes residents engaging with the council in bringing issues of concern forward."The council is committed to delivering, enabling and supporting economic development to ensure that existing and new opportunities are actively explored for the benefit of businesses, residents and visitors."The Surrey Heath Economic Development Strategy provides an ambitious road map for good growth and prosperity of the local economy from 2023 to 2028.

"It identifies opportunities for accelerated economic growth and resilience whilst, taking a proactive approach to mitigating the global, regional and local challenges impacting the borough.

"As part of our business support in the borough we will review the proposed plans for the empty units on the Old Dean being put back into use for the benefit of the local community and understand the implications of the new powers for council tax payers."

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know