Moving our town forward together
P.O. Box 240, Leatherhead, Surrey KT22 8YQ Phone: 01372 378604
email: leatherheadahead@aol.com

Press Release 22.9.03

In July 2003 the Leatherhead Town Centre Manager and Councillors made great play of quoting Mr. Jon Rouse, Chief Executive of CABE (The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) who, on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, commented favourably on improvements to the Town over the last 12 months.

Mr Stait, the Town Centre Manager, issued the following Press Release:

“Revitalisation of Leatherhead gets National Recognition
Recent improvements to Leatherhead Town Centre have been praised by one of its former critics. Listeners to Radio 4 were told last Wednesday how the town, which was named as runner up in the Station’s Streets of Shame campaign had made impressive progress in the last twelve months.

In an interview with Radio 4 journalist Mark Coles, the Chief Executive of CABE (The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment), Jon Rouse commented that Leatherhead High Street was ‘transformed’ from a year ago. He continued:
“There used to be twenty seven empty properties down there, now there are just three. There are flowers everywhere, the lighting’s improved, the pavement’s improved … it’s a completely different place.”

Mr Rouse also went on to praise the efforts of the local authorities and residents in achieving this success, saying that Leatherhead was a good example of how:
‘Any council can get together with a community, with relatively small amounts of money, to improve their street’.”

Leatherhead AHEAD, whilst being delighted to see improvements in the Town, were unable to agree with all the comments made by CABE, and wrote to Jon Rouse seeking clarification. CABE have responded and their response is set out in full, below:

“Thanks for your letter of 21 July, following my comments on BBC1 and Radio 4.

A lesson of this particular episode is don’t believe everything you read in or hear on media. In both cases, my comments were heavily edited, so that they reflected extreme positions. The reality is that Leatherhead’s High Street was never the worst street in Britain; it was the worst of those that the BBC chose to show on that evening. Similarly, while it is true the High Street has improved significantly since last year, there is still an awful lot to be done. We have recently visited Leatherhead and have conveyed to the council all the different elements that we are still concerned about:

- the gateways to the town are still very poor; there is a profusion of metal barriers, grotty plant holders, poor paving etc;
- as your letter notes, while the lighting has improved, the lights have not and generally the street furniture remain irrelevant to the context in which it sits;
- the feature at the bottom of the High Street, with or without water, doesn’t really work and contributes to the sense that the High Street is cut off from the key gateways to the town; we’re not suggesting that the council will or should remove the feature, but it does make it all the more important that the gateway areas are enhanced, including outside the Theatre.

What I am certain of is that there is no point trading any more blows within the media. Any further progress will be achieved through partnership, and we therefore encourage Leatherhead Ahead to work closely with the council to achieve further improvements as resources become available.

I think the best approach now is to adopt some individual projects, such as the area outside the theatre or the route from the station to the town centre and really work on some substantial improvements in the environment.”

As Professor Whitelegg stated in his report, dated 26 June 2002, “Leatherhead is well served by a large number of representative organisations and it is very important that all views are taken into account in establishing a way forward for Leatherhead town centre …… A key task for all groups in Leatherhead is to work together towards the objective of a dynamic and successful town centre.”

Seven local groups took part in the public meeting held by the Professor and Mole Valley District Council - LeatherheadAhead, Leatherhead and District Chamber of Commerce, Churches together in Leatherhead, The Leatherhead Society, Leatherhead Town Centre Forum, Mole Valley Access Group, and the Leatherhead Community Association - which showed that Leatherhead residents and businesses want to work together with the Councils (MVDC and SCC) for the benefit of Leatherhead.

Leatherhead AHEAD are very anxious to work with our local Councillors and the soon to be appointed new Town Centre Manager, to address the problems highlighted by CABE as well as the problem of inadequate short term parking.