East Devon: Developer hails Cranbrook a ‘real success’ – but says retailers’ lack of confidence is the reason for the delay in building a town centre

The chief executive of one of the companies behind scores of homes in Cranbrook has labelled the new East Devon town a ‘real success’, despite the lack of a town centre.

Paul Crawford, chief executive of LiveWest, one of the two main providers of affordable housing in Cranbrook, says a lack of confidence by retailers is the reason for the decade delay in building a town centre.

He said: “If commerce and retail don’t have the appetite to let that space and therein lies the problem. It’s a bit like asking LiveWest to build houses that no one wants to rent – we wouldn’t do it.

“A developer to go off and build a town centre now at a time where there may not be the confidence that people will rent those available units means that there have been delays and there will probably continue to be delays.

“I think it’s something we’re just going to have to work through rather than recognising that – as and when we get back to a new normal in terms of high streets and what that looks like – then we will start to see more confidence in developing the town centre.”

Cranbrook currently has around 2,350 dwellings, equating to approximately 5,500 residents.

New homes in the region of around 8,000 are yet to be constructed, which would give the town a population of more than 18,000.

But after more than 10 years since the diggers went in, Cranbrook still has no town centre – which has raised concerns from many residents.

Mr Crawford said part of the reason why the town centre was yet to materialise was because of the current economic uncertainty gripping the country amid the pandemic, and changing fortunes for high street retailers.

He said there was an argument to say things could have been done differently, with the town centre coming earlier.

Mr Crawford said: “We do have local shops. We do have a community centre. We do have schools that are thriving and there’s a good infrastructure both for road and for buses.

“Cranbrook has been a real success. It’s a really good example of civic leadership.

“I know there were over 9,000 complaints against Cranbrook being developed and I think you have to sort of recognise that East Devon [district council] showed great leadership and collaboration with Exeter to recognise  that there was a need for a new settlement and it was masterplanned and it is successfully delivering homes that are needed for people within Devon who want to live and work in a beautiful part of the country.”

Mr Crawford said Cranbrook, in East Devon, and Sherford, a new town to the east of Plymouth, could be used as case studies to find out what could be improved in future.

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