An Odeon Cinema for Orpington – At last, they’re trying

Orpington Town Centre, 2014 (© Garden Properties CH Limited)

Orpington Town Centre, 2014 (© Garden Properties CH Limited)

This is an opinion piece after reading New plans for £10m investment in Orpington Town Centre and Plans for Orpington Town Centre to be Unveiled.

So, it’s been announced today that my former hometown of Orpington is finally getting a cinema. There used to be one where McDonald’s now stands, the legacy of which is seen with The Commodore car park round the back. The new one will be a 7 screen Odeon with four new retail units and three new restaurants. It’s about time they tried to do something with the town centre, well more than bunging a massive great Tesco at the end of it to further take trade from High Street retailers.

I moved from Orpington in 2001 when the town was on a downward spiral in regards to the health of the town centre. Over the last 11 years, the town has seen more pound shops (when it had loads already), more charity shops, more restaurants and fewer places to buy the things you need. This was initially blamed on The Glades in Bromley then Bluewater in Greenhithe. However, there is a clear demand for town centre services from the large elderly community which lives in Orpington and the surrounding towns and villages. I’m sure my Grandma doesn’t want to traipse all the way to Bromley (and certainly not Bluewater) just to get something she needs when there’s a large town centre just down the road.

In my opinion, the final nail in the coffin of Orpington town centre was Nugent Retail Park. There were already a number of shops on Cray Avenue (I’m going back years for this list: PC World, JJB, Halfords, Currys, Comet, Do It All, Texas Homecare etc) but it didn’t seem to impact so much on the High Street. Halfords even had a shop in the High Street as well as on Cray Avenue (where Nugent Retail Park now stands, in fact). When M&S moved out and Sainsbury’s took their unit, the last thing Orpington needed was for Poundland to take over the old Sainsbury’s.

Some serious investment is required to get people back into the town centre. The Walnuts is awful and, for the most part, always has been. I’m hoping that the new complex will ‘plug in’ to The Walnuts so you can get in and out of the new place via the precinct itself. This will increase footfall in there which is much needed.

The one thing I’m concerned about is the inclusion of three restaurants. Anyone who’s been to Orpington in the past 10 years will tell you that the one thing Orpington doesn’t need more of, it’s restaurants. There are loads of family run and chain restaurants already in the town and putting a Nando’s in (for example) will just take trade away from brilliant places like Yoe Bo and the numerous Indian, Thai and Chinese restaurants up and down the High Street. What Orpington needs instead is some big name shops to come in and take the prominent stores. Orpington has never had a department store, as far as I know, maybe one of those would be handy. These will show smaller chains and independents that Orpington is a town on the up with people coming from miles around to use the town centre and its amenities.

I have a deep fondness for the town where I spent my formative years (aged 7 to 20) and am saddened by how the town’s turning out. If it carries on like it is it will soon be 30% restaurants, 10% pound shops, 5% charity shops, 5% chain stores and 50% empty premises. Similar things are happening with Huddersfield, where I now live. The town centre has taken a massive turn for the worse (quite suddenly, too) and many, many shops are empty. It was a great town centre when I moved up here but I rarely go nowadays.

If this scheme helps improve the look of the town centre, the facilities therein and the number of people who use all of it then it’s a massive win for Orpington.

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About Scott

A web designing, Manchester United supporting, darts playing, real ale drinking, hill walking bloke living in Huddersfield, Yorkshire but originally from Orpington in Kent.

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