Tuesday, 2 July 2013

A new era dawns for Bicester

Bicester bucks the trend as Sainsbury's commits to £70 million development
It's nearly here!

Well it has taken a lot of time, a lot of planning, a lot of wondering whether it would ever even happen, but finally the new town centre and Sainsbury is on the verge of opening.

I don't think I am exaggerating when I say this is the biggest thing to ever happen in this town. Well at least the biggest thing to happen in the 22 years I have lived here.

Over that 22 years there have been changes. But it is also fair to say a lot of things should have, and could have changed sooner. But no matter about that now - it is finally here.

How ludicrous is it that in a town this size there has been no cinema? In fact there did used to be one, down London Road but you would have to be pretty long in the tooth to remember it - it closed down decades ago. But it matters not that we have had to wait so long for one to come - the point is that it is now finally here.

"Baaaa...do you think they'll be showing Silence Of The Lambs?"

When I came to Bicester 22 years ago I was struck by two things. Firstly how remarkably friendly the people are here. And secondly by the relative lack of things to do. This was a common complaint amongst the residents. If I had a pound for every time I've heard someone in the pub say something along the lines of "There's nothing for the kids to do here, nowhere for them to go..." I'd have £78 by now.

The fact is - there have been changes. I remember on the day I first came here driving along Sheep Street. You could stop outside the chippy that used to be half way along the street. The big pedestrianisation that took place in the mid 90s changed all that and was the last major change. Of course shops have come and gone and it has to be said things looked pretty bleak a few years back. Not only were national names like Woolworths and Adams going bust leaving empty units, a lot of our great loved traditional businesses such as  Ashmore's disappeared too. It seemed that the promised land of the new Sainsbury development would never come. It must be the best part of a decade since I first mentioned the plans on my old MySpace blog. At time I wondered if it ever would. There seems to be a frustrating slowness about things happening around here, but maybe that is the same anywhere.

In fact things were so bad that a few years ago I started my facebook page "Save Bicester Town Centre". Well I believe it is well and truly saved now, hence the recent change of title to "Bicester Town Centre Chat". We are 7 days away from a truly momentous day.

Those that have long complained that we live in "Tescoland" need complain no longer. I see that the old town centre Tesco has closed for a revamp - I think that is a very wise idea. My understanding is they are going for more of a city centre style store - less bog standard groceries and more sandwiches and takeaway food to attract the lunchtime shopper. Will it work? We shall see. As you'll be well aware if you've read my book Fortysomething Father I have had more than my fair share of run-ins with this store over the years, but I do think they are doing the right thing as it is hard to see it competing against the new Sainsbury as it is. Will it work? Well there is a lot of competition now - but as we all know competition is good for the consumer. We now have Sainsbury, Tesco, Aldi, Lidl, M&S and Iceland - all of which apart from Tesco have opened their new stores within the past five years or so. Now that is real progress and no longer should we be labelled as "Tescoland".

We don't know what all the other units will be yet, but lots of information is trickling through on to the Town Centre Chat page. The rate of sign up of new members is unprecedented so clearly there is a lot of interest. I will be posting this blog entry up on the page as it is relevant, so if you are a new reader, I'd just like to say "Hello - and welcome!" The more along for the ride the merrier! I am really pleased with the way the page is going actually - since I kicked off all the spammers it's been great for chatting about local issues, and I do allow a little promotion of local events and businesses as long as it is relevant and people don't abuse it. A great little page full of positive ideas - if you're a part of it, well, thank-you!

I cannot wait to get down to see the new development next Wednesday. All the years of hard work, planning, setbacks, problems, it's almost over now. Rest assured I'll be on here bright and early next Wednesday to give you my review.

Oh and finally - look out for me in the Bicester Advertiser this week - the photographer came round this morning to try and snap my best side. I held my stomach in as best I could but I rather overdid it at the barbecue last night so apologies in advance if my super size me persona takes up half the page.

Happy shopping people!

Jason xx

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