The vision for Opportunity Dorking is to realise the town's commercial and cultural potential so that it has a sustainable future.
This will involve meeting the needs of Dorking businesses, residents and visitors and making the most of Dorking's situation as an attractive historic market town set in a beautiful landscape.
In October 2019, Cabinet approved a package of measures with funding of £275,000 to progress the first phase of Opportunity Dorking. Opportunity Dorking is an economic development and regeneration programme involving a range of projects that recognise the evolving role of high streets and town centres, namely the growing demand for 'experiential' retail and diversification of uses including residential, employment, leisure and food and beverage uses.
Data gathering studies will be undertaken to build up a strong evidence base to inform decision making as well as supporting future grant funding applications for initiatives including public realm improvements. Redevelopment is a longer-term proposition, including a number of Council owned assets with potential to contribute to the vision.
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Objective A: Develop Dorking's brand and reduce shop vacancies through a balanced mix of retail, leisure and entertainment facilities, with a supportive car parking offer. (High streets are evolving with more emphasis on 'experiential retail'. A strong, marketable brand, informed by digital data and stakeholder engagement, and a customer-focused approach to travel and parking, have never been so important for town centres.)
Objective B: Improve Dorking's public realm to maximise the town's attractiveness and introduce environmental schemes to enhance enjoyment and good health. (Public realm improvements can include reducing street clutter, using visually attractive materials for new works, whilst conserving and celebrating the best of existing street furnishings; there are also innovative transport solutions for reducing traffic congestion and its impacts.)
Objective C: Attract investment, utilising a strong evidence base, and provide advice and support to encourage businesses to locate, stay and grow in Dorking. (Evidence gathering studies are vital for grant funding applications; training e.g. digital skills, and other business support can help enhance competitiveness; the presence of workers spending money in town plays a vital role in a town's sustainability.)
Objective D: Enhance the town's cultural and heritage features, and reinforce Dorking as an historic tourist destination with great leisure facilities. (Strong cultural offers are central to successful, well regarded town centres that are attractive to visitors. This includes realising the potential of distinctive assets, notably the town's heritage and natural setting.)
Objective E: Realise the benefits of publicly owned assets in Dorking, including through promotion of various Council-owned sites for re-development. (Redevelopment is a longer-term proposition but there are a number of Council owned assets with potential to become interesting regeneration projects.)
Project 1: A stakeholder engagement programme will ensure that feedback from businesses, residents and community groups is captured at regular intervals (this will help deliver objectives A and C)
Project 2: An occupiers' study will be commissioned to identify future occupiers and a gap analysis with comparable towns will be undertaken (this will help deliver objectives A and C)
Project 3: A visitor survey will be undertaken to identify opportunities for Dorking (this will help deliver objectives A, C and D)
Project 4: A pedestrian comfort survey will be commissioned to identify measures to improve the town centre environment (this will help deliver objectives B and C)
Project 5: A car park survey will be undertaken to enable to better understand and develop the functions of each car park (this will help deliver objectives A and C)
Project 6: Smart transport schemes will be researched, such as 'smart' bus operators that use data and Artificial Intelligence to understand where inter-urban transport demand exists (this will help deliver objective B)
Project 7: Vacancy data will be collected and reported on a regular basis (this will help deliver objectives A and C)
Project 8: A business survey will be undertaken to inform the development of the training offer (this will help deliver objective C)
Project 9: Promote Meadowbank for community events to enhance the town centre offer (this will help deliver objective D)
Project 10: An investment prospectus will set out the benefits of locating a business in Dorking/ Mole Valley (this will help deliver objective C)
Project 11: The markets offer in Dorking will be improved and developed (this will help deliver objectives A and D)
Project 12: Car park signage will be improved (this will help deliver objective A)
Project 13: A landlords' database will be created before engaging with commercial agents and landlords to proactively discuss 'meanwhile' uses and potential long-term occupiers (this will help deliver objective A)
Project 14: A training offer for businesses will be developed and delivered, starting with digital skills (this will help deliver objective C)
Project 15: Support for business start-ups will be provided by the University of Chichester Business School through a series of workshops (this will help deliver objective C)
Project 16: Networking Lunches will be offered to help business networking (this will help deliver objective C)
Project 17: An Events Toolkit will be developed for community groups (this will help deliver objective C)
Project 18: Re-development of Pippbrook House as a community hub with co-working space will be taken forward with developers (this will help deliver objective E)
Project 19: Re-development of the Foundry site as a mixed use development including expanding the museum footprint will be taken forward with developers (this will help deliver objective E)