In 1957 radical discussions began about opening a covered in shopping centre in Poole. In 1963 companies were invited to offer draft schemes to develop a shopping centre and the Council selected the scheme from the Arndale Property Trust. The ambitious project commenced in March 1967 when the Mayor of Poole, Alderman Ron Hart, dug the first turf. This was the beginning of transforming the Ladies Walking Field into a modern shopping centre and bus terminus.
Eventually the scheme became even more ambitious and alongside the development of a 13 acre site at the top of High Street, proposals for new road layouts, a roundabout and pedestrian crossing were added.
The Arndale Centre was declared open by the Mayor of Poole, Alderman Lloyd-Allen at 10:30am on 1st July 1969 and he stated that “as Mayor of this town I am proud to be associated with the project.”
This major development must have had an impact on High Street traders. The arrival of supermarkets to High Streets had already diminished the traders in the 1950s, as the local food shops were soon put out of business. When the Arndale Centre opened the supermarkets soon relocated to the more substantial premises and left almost no food shops on High Street. This was a complete contrast to how the street would have been a hundred years previously, as in 1871 there had been the choice of over fifteen places to buy food.
An article in the Bournemouth Evening Echo from January 1982 was titled “Arndale ‘Threat to High Street Traders’”. It discussed how at the time an expansion to the Centre- phase 2B would leave even more empty premises in High Street. It claimed that “already a number of traders are closing down in the High Street, because the majority of shoppers use the Arndale Centre.” Traders like Mr Judge and Mr Goff feared that their shops would be swallowed up by the development, however although they were worried about competition they were both willing to redevelop their shops.
Another article from January 1982 portrays a different perspective. In “The Last Piece in Poole Jigsaw” a report of a public enquiry stated “The completion of the Arndale Centre would bring stability and reinvestment to the High Street.”
Despite a public enquiry, objections and impassioned speeches from the general public; “my arguments were backed by a gut reaction to try and stop what I, and many like myself see as the ruin of a place we know and love.” (2B or not 2B Ledger de la Bald, Coaster, Feb 1982), phase 2B was given the go ahead. This meant that landmarks, such as the Ansty Arms would disappear, but 11 new shops, two stores and a car park would be created. Additionally the new shops would be built around the newly created Falklands Square, the name chosen to commemorate the role of Poole people in that campaign.
In March 1984 the final stage of the development was topped out. “This is history in the making for the town. Poole is a wonderful town and it is gratifying to see the way it is developing.” The Mayor Cllr Roger Buss stated at the official topping out ceremony. Mr Ron Jennings, the deputy chairman of the developers, Town and Country Properties, filled in the highest point of the development and underneath the concrete buried a time capsule containing coins, documents and a copy of the Daily Telegraph. He declared that the project had been a tremendous achievement.
Looking back through all the newspapers and reports suggests that debate and differing opinions surrounded the development of what we now call the Dolphin Centre. Do you have any memories of this time? How did the centre change your shopping experience, if at all? We would love to know what you think.