Poacher turned: an essay in little boxes part 26

After an absence that’s been far longer than I was intending, today marks the start of a return, though in may be gradual at first. And I’ll start that return with an admission: komadori now resides in a housing development he’s spent much time on this blog criticising.

Over a year ago now, someone living near Swindon’s Front Garden since before the new development — themselves no fan of the concreting over of this once green space — commented that, despite their objections, they might even consider one of the houses themselves. Thus when I came to look for a new nest myself, my thought went to that comment. Months later, komadori is settled into his own little box in Wichelstowe.

My view of the development remains unchanged: the Victorian look is a distinctly fake look. Having looked at several of the little boxes before making my choice it also confirmed my view that the differences between the boxes are just superficial. Behind the differing façades in East Wichel are mainly standard Taylor Wimpey/Bryant, Barratt/David Wilson, Bloor or Sovereign boxes. I’d also prefer that they hadn’t been built at all. But they have been built. And for the foreseeable future one of them will be komadori’s home.
The little boxes of East Wichel

A bridge too far: an essay in little boxes part 24

Now I appreciate that both the planning and bridge building processes can be slow and lengthy, especially judging by how long it has taken for Blackhorse Bridge to be reconstructed. Housing development at the moment is even slower. House building on Swindon’s front garden has slowed so much recently — with little likelihood of it picking-up in the immediate future — that the developers are accepting a financial prop from the state. In those circumstances, the recent outline planning application by Arup to build a bridge over the railway line at Southleaze seems a little premature.

Outline application for the construction of a footbridge over the railway line to facilitate pedestrian access between Wichelstowe and housing/ employment areas to the west of Swindon.

The nearest employment areas in West Swindon are two miles from the westernmost extremity of East Wichel. I’m fully in favour of encouraging a healthy commute, but I suspect it will be many years before this bridge earns its keep. In the intervening period, all it’s likely to do is open up Southleaze to further vandalism.

State development

It was reported this week that not only is what little redevelopment that’s happening in the town centre being funded by us via the state, but also that building in Swindon’s front garden is also being bankrolled by public funding. Now I don’t mind, too much, the tarting up of Swindon town centre being paid for by our taxes. If the regeneration of Swindon town centre hadn’t stalled it would have been paid for through levies on developers which, ultimately, gets passed on to those that buy the properties and then to those that use them, i.e. the local population. Either way, it’s taxation at the behest of local government.

Unwanted in East Wichel? Photo © komadoriRather more objectionable is use of our money to build houses that aren’t wanted locally and now seemingly aren’t wanted by anyone else either. For decades central government has prevented most local councils from spending money from council house sales on building new houses. They still do. Yet now central government’s throwing money at housing developers, to the tune of almost £50,000 per house built in the case of the Swindon scheme.

If our money is going to be spent concreting over the local countryside, I’d rather us locals had a say in where and when it’s done.

Low-key worship: an essay in little boxes part 22

I’ve previously commented that the design of some of the public buildings proposed for the concreting over of Swindon’s front garden is, at best, ramshackle. Now it seems that a lack of funds will lead to the few religious buildings heading the same way.

The group called Swindon Churches Together has submitted a planning application for a place of worship portacabin, to be sited in the excitingly named Parcel 23 — or, as it now seems to have been renamed, The Stoweaway — of East Wichel, right next to the police point. I suppose we should commend them for choosing a design that will fit harmoniously with the surrounding development — the police point is also a portacabin.

The churches leading this plan are two local baptist churches, Old Town ecumenical parish and Wroughton Anglican parish. With such basic facilities, it’s not surprising that the group includes churches of a puritan persuasion. The supporting statement from the churches is an odd mix of pathos and over-optimism. First, the pathos.

The traditional church response in new housing areas has been to provide purpose built buildings for worship and with a view to community use. Christ the Servant Abbey Meads and Holy Trinity Shaw are two examples. The buildings have absorbed much money and local energy and with limited effectiveness.

Currently none of the major church denominations has funds available for the building of a church/community building in Wichelstowe.

So, new churches in north Swindon haven’t been a success, but they’d still like to build one in Wichelstowe if they have the money. With that logic, they should be grateful that they’re rather strapped for cash at the moment. Next, the over-optimism.

A new approach for community building
We would like to be on site as soon as possible offering moving day support and community information in order to welcome newcomers…. To fulfil this brief we would like to install a portakabin to work from that will also be a focus for early community activity. This might include a toddler groups
(sic), youth activities centre, a meeting place for community groups as well as a place for health professionals, council officials and members as well as other community activities.

That’s an awful lot to pack in to a single cabin that’s smaller than the homes little boxes being built around it. Unfortunately, in the current economic conditions, it’ll probably be the only community facility in Wichelstowe for quite some time. For that reason alone, one has can only wish them success.

Painted Ladies

One of the consequences of the tenants being evicted from the farms in Swindon’s Front Garden — rather far in advance of development starting in earnest — is that most of the fields are now overgrown. The abundance of wild flowers makes it a haven for wildlife. Walking along the footpath from Southleaze to Mill Lane at the weekend, it was alive with butterflies, particularly the migrant Painted Lady (vanessa cardui) species.

Enjoy it whilst you can.
Painted Lady Butterfly © komadori

Wichelstowe goes global: an essay in little boxes part 20

I’m not sure whether the developers of Swindon’s Front Garden will be happy about being identified by the International Herald Tribune as

A glaring example of the real estate market gone bad.

Perhaps they’ll take solace from the thought that if the Tribune’s London correspondent believes that Swindon is “about an hour’s train ride south of London” perhaps her understanding of the housing market is as poor as her geography.

At least the international attention will be more welcome to them than the misplaced attempts by the Front Garden Action Group to thwart the sales of houses in the Front Garden. Some of their suggests look like grasping at straws.

There is no supermarket, no schools, no library, a very limited bus service. I think Sovereign are jumping the gun.

Well, the development is closer to those amenities than some existing parts of Swindon. It’s just a five minute walk (I’ve tested that) to the nearest bus service, and another ten to schools, supermarkets and — for the moment — a library in Old Town. Based FRAG’s analysis, parts of Cheney Manor, Moredon and Okus should be declared unfit for human occupation.

Some of the group’s other actions are just pointless obstruction.

Next month we will be writing to solicitors, estate agents, developers and so on to warn them that if they don’t let people know something about the history of flooding and noise at the site they may be opening themselves up to legal challenges in the future.

The law prescribes what information has to go in Home Information Packs. Information on environmental risks such as flooding is optional, not compulsory. But leaving these inaccuracies in what the campaigners are saying aside, just what do they hope to achieve? Do they think that if they can deter people from buying houses in the Front Garden, the developers will then demolish all the houses, dig up all the roads and put the land back to how it used to be? Just look at the area where Westlecott Farm used to be and you’ll see that it is too late to go back.
Westlecott Farm, buried
The damage to Swindon’s Front Garden has already been done — obstructing the marketing process now is just a worthless exhibition of sour grapes.

A suburb rises: an essay in little boxes part 18

It’s four months since I last posted any photographs of Swindon’s Front Garden slowly disappearing under the bricks and concrete of Wichelstowe, though I have made an extensive photographic trip around South Leaze for future reference. This weekend, whilst on my way to make some purchases from those helpful people at Old Town Hardware, I took a photograph of the low-cost housing blocks of East Wichel being built where Westlecott Farm once was. The style and housing density remind me of the dense Victorian terraces that once made up the St Ann’s area of Nottingham… which were demolished over thirty years ago as slums.
Victoriana, real and fake

Taking things slowly: an essay in little boxes part 17

The Adver has reported that plans for building on Swindon’s front garden have been ‘shelved’.

A CONTROVERSIAL plan to build thousands of homes on Swindon’s Front Garden has been shelved due to the tough economic times. The announcement came after Swindon Council admitted its hopes to pick a developer to build 4,500 homes in Wichelstowe from a list of four companies, chosen earlier this year, will not go ahead this summer as they had hoped. However, plans to build some 200 low-cost homes on the 460-acre site will go ahead as planned.

But as the comments from councillors within the Adver’s own report indicate, that is overstating things: the plans have been delayed, not shelved, yet. There’s also something missing from the report: the selection of developers that the council has deferred is for the Middle Wichel and West Wichel developments only. Most of East Wichel is already owned by Taylor Wimpey. Development may have slowed, but with land already sold to a developer, it’s unlikely to stop for long.

The old school approach to new schools: an essay in little boxes part 16

I’ve commented before about the antiquated appearance of the houses being built on Swindon’s front garden and its potential for creating a run-down appearance. Now it seems that the public buildings within Wichelstowe will be taking that concept to new depths.

A primary school with ‘community facilities’ and nursery proposed for ‘Parcel 36’ of East Wichel has a very Victorian looking front. Behind that is tagged on something looking like a cheap 1970s extension. The overall effect of the design for Swindon Borough Council is a ramshackle building that appears to have been starved of funds before it’s even been built.

Actually, given that this expansion of Swindon has been imposed by central government with little, if any, financial support, that last thought might not be far from the truth.
Is it a chapel or is it a school?Tasteful ’70s-style ‘temporary’ school extensions

No room for the old: an essay in little boxes part 14

There weren’t many buildings in the part of Swindon’s front garden that is to be developed: just four. West Leaze cottages were demolished last December, Westlecott Farm was demolished this February. Now South Leaze Farm Cottages look like they are heading the same way. That will just leave South Leaze Farm. It seems wasteful that in their plans, the for 4,500 new houses, the developers cannot find a space for just four old ones. Is there not something to gain by having a little charm and character in an otherwise uniform modern development? West Leaze cottages have made way for nothing more than a road junction, which could easily have been moved 20′ south to allow them to remain. It would seem that the Wichelstowe planners are thoroughly unimaginative.
South Leaze Farm Cottages in JanuarySouth Leaze Farm Cottages in April