Tag: college

Waiting for quality

Where’s the quality? Photo © komadori.I’m relieved that Mr Young does not share the manic optimism of Mr Bluh when talking about plans for Swindon town centre. Even so, it’s difficult to feel anything but weary when the subject of redeveloping the site occupied — still — by the old college building gets a mention.

We have been there before on the college site. It’s cautious optimism at the moment. For the first time in a long time there is cause for optimism. It’s a case of the last points for negotiation.

Um, really? That seems painfully familiar.

We want quality for our town centre. We’re not just just going to sign away that quality just to get things moving in the recession. The breakthrough came about a month or two ago and they have gone away to do more detailed work.

So that’s why the town centre has so many vacant and derelict sites is it? They’re just ‘waiting for quality’. Recent experience suggests they’re proabably waiting for yet another hotel proposal.

Let’s not forget that when Swindon town centre was redeveloped in the late 1960s and early 1970s, that was regarded as a ‘quality’ development. We can only hope that the current generation of councillors are better at seeing through the developers’ fantasies than their predecessors were.

Never believe a project plan based on the seasons

With the recent departure of Mr James it now seems to have fallen to our local councillors to provide updates on the actions (or more generally lack thereof) of the New Swindon Company. Thus it is that an update ostensibly written by Mr Young has appeared in the ‘talk back’ section of their website previously occupied by Mr James’ thoughts. I say ostensibly, because the piece is hard to distinguish from many others produced by the New Swindon Company spin machine.

As you know, we’ve been focusing a lot lately on improving the town centre’s public realm facilities in order to provide a better environment for our proposed new developments.

I thought they’d been doing it because the government had chucked some taxpayers’ money in their direction.

Plans are also underway for public realm improvement works on Regent Street…. We are hoping to be onsite early next year.

Early next year? That’s not very precise for a construction project that, if taken at face value, could be less than two months away from starting. Perhaps by ‘early’ he means ‘first half of’.

In general, plans for Union Square are moving in a very positive direction.

R.I.P. plain English. I’d rather the plans were stationary but the work progressing.

A detailed planning application for phase one of the development — which will comprise of 45 sheltered dwelling units, a new Primary Health Care Trust facility and a multi-storey car park

For what is meant to be a prime office area that all sounds very public sector to me.

is due to be submitted very shortly. If all goes according to plan, we look forward to starting on site in summer 2010.

Aah, back to those imprecise deadlines. An old adage is never believe a project plan based on the seasons of the year.

An outline planning application for the rest of the development is due early in 2010 — and we hope to be ready to begin on site with phase two of the scheme in the latter part of 2011.

That’s just five years after most of the area was demolished, and still nothing has been done to make use of the areas surrounded by hoardings.

Plans are also nearing completion for the former Swindon College site development. We are hoping to see a planning application submitted in the near future

I’ve heard that one before… several times over at least two years. I’m no more inclined to believe it now than I was last time.

In the more immediate future, work is due to begin on site early in January 2010 for the new BHS development.

Wow! A deadline precise to within a month! So there’s one development we can be confident will happen. Just one. There’s no mention of the replacement for the collapsed Regent Place development. “Transforming Swindon’s retail centre” appears to have been consigned to the already overflowing dustbin of failed regeneration masterplans.

A college building is for life, not just redevelopment

Monument to the recessionI really don’t know why Mr James of the New Swindon Company bothers to waste his breath speculating on when the old college building on Regents Circus will be demolished.

There is still a possibility it could come down this year but it’s unlikely…. We are waiting on the developers. They are not going to demolish the site until everything is signed because, essentially, that’s all they have over the council.

More accurately, it’s all they’ve got against the local residents. As the New Swindon Company themselves explained six months ago, once the building is demolished, residents on the hill behind could legitimately object to new development on the basis that it would spoil their view. If you bear that in mind, the excuses given by Mr Fisher of Ashfield Land look like a blatant lie.

I can’t tell you exactly when it is going to come down because we are still in the final stages of getting an agreement with the supermarket. Our ambition is certainly to start this year but I can’t guarantee that. We can’t demolish anything until that deal is done because we have an agreement with the council on keeping the car park open.

Hmm… I could’ve sworn that, in other towns, a frequent use for redundant sites between demolition and redevelopment is as car parks.

A degenerating regeneration

I’ve never had much trust in property developers and their colleagues, but with every passing bad news story about the regeneration of Swindon town centre, the words of the New Swindon Company become less believable. It’s just a couple of weeks since Mr James of the New Swindon Company was claiming that Modus were fully committed to the Regents Place development… which they’d just shelved. Two days ago, after Modus went into administration, Mr James was still as over-optimistic as ever.

Being placed into administration was one of a number of possibilities and therefore we have been looking into how we can still move forward with development at Regent Place… and we will work to get Regent Place back on track.

Now it’s reported that the development is to be scaled back to little more than a supermarket in Granville Street car park.

Maybe there’s room for food retailers to come into the town centre. If there was a big supermarket interested maybe they could go onto the Granville Street car park site. It would be something to attract people in and then there could be restaurants attached to it.

A supermarket. Stunning. And plenty of joined up thinking there as a supermarket is also proposed to occupy the old college building on Victoria Road.

There’s another aspect to this that undermines what little credibility the New Swindon Company had. It’s not so long ago that they were telling us that regeneration is a very long term thing, that couldn’t be blown of course by troubles in the economy, and that Swindon would be a destination to rival others in the south. It’s all different now. Mr James’ has scaled back the ambitions.

We are not trying to compete with Cribbs Causeway or The Oracle. We need to concentrate on making Swindon special and attracting people to the centre. We are looking at bringing more restaurants into the town centre.

Mr Young has forgotten the long term nature of the plans.

The Modus scheme was the right one for the time but we now have to look at how the market has changed and see how our regeneration fits into that…. It’s a great opportunity to reflect on what will bring people to Swindon, considering there are already two huge shopping developments at Bristol and Reading.

And now they’re thinking of another round of ‘consultation’, which will keep them and some consultants in a job whilst nothing much is happening.

This hyperbole and bluster would almost be comical if we weren’t paying dearly for this farce through our taxes.

Swimming against the tide

The Adver seems to be trying to out-do Mr Bluh’s extreme optimism. In his words,

It would be very easy to sit here and be full of doom and gloom about the year to come. But I think we have got grounds to be optimistic. We are on a long journey and it doesn’t matter how much flood water there is we will keep on that road. We are focussed on business as normal but we have to be realistic about the challenges that will face us.

To me that reads as though he believes regeneration will continue but not at the same pace as was originally hoped. To the Adver, it translates as ‘full steam ahead’. You don’t need to have listened to much political spin to know that when a politician talks about a ‘long journey’, the journey will be longer than they originally predicted. With the forthcoming signs of progress being yet more demolition — this time at the former Swindon College site — rather than construction, Mr Bluh’s ‘optimism’ is little cause for excitement.