Tag: development control

The wet approach to traffic management

I’ve heard a slightly different explanation from any given so far of why Swindon Borough Council wants to build a canal along its chosen route. The explanation came from one of the canal trust’s officers.

One of the features of Swindon’s traffic highlighted in the council’s Central Area Action Plan is the high proportion of traffic that passes through the town centre. The plan aims to reduce this, so that most of the traffic left is actually going to or from the town centre rather than just passing through. The aforementioned canal trust officer said the reason the council wants to build a canal down Faringdon Road and Fleet Street is as part of that traffic management scheme. So the potential traffic congestion that our recently elected councillor was complaining of in his election campaign would be intentional rather than an unwanted side-effect.

I’m not sure how good the canal trust officer’s information source is, but it’s certainly a slightly different slant on the possible benefits of a new canal.

Update, Tuesday, 13 May: To clarify, the canal trust officer’s view was that the main reason for building the canal down Faringdon Road was for it’s traffic management effects rather than because, as the council have said, that would be the best place in terms of its civic amenity and tourist attraction value.

Market half-sense

I’m delighted to read that, at last week’s meeting of Swindon Borough Council’s planning committee, the latest plans for the tented market were deferred for consideration in June, with the chair of the committee describing them as unacceptable and officers recommending refusal because their appearance from Commercial Road is so poor. It’s nice to see that they agree with me, for once.

The developers say they will appeal if the plans are rejected: they are still open for comment, if you wish to add your weight to the officers’ opinion.

Market monstrosity

You’d think that if a developer wanting to replace a landmark property, such as Swindon’s tented market, had their previous proposal rejected because it had too many restaurants in then, on their next attempt, they’d try something with less. You’d also think that if that same previous proposal was rejected because it

fails to achieve a high standard of urban design, is unsympathetic to the local context by reason of its appearance and would fail to improve the character of the Town Centre.

then, on their next attempt, they’d come back with a better, more impressive design.

Ugly proposal to replace the tented marketIt seems that the people at Clarebrook Limited don’t think that way. Their latest proposal has exactly the same balance of units as their last (three restaurants or cafes plus only one shop), and a design that is certainly striking, but in all the wrong ways. The previous design was bland. The new design is ugly. Very ugly. Anyone passing in Commercial Road would see a building that looks as though their architects got confused and stuck halves of two different buildings together. That they still call this a ‘pavilion’ shows an understanding of the English language that is as poor as their design. Messrs Pennington Robson describe themselves as ‘interior architects and designers’, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the exterior of their design is so abysmal.

And remember, when was the last time you saw an artist’s impression of a development that lived up to the artwork in real life? If it looks bad in the plans, it’ll look much, much worse in reality.

Back to the market drawing board

I’m pleased to read that a recent planning committee meeting has rejected plans for redevelopment of the tented market. I’m also delighted that they chose not to follow their officers’ advice.

Objectors consider that the proposal is contrary to the Central Area Action Plan Submission Paper. This is not the case. The Market Hall is referred to as a development opportunity site in the Action Plan, which states that any redevelopment should encompass Class A1 uses supplemented by Class A3 uses. It is considered that the proposal, which will provide both Class A1 and A3 uses, accords with this requirement.

A plan for four A3 (Restaurants & Cafes) and one A1 (Shops) units is clearly A3 uses supplemented by A1, not, as the planner claim, A1 supplemented by A3. The committee decision reflects this.

The proposal fails to comply with the provisions of the Swindon Borough Local Plan 2011 as it would result in a concentration of Class A3 uses that would be likely to detract from the vitality and viability of other Town Centre uses in the area.

The committee also rejected the rose-tinted view from their officer that I have previously commented on. Not for them

a light and contemporary design solution…. It responds well to the area and will be a positive catalyst to the future of the town centre regeneration.

The committee’s view is somewhat less favourable.

[It] would result in a building that fails to achieve a high standard of urban design, is unsympathetic to the local context by reason of its appearance and would fail to improve the character of the Town Centre.

I note the developer’s view of the reasons for the rejection.

[They] are as much a criticism of the council’s planning department, who recommended the application for approval, as a criticism of us.

I totally agree with that and am delighted that, for once, the councillors’ views agree with mine!

Making it up as he paddles along

Some organisations make odd choices for the people they put forward as their public representatives. Take the Swindon branch of the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust for example. Rather than putting forward someone with a robust knowledge of both the canal’s history and the current proposals for its reinstatement, they instead put forward their chairman, Mr Cartwright, whose knowledge of both seems to be distinctly lacking. Consider his comments on the canal history.

From an historical point of view the reason the canal was closed was because of its threat to health.

Err… no. After it closed, the canal was filled-in by the council on health grounds, but reason it closed was because it was a commercial failure, only making money for a short time during the construction of the railway and railway works in Swindon. Despite that short period of profit, neither its original promoters, nor its subsequent owners, recovered the money they invested. But enough history, what about today?

There is no £50m, so if the canal is not built the money will not be available to anywhere else. The regeneration of Swindon has been priced and the canal would add two pence in the pound to the cost.

Again, incorrect. If the canal plans were not there, the council could choose to levy a charge on developers to support other improvements in the town centre. As to the significance of the cost, Mr Cartwright should have a read of the implementation section of Swindon’s Central Area Action Plan. That identifies the cost to the council of developments in the town centre as £145m. That makes the cost of the canal thirty four pence in the pound, rather more than the two pence that Mr Cartwright suggests. Even adding in the boroughwide costs of the town centre redevelopment only brings the proportion down to fourteen pence in the pound.

If even its most ardent enthusiasts cannot make a coherent argument in support of reinstating the canal, is it in any wonder that so many in Swindon remain sceptical?

An invisible town

I don’t like the idea of 750 houses being built around Coate Water any more than Ms Saunders does. However, I do find some of her reasons for wanting to protect the area from development a bit odd.

The council also has to consider the beautiful views from Liddington Hill and the area of outstanding beauty. These views are equally as important as the views from Coate Water.

Ms Saunders seems to be suffering from an affliction common amongst campaigners: an inability to see existing large developments. For those that haven’t noticed, if one looks from Liddington Hill in the direction of Coate Water, rather prominent in the background is a town called ‘Swindon’. In comparison with that backdrop, another 750 houses are not going to change the view from the hill that much.

Marketing a pavilion

The plans to replace the former tented market with a ‘pavilion’ of cafes is to be discussed by Swindon Borough Council Planning Committee on Tuesday. I’m not sure what the planning officer was looking at when she was considering the plan, but her report seems to be talking about something significantly more impressive than the artist’s impression — never known for showing developments in a poor light — of the new development.

The ‘pavilion’ offers a light and contemporary design solution to this tired part of the town centre and it will hopefully act as a catalyst for the regeneration of the surrounding streets and premises….

The full height glazing to the units is welcome and the brise soleil provides a contemporary architectural detail. The curved glazed facing Commercial Road provides an interesting gateway to Wharf Green both during the day and the evening….

The ‘pavilion’ has been designed using contemporary architecture which is light and simple. It is a building that can be viewed in the round as a centre point from a variety of vista’s. It responds well to the area and will be a positive catalyst to the future of the town centre regeneration.

I’d thought it was the role of planning officers to provide the committee with objective advice, not subjective opinions. Well, in my opinion, the proposed structure is no more ‘contemporary’ than the existing one. The existing building is a landmark. The proposed building is just another retail block no different from many to be found elsewhere.

A future from the past

I went along to the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust’s new information centre in Regent Circus today, where, amongst other things, they are promoting their hopes and the council’s plans for a canal through Swindon town centre. Whilst, not surprisingly, some of the volunteers there were very knowledgeable about the canal proposals, what was rather alarming was how poorly informed they were about the Council’s plans that would support their aspirations — the Central Area Action Plan. Alarming, because it is the developer contributions from the central area development which Swindon Borough Council says will pay for the canal, and because the plan says quite a lot about the canal and some of it contradicts what those from the Canal Trust are saying. But then, some of what they were saying is well into the realms of fantastic optimism over realism — trams and mass pedestrianisation in Swindon? I don’t think so! (Further pedestrianisation has already discounted in an earlier draft of the plan).

I’ve also adjusted the level of concern I would feel if I lived in Erin Court or Shire Court from ‘a little worried’ to quite worried. The new draft of the Central Area Action Plan incorporates a Gateway at Kingshill.

The Gateway at Kingshill
The buildings in the Shire and Erin Court area are visually poor. This area is, however, effectively a gateway into Central Swindon and as such is identified as redevelopment opportunity area on the Proposals Map.
The redevelopment of this area would remove the potential need for an awkward ‘S bend’ and would allow for the canal to be designed along a straighter alignment. The final alignment of the canal route through this area would be detailed at the design stage of the Shire and Erin Court redevelopment.

That sounds to me like compulsory purchase and demolition on its way. No other properties seem to be so clearly identified in the plan for long-term planning blight as these are.

I also see that the ghosts last sighted outside the Falcon pub have now appeared in the action plan outside the old GWR hospital, with one of them wearing a Brunelesque top hat. So much for this being ‘forward planning’….

Your caring, sharing, local development company

I’ve been reading through the comments and council responses on the preferred options draft of the Swindon Central Area Action Plan, which was considered at at last Thursday’s council meeting. The same document also contains the submission draft of the Action Plan, which is open for consultation until 4.30 pm on 11th February 2008 — so much for the promised communication on how my comments would be considered… I’m still waiting for the council’s forward planning group to write.

The last objection from the New Swindon Company (on page 42) shows how much they care about the local communities just beyond the ‘core of the central area’.

The key players should include The New Swindon Company. The proposal to invite tenders for the improvement of public realm beyond the core of the central area seems to be short sighted. There is limited funding available for the improvement of the public realm, and the development of the Wharf Green scheme has shown that the improvement of the public realm to a high standard can be an expensive practice.

Thanks for sharing!

No parking here

I’ve been testing my powers of endurance by reading Swindon Borough Council’s new draft Revised Residential Parking Standards. Amongst all the rather dull staff, such as specifications for how big a parking space should be at angles of 90°, 60° and 45°, there are some rather more important things. In particular, the central areas of Swindon (Sector 1 in the highly imaginative terminology of the document) will have different standards from the rest of the borough. The main difference is that parking spaces will neither be required not permitted for new flats in the central area, whereas at least one or two parking spaces will have to be provided in the rest of Swindon. That’ll put a lot of pressure on the already limited on-street parking spaces amongst the terraced houses, you might think. You’d be wrong. To quote paragraph 8.1.

In order to keep the ratio of spaces and permits to its current level the council will expect new developments to become permit-free. This will mean that developments within Residential Parking Zones will be expected to enter into a legal agreement denying future residents access to parking permits, therefore ensuring a “Permit Free Development”.

Hmm… any predictions as to how long that one will last before being challenged by a developer? The draft is open for consultation until 17th October.