Tag: regeneration

Car park design Musings

Islington & Carfax Street car parks

It seems that unadorned multi-storey car parks have gone out of fashion. Not that they were ever something that could be described as ‘fashionable’. But at least the simple construction of a series of floors, plainly open to the elements, was unpretentious and offer scope for some styling. Looking down Islington Street three such car parks from the 1960s and 1970s are visible. They’re not pretty, but they are functional, with Islington Street Car Park and the Menzies Hotel quite well matched in their brickwork.

Now for the first stage of Muse’s Union Square development something far less simple has been proposed to replace — on a different site — Carfax Street Car Park: a car park encased in aluminium and terracotta ‘fins’. According to the architects, this freak of architecture has

a language for the building where the whole was greater than the sum of the individual parts…. The façade design balances the practical requirement of allowing natural ventilation through the building and creating a striking visual appeal to the building.

Only in the mind of an architect could an overgrown fence be thought of as having ‘a striking visual appeal’.

Union Square car park

In comparison with that, the block of 45 flats to be built nearby are almost stylish. And in the artist’s impression of the flats they felt obliged to hide the car park behind some trees!

Union Square flats

Garry Perkins’ reverse commitments

The universe occupied by Mr Perkins is clearly a very topsy-turvy place. In all other places, if one wants to show commitment financially, one gives money rather than taking it. In the Perkinverse, it’s the other way round, Thus with several public sector bodies — including Swindon Borough Councilstumping up £3.5 M to remodel Whalebridge roundabout, as a prerequisite to Muse even starting their Union Square development, Mr Perkins is claiming that this shows commitment by Muse.

The fact that there’s £4 M invested shows Swindon is serious, it shows Muse is serious.

And even the first phase of the Union Square development will mainly be paid for ultimately by the public sector. It consists of a car park — that Swindon Borough Council will buy — sheltered housing, and a health centre — to replace the NHS Carfax Health Centre which will be demolished to make way for the main part of Union Square.

The only commitment in evidence here is that of Swindon taxpayers’ money, being spent up-front, well before the commercial developers have even submitted detailed plans.

Hedges on sticks

Welcome though the changes to Swindon Railway Station forecourt may be, the artist’s impressions in the Station Update leaflet — that’s been distributed near the station — show a rather odd fashion in topiary. So the ghostly passengers and ghostly taxis are surrounded not by ordinary trees — that privilege is reserved for customers of the coffee shop — but by what look like carefully fashioned hedges… on tall sticks. Maybe it’s intended to make it easier for pedestrians, so they can walk underneath what would otherwise be low trees.

Hopefully in real life it will look far less bizarre than the artist has made it appear. Hopefully too, they won’t prove costly to maintain in this form either.

Hedges above!
Little green boxes

Union Square aMusements

A brighter business location… eventually.I almost felt sorry for Mr Hitchings of Forward Swindon on Saturday, as he tried — with little success — to convince those attending a consultation display at the Central Library, that Muse’s Union Square development was an all-round good thing. There’s really no effective argument one can make against those — and there were several — that are adamant that any development is pointless because “People just don’t want to come to Swindon, they go to Bath.” Nor is there any easy compromise between those that believe there’s no point starting the development now whilst the economy is in a slump — “Just look at those shops they’ve just built. Over half of them are empty. What’s the point of building more?” — and those that can’t see the point of a development that won’t be finished for fifteen years. Trying to convince those that couldn’t and wouldn’t envisage a Swindon any different from how it is now was a pointless task, and I think Mr Hitchings knew that.

Concrete dressed as goldFor once I found myself relatively impressed by what is planned, and I was not alone in that, though amongst those visiting the exhibition I appeared to be in a small minority. But to my mind there were two things that let down a good outline plan for the development. The first, as already noted by Mr Wakefield, is the hype. Not for the first time, what is nothing more than a development that could be found in many other towns is being touted as mould breaking.

An exceptional town centre regeneration scheme contributing to the renaissance of Swindon

Renaissance? These are plans for offices, not a cultural centre.

Union Square has regeneration at its heart and will provide a vibrant and genuine extension to the town centre.

I have diminishing hopes that one day I might read a developer’s brochure that doesn’t describe their bog-standard plans as ‘vibrant’. And if anyone can tell me what a fake extension to the town centre would be like, I’d be delighted to know.

The other point of concern are the plans for Phase 1 which will occupy the space where the police station once stood.

This first phase of the masterplan will deliver 84 supported housing units, a new high quality multi-storey car park (850 spaces) and space for either a relocated Primary Care Trust or a new office or hotel development.

Oh wow! Yet more flats and another hotel. Just how ‘vibrant’ is that? It must have taken a lot of imagination to come up with that plan. I can imagine it already. The Swindon Renaissance Hotel, serving genuine meals at Vibrant, its stylish carvery and grill….

It’s as though I’d never been away…

Sometimes, returning from a long absence is like awakening from a hibernation: everything is new and fresh. A new beginning. But then there’s times like now when it seems that nothing’s changed.

So what’s not new? Fanciful predictions that the old College building will soon be demolished continue to be peddled by our less-able councillors. Now — as last summer — Mr John Richard ‘Rikki’ Hunt, is begging for money for his tin-pot wifi company that’s taken almost £½M of our money and delivered virtually nothing in return, failing on its commitments whilst it does so.

And the unifying feature of it all? Mr Perkins spouting unadulterated rubbish. For example, Mr Perkins on the old College site:

We’ve been in discussions with the developer for the last few weeks. If that goes through, we’ll start removing the college from Swindon. Hopefully it’ll be going ahead by April.

Would that be April 2012? As the rather more rational Mr Bawden notes, we’ve heard this all before… many times.

We were talking about it when I stepped down. Now five years later, we’re still talking about it! It’s no good saying: it’s all the economy. Until two or three years ago, the economy was going like a rocket…. I get more and more frustrated walking around the town centre, I feel we just don’t really know what to do with it.

Quite. But hey, we’ll soon have yet another person at the council’s expense — over £45,000 of expense — puffing out a smoke screen about grand plans for nothing much in the town centre, when Forward Swindon appoints a new Head of Communications and Marketing.

Mr Perkins on wifi is no more logical, despite his alleged business acumen.

No business in its first year is completely trouble free and most of Highworth is still operating and the technical problems are mostly sorted out.

Given that Digital City (UK) Ltd originally claimed that their wifi in Highworth would be fully functional by 15 January… last year, even someone as politically warped as Mr Perkins should be able to see that’s as shining an example of failure as one could ever hope to see. They may brand themselves as ‘Get Signal’, but in Swindon getting Digital City (UK) Ltd’s signal is one thing you’re guaranteed not to do.

However, things don’t always go as you plan in business, particularly when you are dealing with something that is innovative.

As many have noted — but Mr Perkins and his colleagues choose to ignore — there’s nothing innovative about wifi. Seemingly the only thing innovative about this project has been the company’s ability to pull the wool over the eyes of the likes of Mr Perkins and walk away with £½M of our money whilst delivering almost nothing in return.

Mr Perkins also flatters himself when inviting people to talk with him.

I wish people would come and talk to us if they have a problem, but it has to be in a positive way. Going through reports to find things that are not 100 per cent right is not helpful — business doesn’t operate like that.

As anyone who has seen Mr Perkins in the council chamber will know, taking a positive approach with him is not something he rewards. Mr Perkins in the council chamber has just one mode of operation, a loud-mouthed, bad tempered yob, shouting down anyone he disagrees with, spitting with fury and hatred.

Swindon Borough Council has repeatedly waived the conditions it applied to its loan to Digital City (UK) Ltd. If Mr Perkins isn’t happy with the council being legitimately held to account over how it’s spent our money, then he really shouldn’t be a councillor.

The cut and run approach to regeneration

It seems that far from being a fresh start for Swindon’s economic and physical regeneration, Forward Swindon, the reincarnation of the New Swindon Company, is, as I’ve noted before, repackaging failure. And it goes right to the top of the organisation. Mr James, erstwhile chief executive of The New Swindon Company, cut-and-ran when the going got tough. It was rather a habit for him. In as much as she is, for the moment, considerably more circumspect in her comments, the new chief executive of Forward Swindon, Karen Walker, is an improvement. But like her predecessor, her record for seeing the job through to its end is not good. Indeed, so successful was the last regeneration company that she led, in Sandwell, that all three of its public-sector backers pulled the plug on its funding last year.

Given the current state of Swindon Borough Council’s finances, Ms Walker might find a greater sense of ‘continuity’ between her old and new jobs than she was expecting.

Swindon Tories back socialist town centre

The boys in Bluh ensconced in Swindon Borough Council are rapidly becoming the least conservative Conservatives in the country. What other Conservative controlled council would go for a government funded, local-government owned town centre regeneration? So far the only part of the regeneration of Swindon town centre to be privately funded is the rebuilding of the BHS store — which was never part of the New Swindon Company’s grand scheme. The big screen in Wharf Green belongs to the BBC. Repaving of Canal Walk and Regent Street is funded from government grants. Now the council is propping up the Union Square development by buying a car park for over £14M from developers Muse.

Last November, we were told that work on Union Square would be ‘starting on site in summer 2010’. As I said back then, never believe a project plan based on the seasons. Summer 2010 is here, but nothing’s happened, not even a planning application. As recently as December, Mr Bluh told usWe have the Union Square development going ahead’. As is so often the case, the easy way to tell whether Mr Bluh is spouting ignorant twaddle is to see if his lips are moving.

Last week, buried in a cabinet report ostensibly about lowering the charges at the council’s town centre car parks were options for splurging more of our money. The report makes it clear how ill-informed Mr Bluh’s earlier comments were.

It is clear that if the Council is unable to take up an option on the car park, the development would remain unviable in the current market. MUSE have indicated that they would mothball the project and unless there is a significant improvement in the economic situation, there would be unlikely to be any redevelopment for the foreseeable future.

And thus it is that the residents of Swindon once again find themselves at risk of picking up the financial tab for one of Mr Bluh’s grandiose schemes.

Hat-tip: Bogomil on TalkSwindon.


Photographs from newly renovated Canal Walk in Swindon town centre. The effect is far better than I’d anticipated.
Canal Walk looking towards Wharf Green
Canal Walk looking towards The Parade
’Tis unfortunate that MacDonald’s are flouting the arrangements for the regeneration by placing their advertising board as an obstacle in the middle of the street.
Spot the stray advert
The only less successful part of the regeneration of the street scene is the new fountain, which has a tendency to dribble.
The Golden Lion eyes up its usurper
All photographs © komadori.

Fountain or folly?

I’m sure that, on paper, the new fountain at the crossroads of Canal Walk, Bridge Street and Regent Street was a good idea. I’m sure that, in model form, the water cascaded nicely down what is now almost £¼M of curvy metal and into the drains below. But the reality is somewhat different.

I passed the fountain this morning. There were no children playing around the fountain then, but the flow of water was just a trickle, and what little water there was was mainly splashing on the paving rather than running through the drainage grills. Come the winter, just how long will it take for Swindon Borough Council to be the recipient of an insurance claim for a fall on ice from the fountain? It could be better; it should be better; perhaps with a few tweaks it will be better, but for the moment the fountain looks like an expensive folly.


Forget politics. For Swindon, this wasn’t the day a General Election was called; it was the day that the scaffolding-clad façade of the BHS store fell down. With nobody hurt, it’s likely to be one of the less significant diversions that political campaigners in Swindon face over the coming month.