Tag: squeeze

Packing them in, Hab-style

Mr McCloud has been keen to promote his environmental credentials. He’d also have us believe that he’s an imaginative developer. Now that his HAB company’s plans to infill an area behind Northern Road — what they have unimaginatively called The Triangle — have been submitted, we can judge for ourselves.

Not the Railway VillageLook at the two artist’s flights of fantasy. The scenes look just like the Railway Village, don’t they? Don’t they? They don’t. Gone is the pebbledashing of his earlier plans, replaced with render, allegedly to match the surrounding 1930s semis and, if the spin is to be believed, for its energy efficiency.

The development has been set out to achieve high-energy performance targets; this has led to us looking at rendered façade types as the most effective way of achieving these targets.

No doubt, the fact that render is a most effective way of hiding cheap materials underneath never crossed their minds.

They also claim that the monstrosities at the ends of their terraces are inspired by the Railway Village. To quote again from the planning application’s design and access statement,

Further south and just off the town centre is the Railway Village…. These terraces are generally terminated to their ends by a three storey building. The terraces have an area of defensible space to their front allowing for a degree of privacy, and compact well functioning yards to the rear.

Compact well functioning? That’s ‘small’ in plain English. And the three storey buildings in the Railway Village have considerably more in common with the surrounding buildings than Mr McCloud’s bland slabs have with the rest of his development.

McCloud packs ‘em inYou’ll notice in the artist’s impressions fantasies there’s plenty of large cars parked in front of the houses. That’s because despite earlier intentions, the reduction they’ve made in the number of parking spaces per house is concentrated entirely on the smaller, cheaper houses, giving a reduction of less than 30%. And what space they have saved by providing for fewer cars seems to have been used to pack more houses in rather than allowing more space around the houses. If you want a garden, this isn’t the place for you.

What the developers describe as a ‘Multi-functional, humane landscape incorporating adaptations to climate change that places people first & seeks to reduce visual & physical impact of cars’ to me looks — a few wooden fences excepted — incredibly similar to other developments in central Swindon.

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.

Developing the party line

It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that the vote at last night’s council meeting to oppose the Eastern Development Area proposals ended up dividing along party lines. It seems that the local red nest are totally ignorant of what their party’s mismanagement of the economy and distortion of the housing market has done, as illustrated by the comments of Mr Grant.

This plan will deliver much needed affordable housing to Swindon. We should be trying to make sure that the development is eco-friendly and includes green technology — we should back this development for the future of Swindon.

At the moment, just about the only building going on in Swindon’s northern and southern development areas is the construction of so-called affordable housing. And if you look at the prices of those ‘affordable’ houses, you’ll notice that most are more expensive than the equivalent allegedly unaffordable houses in other parts of Swindon. Forcing developers to make 30% of any large development ‘affordable’ just forces the average price of housing up without solving the underlying problem.

If you want to make housing affordable, the only way to do it is to ensure that supply exceeds demand. The recent collapse in the economy has done more to bring that about than market distorting government rules on affordable housing ever will.

Filling up… slowly: an essay in little boxes part 21

Unique, allegedlyI read that East Wichel now has its second resident. A month after the first residents moved in, they now have some neighbours… so they won’t be the only people on their new bus service. And if their housing association landlord is to be believed, their new homes are unique.

Each of the Sovereign homes at East Wichel has been designed so that every house has its own individual character and style.

Hmm… it’s only ‘its own individual character and style’ if you don’t look far… to the very next block of housing association properties, for example.

Crunch, Stretch, Weave

Swindon Eastern Development AreaI spent yesterday wading through Swindon Borough Council’s consultation document on the proposed Eastern Development Area. With the main document running to over 90 pages, and almost 240 pages of supporting documentation, it wasn’t easy going. The consultants seem to have been enjoying themselves, with the document stuffed full of jargon. I have now been introduced to phrases such as “functional green infrastructure links”, “benchmark for exemplar sustainable development” and “urban acupuncture”.

It’s only once one has got through almost 30 pages of this guff that there’s something of substance about what is actually planned. For those living in South Marston and East Swindon it’s bad news.

It is important that South Marston retains its independent identity as a settlement and does not coalesce with Swindon.

The consultants have an… errm… unique way of doing that. The proposals change South Marston beyond recognition, more than doubling it in size, or in planner-speak “significantly enhance the sustainable credentials of the village”.

For those in East Swindon, there’s just a few fuzzy words about not increasing the likelihood of flooding, with nothing to say about the severity of flooding. There’s much talk of the ‘benefits’ the development might bring to East Swindon, but these are dependent on the most expensive option — The Crunch — being selected: an option that requires government subsidy to bury the A419 at the White Hart Roundabout. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that with the current government having run up a level of debt that would shame a 1980s third-world dictator, that money isn’t going to be forthcoming. Which leaves us with one of the other options, The Stretch or The Weave — just what were the consultants on? — with a new town centre facing South Marston across the railway line as the most likely outcome.

Unusually for anti-development campaigns in Swindon, the campaigners actually seem to have got their act together and learnt from the mistakes of some of the less effective recent campaigns. No petitions, but 200 individual responses submitted to the council. The last time there was a consultation on a similar matter, the Central Area Action Plan, the number of responses from individuals could be counted on one hand.

The consultation closes at 4.30 pm tomorrow.


Pebbledash and paintworkMr McCloud seems increasingly inconsistent in his attempts to flog his development plans to the people of Swindon. It’s only a couple of weeks since he was claiming that his Northern Road development would be ‘imaginative’.

The site already has planning permission but for a fairly unimaginative scheme. We are turning that around to provide something with the emphasis on imagination.

I’ve never regarded pebbledash, his latest idea, as imaginative.

We are deliberately drawing back to the railway cottages. They are an inspiration for us. The pebbledashed buildings of Swindon are wonderful. I am trying to persuade our architects to do that with these, but I’m not sure they are going to agree.

Either Mr McCloud is unaware of the history of pebbledashing, or he’s trying to dress-up plans for low quality housing as something special. Pebbledashing of many houses in central Swindon is not an original feature. It was added much later, to hide the mismatch in materials or poor work when later building work was done. Its most common use in Swindon’s Victorian terraces is to hide the filling-in where the original windows have been replaced by wider 20th Century ones.

This is about offering great design on a budget. People get the light, space, storage, height and glamour but on a normal budget.

Glamorous pebbledash? It’s surprising that Mr McCloud should choose to associate his HAB Housing company with something that’s a signature of poor quality building work and the urban sprawl of the 1930s.

Locarno confusion

It is perhaps not entirely surprising that there is some confusion over what is happening to the Locarno and its developers. The developers are referred to as ‘Bach Homes’ and reported as in administration or in liquidation. Like many companies getting in financial difficulty, the holdings of Bach Homes (Holdings) Ltd were more numerous than would seem to befit a company of its small size. Nothing, mind, that a journalist couldn’t have sorted out with a little use of Google, the Companies House directory and the notices in the London Gazette. It seems though that our local journalists haven’t looked far beyond the moribund websites of the Locarno development and Bach Homes (Holdings) Ltd, neither of which seem to have been updated since late 2008. After ’phoning the company’s former head office and getting no reply, they say they did try a search.

An online search for the company threw up a page from newhomesforsale.co.uk saying that the Locarno homes development was closed. It read: “This development is closed and no longer available. This page is here for historical reference only.”

Well, yes, but how about looking a little further?

A quick search of the London Gazette notices reveals a winding up petition for Bach Homes (Holdings) Ltd in September last year, and that the same company was placed in administration in October, the administrator being Harrisons of Reading. So far, so simple.

A search in the Companies House directory for ‘Bach Homes’ reveals eight companies with similar names that are or were recently active. Of those, three are of immediate interest.

  • Bach Homes Holdings Limited: status ‘In Administration’; registered address the same as their administrator, Harrisons.
  • Bach Homes (Swindon) Limited: status ‘Active – proposal to strike off’; registered address in Uffcott at the former registered address of Bach Homes (Holdings) Limited.
  • Bach Homes (Locarno) Limited: status ‘Active’; registered address in Shutford near Banbury and the same as Malachi Limited.

Also of relevance is

  • Mozart Construction Ltd: status ‘Liquidation’, address also in Uffcott at the former registered address of Bach Homes (Holdings) Limited. The company was called ‘Bach Construction Ltd’ until 2006.

The Adver story correctly identifies Bach Homes (Swindon) Limited and Mozart Construction, which it links, as having ceased trading last year; but, as noted by Mr Mattock, it is the company associated with Malachi that now seems to own the development. According to the Adver,

Coun Mattock’s comments have caused more confusion.

The Adver’s journalists should consider doing rather more journalistic research before admitting their confusion in future. If one amateur can find all this information, why can’t a journalist with rather greater resources available to them?

What remains unclear is how capable are the developers — seemingly backed by a company new to property development — of starting the redevelopment of the Locarno in current economic conditions.

Annie fails her Swindon geography class

You could be forgiven for thinking that the government’s representative in South Swindon, Ms Snelgrove, visits her constituency too rarely to have even a basic grasp of its geography. The Department of Communities and Local Government has announced — as part of the government’s splurging of our money to try and fix the financial crisis it helped create — that it is providing £2.09M for the “Wichelstowe Pedestrian & Cycle Bridge, Swindon”. That’s a bridge between West Swindon and what will, at some point, be West Wichel. Ms Snelgrove’s response to that announcement is a little confused, to say the least.

The Government has recognised how vital a bridge over the railway is to Swindon’s regeneration. I’m pleased the town’s MPs, working with the council, have managed to secure this funding. It also supports the notion of a university in the centre of Swindon.

Is Ms Snelgrove thinking of tackling both obesity and the collapse in the housing market by housing students in otherwise unsellable new houses in Wichelstowe and forcing them to walk via a roundabout route to a university at North Star? Or is she just confused, thinking of the plans within Swindon Borough Council’s Central Area Action Plan for a footbridge over the railway between the town centre and North Star? That would support the siting of a university (or indeed anything) at North Star, close to Swindon’s centre. A bridge between West Swindon and West Wichel clearly — unless you’re a geographically inept MP — does no such thing.

Even if one is charitable and surmises that Ms Snelgrove was responding off the cuff to a vague question from a journalist about a footbridge over the railway, a question that wasn’t specific about where that bridge was, one thing is indisputable. If Ms Snelgrove doesn’t know which bridge it is that she’s talking about, contrary to her claim she can’t have had any part in securing its funding.


Mr McCloud may like to think of himself and his HAB Housing company as being something apart from other property developers, but there’s one way in which he is indistinguishable. Like all developers, he can’t resist exaggerating about the quality and distinctiveness of his developments. Having run into a little local difficulty with his Pickard’s Small Field development, he’s now trying to spin a utopian tale about his smaller development off Northern Road.

The site already has planning permission but for a fairly unimaginative scheme. We are turning that around to provide something with the emphasis on imagination.

As I’ve said before, architects attempting to be imaginative is always a cause for concern. But it seems that Mr McCloud’s imagination is actually rather limited.

We want to put in all of the things that we are suggesting for Pickards Field…. We are employing the same architects as the Pickards Field site, so it will be very much in the same vein.

So in reality no imagination at all, just a scaled back copy of something he prepared earlier. Just as a Barratt Home looks the same from Devon to Northumberland, so it appears to be with a HAB House too.

Of course, no development would be complete without a faux consultation.

We would like to break ground this year, or at least some time within the next 12 months. Before then there will be an extensive period of consultation. We want to make sure residents are involved every step of the way.

No doubt in much the same way as he has for the Pickard’s Small Field development. It’s one thing to involve people, another entirely to actually pay any attention to what they say. And on the Pickard’s Small Field development he is now clearly in “La la la, I’m not listening” mode.

I’m under no illusion that there are some residents who have very vociferous views on certain issues. But I think some of the criticisms are unfair…. We have taken on board what residents have said to us and made amendments accordingly. We want to work with the community on this project.

It seems to me that anything Mr McCloud has taken on board from local residents has very quickly been chucked back over the side again.

Now I don’t support some of the more nimby criticisms of either the Pickard’s Small Field or the Northern Road developments; but neither do I support developers giving a pretence of fluffy environmental cuddliness when in reality they’re just as commercial as the rest.

Fantasy worlds

It’s difficult to decide which is least believable. First there’s LDA Design making over-the-top claims for Wharf Green (You can either read the original press release, or its recycled form in the Adver).

The square has given a real boost to the town centre and its ambitious long-term plans for regeneration.

Or the even more ridiculous claims in their submission to The Civic Trust’s awards.

Wharf Green provides a first impression for many visitors, and this scheme has redeveloped the area to provide a new town centre square, meeting and public performance space. A large scale timber façade serves to both integrate a large TV screen and conceal an unattractive car park, making the area more welcoming. The landscaping has softened a large space and encourages people in to make use of this improved public space.

The only visitors for whom Wharf Green would provide a first impression of Swindon are those arriving by parachute, blindfolded. And in what way has digging up the old flower beds and replacing them with an uninterrupted expanse of paving stones ‘softened a large space’? Developer hyperbole, one; reality nil.

But move to the edge of town and the claims, this time by the campaigners, are no more realistic. There, the Jefferies Land Conservation Trust has wild claims for the potential that a few stones indicate for the area near Coate Water.

There is a real chance here to create almost a mini-Avebury…. Whilst not on the scale of Avebury, it is so exciting to know that Coate is steeped in similar pre-history…. It would be criminal to surround these ancient relics of the past with modern buildings.

That’s not on the same scale as Avebury in the way that Swindon isn’t on the same scale as London, or that Coate Water isn’t on the same scale as Lake Windermere.

Developers and environmental campaigners are often opposed to each other, but when it comes to having a grasp on reality, both are equally out-of-touch.