Tag: Union Square

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.

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….

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.

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 square deal

A lot can happen in ten years. Economies can rise and fall, companies can appear and pass from existence. Today’s much publicised deal between just about every property bureaucracy in the region (the South West Regional Development Agency, English Partnerships, Swindon Borough Council and the New Swindon Company) and Muse Developments for the Union Square development is definitely very good news in the current economic climate. But with a ten year timescale, a lot could change — including the plans themselves — and the white hoardings that adorn much of the north-east side of the town centre will be with us for a long time yet. And it’s a pity that in the announcements the developers had to be so predictable.

It is an economically important town and as such should have a vibrant legible town centre with walkable streets, providing new opportunities for business and local people.

Vibrant, the developers’ favourite bit of meaningless jargon.