Tag: Wichelstowe

Some cycle routes are more practical than others

As part of the planners’ aim for Wichelstowe to be a so called sustainable development, the original masterplan makes plenty of provision for cyclists. Not all of it is entirely practical though. I’m not the first to comment on the cycle route along Peglars Way and Foxham Way. Others passed this way a year ago and were not wholly impressed. A year later and they still weren’t happy.

Some cycle routes are more practical than othersApproaching along Foxham Way from Mill Lane, after negotiating a roundabout with raised cobbles, the cycle lane starts in the middle of the road. To use this cycle lane one has to ride down the central bus lane, marked red to the right of the short cycle lane, in order to hit the pads in the road that work the traffic lights, then do a sharp right turn to hit the cycle lane pads. It might be worthwhile if it were not that the cycle and bus lane ahead is rather short, crossing back over the road a couple of hundred yards further on. At that second junction there are again traffic lights, but with a very long gap between them turning red for motorists on Foxham Way and turning green for cyclists and buses heading for East Wichel Way. I’ve now seen several motorists stop for the red light then, noticing there is no bus waiting to cross, get impatient and drive on. For cyclists content to disregard road markings, ignoring the cycle lane, heading straight on along Foxham Way and then turning left (against the road markings) into East Wichel Way is far quicker, and probably no less safe.

East Wichel — in search of ghosts

Last night in their Inside Out programme the BBC presented a report on Wichelstowe. The report was introduced by Alastair McKee as “The Homeowners who say they’re living in what amounts to a ghost town’, yet the reality is very different.

The BBC have interviewed many people in East Wichel over recent weeks — komadori was one of them. The views expressed by many in those interviews were that it’s a very nice place to live. The community spirit is great and there’s quite a bit going on. It would be nice if there were some more facilities open in the development — such as some shops and a children”s play area — but given how slow the housing market is, it’s no surprise things are taking longer than originally planned. Some of the first that were housed in the area by Sovereign Living feel let down as things haven’t turned out as planned, but most that have moved in since knew it was going to be quite some time before facilities would be available. In short, it’s nice, it could be better, but for most there haven’t been any surprises.

Watch Mr McKee’s report and the impression you’ll get is distinctly grimmer. No mention of community spirit, only of ‘out reach’, despite filming community events. Little mention of what people expected before they moved here, only of what more they would want. Only five interviews were used of the many that were done, and many whose interviews were left out have said their comments were more positive than those used in the report. Even the interviewee in the most critical interview shown in the report has said her interview was edited to leave out the good things she had to say about the community. And where are “The Homeowners who say they’re living in what amounts to a ghost town’? Despite Alastair McKee’s introduction, none of the interviews in the report express that opinion. Fast forward through the programme to leave out Mr McKee’s distortions and listen only to the interviews, and the impression you’ll get is of a far more contented community than the report portrays. Yes, what may one day be West and Middle Wichel look rather forlorn, with roads in place years before they will carry traffic, but the East Wichel community is coming along quite contentedly thank you, albeit rather slower than most living here would have liked.

No doubt to many that watched the programme, Mr Greenhalgh’s defence of Swindon Borough Council will seem rather aggressive. To me as someone aware of the background of the report, he was giving a biased reporter everything he deserved.

East Wichel canalside

Yet another pub for East Wichel?

It’s less than a month since Swindon Borough Council granted planning permission for Marston’s Inns to build a pub-restaurant near the Croft Road entrance to East Wichel — on Langdean Road between Blackhorse Way and Frogden Road. Councillors criticised that application saying “it wouldn’t win any architectural awards”.

Now Mitchells & Butlers have submitted a planning application for a site almost opposite — on the stub of Croft Road that leads to a veterinary clinic — to build a Toby Carvery. The application refers to the new draft National Planning Policy Framework, saying that as the local plan is, in their view, out-of-date the application should be allowed — despite appearing to contravene almost every planning policy the council has. And although the application acknowledges that

The site is considered to constitute a free standing gateway site to the Witchelstowe (sic) development

the application almost entirely ignores the Wichelstowe design code:

[B]eing situated beyond the boundary of Witchelstowe (sic) it is beyond the remit of the Design Code….Materials and features have been specified to reflect some of the guidance within the Design Code, whilst retaining an appropriate degree of separation.

It’ obvious from the drawings that actually very little effort has been put into the design at all. Imagine an unadorned prefabricated concrete box, and you’ll have a fairly accurate idea of what this building will look like. In comparison with this, Marston’s planning application was positively imaginative.

Toby Carvery ugly pub

Anyone wishing to comment on or object to the application must do so by 29 September. Comments and objections can be submitted online.

A pub for East Wichel

Artist impression of Marston’s East Wichel pub

Today the Adver has reported that Marston’s Inns has submitted a planning application for a pub at East Wichel. Despite what the Adver says, I can’t yet find the planning application on Swindon Borough Council’s website. The only information on it I can find is in the minutes of the March meeting of the Wichelstowe developers’ community forum.

East Wichel pub plans. Click for larger image.What this pub won’t be is one that’s at the centre of the community. It’s on a plot — designated as a ‘commercial plot’ in the East Wichel masterplan — right at the edge of the development. Indeed, once Blackhorse Bridge across the motorway is opened, it’ll be not much closer for most East Wichel residents than the Check Inn in North Wroughton — the two pubs will stand almost opposite each other separated by the M4. With the new pub including a 180 seat restaurant — dwarfing the Check Inn’s 30 seat dining area — it’s clearly aiming to serve rather more than just the local community.

The Check Inn has had a fairly chequered history of late, with landlord’s struggling to make a success of it — Fuller’s are advertising it to let at the moment. A vast new pub nearby, just across the motorway, may be good for the residents of East Wichel, but for those of North Wroughton it’s likely to bring further disappointment.

Poacher turned: an essay in little boxes part 26

After an absence that’s been far longer than I was intending, today marks the start of a return, though in may be gradual at first. And I’ll start that return with an admission: komadori now resides in a housing development he’s spent much time on this blog criticising.

Over a year ago now, someone living near Swindon’s Front Garden since before the new development — themselves no fan of the concreting over of this once green space — commented that, despite their objections, they might even consider one of the houses themselves. Thus when I came to look for a new nest myself, my thought went to that comment. Months later, komadori is settled into his own little box in Wichelstowe.

My view of the development remains unchanged: the Victorian look is a distinctly fake look. Having looked at several of the little boxes before making my choice it also confirmed my view that the differences between the boxes are just superficial. Behind the differing façades in East Wichel are mainly standard Taylor Wimpey/Bryant, Barratt/David Wilson, Bloor or Sovereign boxes. I’d also prefer that they hadn’t been built at all. But they have been built. And for the foreseeable future one of them will be komadori’s home.
The little boxes of East Wichel

A bridge too far: an essay in little boxes part 24

Now I appreciate that both the planning and bridge building processes can be slow and lengthy, especially judging by how long it has taken for Blackhorse Bridge to be reconstructed. Housing development at the moment is even slower. House building on Swindon’s front garden has slowed so much recently — with little likelihood of it picking-up in the immediate future — that the developers are accepting a financial prop from the state. In those circumstances, the recent outline planning application by Arup to build a bridge over the railway line at Southleaze seems a little premature.

Outline application for the construction of a footbridge over the railway line to facilitate pedestrian access between Wichelstowe and housing/ employment areas to the west of Swindon.

The nearest employment areas in West Swindon are two miles from the westernmost extremity of East Wichel. I’m fully in favour of encouraging a healthy commute, but I suspect it will be many years before this bridge earns its keep. In the intervening period, all it’s likely to do is open up Southleaze to further vandalism.

State development

It was reported this week that not only is what little redevelopment that’s happening in the town centre being funded by us via the state, but also that building in Swindon’s front garden is also being bankrolled by public funding. Now I don’t mind, too much, the tarting up of Swindon town centre being paid for by our taxes. If the regeneration of Swindon town centre hadn’t stalled it would have been paid for through levies on developers which, ultimately, gets passed on to those that buy the properties and then to those that use them, i.e. the local population. Either way, it’s taxation at the behest of local government.

Unwanted in East Wichel? Photo © komadoriRather more objectionable is use of our money to build houses that aren’t wanted locally and now seemingly aren’t wanted by anyone else either. For decades central government has prevented most local councils from spending money from council house sales on building new houses. They still do. Yet now central government’s throwing money at housing developers, to the tune of almost £50,000 per house built in the case of the Swindon scheme.

If our money is going to be spent concreting over the local countryside, I’d rather us locals had a say in where and when it’s done.

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.