City of Winchester Trust
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Winchester: Small and Dynamic - TrustNews Dec 04

Limitations of space only allow room for the second part of our paper intended as a preliminary contribution by the City of Winchester Trust to the Vision for Winchester which the City intends to publish. It seeks to address the fundamental principles upon which all detailed considerations should be based.

What is Winchester for?

Past

Winchester like other cities had, and has, multiple purposes. Its present character, however, derives almost entirely from its past purposes: an important administrative centre for government, church, army and law. The type of ancillary activities these attract, such as professional and commercial businesses, retail suppliers and manufacturers, education, entertainment and leisure, and residential areas, all exist primarily to support the administrative purposes.

Present

Of late, administration has largely been reduced to local government, health and the law, while education, and a new purpose, residential provision for outward commuting, have grown. This growth has presented problems for the setting, and for traffic and transport, for example; problems with which the authorities were already struggling. Central government's sudden imposition of vastly accelerated growth in housing provision has brought all these problems to crisis level. Hence the urgent need for a Vision.

Future

1. Administration and services If the administrative activities remain on their present scale, the basic character of the City will be perpetuated, even if diluted by the city's increasing role as a commuter town - a scenario that could be handled (given adequate skill and forethought). If the administrative purpose of the city were significantly reduced, the basic character would change. This would happen whether the primary purpose of the city became that of a commuter town or whether it were able to attract alternative activities (such as education, service industries, or tourism) to replace administration. This may become an important issue in the longer term.

2. Lively shopping - Winchester should compete by offering a quality specialist shopping experience in delightful surroundings. It should be built on the present characteristics of our compact shopping area which is integral to the historic core of the City, by encouraging speciality shops (as Lewes has done), markets, pentices, covered ways and alleys, etc. The removal of through traffic and the establishment of pedestrian priority within the City centre would transform shopping. City policies must be designed to support these aims. Winchester should not attempt to compete with neighbouring towns on the size of its shops, but rather by avoiding the sameness of the multiple retailers that are found everywhere else.

3. Heritage tourism - The wealth of historic sites and other tourist attractions need imaginative integration and promotion to create a widely recognised 'Winchester Experience', building on the strengths of our talented Blue-Badge City guides and Cathedral guides. The interesting plan to develop the walls should be explored. A more pedestrian friendly centre would make a wonderful contribution to this experience too.

4. Culture - The proposal for the development of the County Library should be pursued vigorously, in co-operation with the Theatre Royal, and a means of returning Roger Brown's model to the City should be sought.

5. Education - there are severe problems of competition with the needs of residents, but with forethought and skill (again) these might be overcome. Any major increase in higher education should be on an out-of-town campus, possibly on one of the redundant army establishments.

6. Commuters - they are inevitably part of Winchester's future because of the M3, good trains and schools, the fact that it is a 'nice place to live' and is small and safe. It would be prudent to investigate how to integrate them better into the community, a task in which planning could play an important part.

7. Size - Winchester's core can only support a limited expansion of population without its character changing, as has happened to Basingstoke. Its capacity, while maintaining its character, needs to be calculated, and such growth as can be accepted should be carefully integrated, following the principles of the 'Good City' set out by the Trust in its discussion document of January 2001. The imposition of housing numbers beyond that limit would be easier to resist if it became part of the City's Vision. If growth were allowed to exceed the calculated limit, the City's historic core would become a museum piece, and its function would be replaced by an expanded centre without the enduring magic of the present one. Moreover, careless expansion could destroy Winchester's incomparable setting.

8. Good urban design - The ideal of sustainable communities composed of streets and squares should be attainable in any sizeable new neighbourhood, if difficult to implement literally on smaller re-development sites. Nevertheless the principles should still be applied to 'densification' of the so-called leafy suburbs, which is to say, attractive character areas away from the town centre. These principles have been set out at length by the Government, and summarised in the Trust's 10 point Design Checklist. To summarise still further, the aims of 'Good City' redevelopment mean that area character should be maintained by studying the neighbourhood and relating development to both it and the wider surroundings. This does not mean that the density cannot be increased, but it does mean that the manner of the increase must grow from what is there, and not exceed what is sensible. Experience is showing that there tend to be two contexts in which suburban redevelopment takes place: isolated sites where adjoining change, if any, will come slowly, and whole neighbourhoods where common characteristics lead to a rapid domino effect. In such areas it is impossible for separate developers to produce an integrated approach to the inevitable shift in character; this is the responsibility of the Local Authority, which should prepare guidance in the form of a vision for the area, and an example of good planning.

9. Traffic moderation - In the 21st Century, no city that claims to be civilised will tolerate heavy traffic and fumes. A solution has to be found for removing through traffic and conflict with delivery vehicles from the City centre, an area within which vehicles give way to pedestrians and cyclists. There will be a strong opposition, just as there was when the High Street was pedestrianised, and once again it will be proved wrong. There is a growing understanding that Park and Ride at the edge of the City should be complemented by Park and Walk located at the edge of the City centre, for short term users.

The Vision - Small and Dynamic

Winchester must remain small, but go on being dynamic. Given its immense advantages, it can build a prosperous future on its heritage and physical qualities. It should continue to focus on its administrative functions, seeking new ones where the existing ones are contracting. It should put a major effort into developing lively, specialist shopping. The tourist experience should be enhanced.

To achieve success in the 21st Century, new standards of design are required to achieve a compact, sustainable city with a traffic-moderated centre. Continental experience shows this is possible. Winchester should take a lead by requiring world-class standards of design in all that it does, continuing the example formerly set by its institutions and its patrons.

Antony Proudman