City of Winchester Trust
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Response to the Silver Hill planning application

CWT Planning Application comments Date: 30.8.06

Comments

The Trust is very grateful to the applicants for letting us have copies of the Design Statement and supporting drawings and documents. This gave members the time to study the scheme in detail, something that is not possible for either the viewing panels at the Planning Office or at presentations to the Trust. The opportunity of studying the model at the Planning Office ‘after hours’ was most useful for the discussion that followed. The scheme has been studied and discussed by members of the Trust’s council and viewing panels over four evenings, with many further hours spent by members studying the plans, making comments and collating the opinions of the various discussions.

As was stated when commenting on the earlier application for development on part of this site, a major challenge facing the designer of any development here is the basic discrepancy between providing new buildings that echo the grain of the city and its haphazard development over the centuries and the need to provide structures that fulfil the demands of present-day life: bulk deliveries, car-parking and high-density residential accommodation. The Trust’s consensus opinion following these discussions is as follows.

Planning Brief

The requirements caused by the changes made to the original Broadway Friarsgate Planning Brief (Consultation Draft Feb 2003) seem to be the root cause of many of the concerns the Trust has about the scheme, because it appears to demand too much of the site. It is felt that an adequate justification of these changes is required.

The increase in residential units has led to the need for more residential car parking, which in turn has led to a layout that appears restricted and cramped, both externally and internally, and Blocks A and B having a height, scale and mass that is alien to the City. These aspects are reflected in the following comments.

Height, Scale and Mass

The original planning brief stated that if the multi-storey car park was to be re-developed, building heights should be limited to four, or occasionally five storeys, taking the height of the Woolstaplers’ Hall as guidance. The present scheme proposes some structures that would be considerably taller than the ridge of this building, and there is concern that allowing a development of this height and mass could set an undesirable precedent for future developments elsewhere in the city centre.

Layout

While the general approach to the layout seems acceptable, it is felt the proposed scheme appears to reflect the demands of the amended brief. The impression is of trying to get a quart into a pint pot, with no extra space at all left over.

This is especially obvious in Tanner Street, which has to provide access to four car-parks (two in Block A and two in Block B) and the vehicles servicing the shops in Block A. It appears that to get into this loading bay, the vehicles will have to reverse in, a manoeuvre that will not improve the environment of the street for the pedestrians going to the pharmacy, the Medical Centre, and Shopmobility, and could also impede access to the car-parks. It is feared that the environment of Tanner Street will be even worse than it is at present.

It is felt the treatment of the area at the corner of Middle Brook Street/Silver Hill requires further thought because it fails to relate to the Brooks Centre, which was designed to have corner access onto an open space. The Brief called for an open space at this point, but it seems to have been crowded out.

The internal layout of the residential units in Block B, with long windowless central corridors, is felt undesirable in view of the single occupancy of the flats, since they will engender little feeling of ‘place’ and may be treated with little care. Strong management will be needed. It is hoped the units will be designed so that if it becomes desirable later on, they can be combined into larger units.

Landscaping

The hard landscaping seems satisfactory, apart from the resin-bonded gravel, which is not felt appropriate for such an urban position.

Further details are needed about the stretch of waterway shown on the south-east corner of Block A. Is it to be open, in which case it would compromise the desired line of the corner detail of the building and could gather litter, or glass-covered? In either case it does not appear to add much to the Tanner Street environment.

The Trust is, however, very disappointed at the lack of soft landscaping evident in the development as a whole. Much of Winchester’s character relies on the presence of trees in unexpected places and it is therefore very regrettable that virtually all the new trees appear to be near the water on the eastern boundary or up in the air, where they would be enjoyed by residents and add to the scene from outside the city, but would provide no benefit to the pedestrian.

There is also considerable concern at the proposed removal of the trees in Middle Brook Street, planted after extensive ground-work was undertaken to ensure their survival. They make a considerable contribution to the local environment and their removal is considered very undesirable, as is the removal of the trees on Friarsgate that is also proposed. The group of mature trees on the corner with Eastgate Street is an important component of the streetscape, and they should be retained.

It is felt the ambience of Friarsgate needs further consideration. At present the south side of this road is not very welcoming and the new development will do nothing to improve it. The bus station stretch on the south side of the road would be very sterile, even if it were hidden by a well-designed manufactured screen of some kind. It is suggested that a much more pleasant way of doing this would be by planting trees. The blank façade of the supermarket would also be improved by a row of trees-not pleached, which would be alien to Winchester and unlikely to be properly maintained.

As the land on the north side of the road is owned by the City, the Trust urges that to benefit the future environment of the town as a whole, the land needed to widen the road for the contra-flow traffic required for this development should not come just from the land to the south, but that some could be provided from the other side of the road. This would allow the planting on the south side of the road which would be of great benefit to the City in the years to come.

Design

This is found generally acceptable, and the need for a master plan is appreciated. It is, however, regretted that the possibility of compulsory purchase has resulted in one practice doing all the work, because however good they may be, a certain house style is apparent. Because of the scale of the development, this is something new to Winchester, but it might not necessarily be considered a disadvantage in the years to come.

The roofscape also seems acceptable, although complete gables would be more characteristic of the city than the flattened ones that are proposed.

Materials

It is felt this is where the scheme seems to falter. Although the materials proposed may be found throughout the city, it is considered that far too many different materials are planned for this development. If the design is sound, why try to embellish it with unnecessary materials?

The use of so much trendy timber cladding or panelling is considered inappropriate in an ancient city such as this, where buildings have a more permanent character that would not be provided by the proposed timber cladding. This is an area where flint and clunch have been used for many years, so it is important that their use in a new development is used correctly. The Trust’s consultant architects with conservation experience are not convinced the way it is proposed these should be used would in fact be practical, and they should in any case always be ground based.

It is suggested that far fewer materials should be used, and rather than being used as cladding they should be used in a more robust and structural way.

Traffic and Transport

It had been expected that the relocation of the weekly market meant the Broadway would be virtually free of traffic, so it is disappointing to find that so many vehicles will still be using it: coaches, Park and Ride buses, residents’ cars (via Buskett Lane) and vehicles servicing Marks and Spencer and the shops in Silver Hill, as well as those going to Colebrook Street and the Wessex Hotel.

The proposed bus lay-by opposite the Echo building seems open to question as it might cause traffic problems, and moving the pedestrian crossing northward, away from the desired line doesn’t seem sensible.

Winchester would benefit generally from a trans-shipment depot on the periphery of the city, as has been done in Bristol, so that only smaller lorries entered the city centre. The development would also benefit, particularly Tanner Street, and the Trust would urge that this possibility is considered with this large redevelopment acting as the spur.

Block A

The Trust had presumed the height of the shop fronts was dictated by the internal use of the building (service vehicular access), but we have been told this is the result of commercial pressure for increased internal heights. This may indeed be so, but it doesn’t result in a street that is pedestrian friendly, because the tall shop fronts and lack of incident at street level could be de-humanising. It is suggested that setting back doorways and incorporating pentices into the Middle Brook Street and Silver Hill elevations might help to overcome these apparently contradictory requirements.

It is imperative that there will be strong, strict control over the design of shop fronts and fascias, and their signage, preferably as a condition of the lease. All too often the national companies install their house livery without permission, and all too often it remains in place, detracting from the character that makes Winchester the special place it is, or should be.

The ground level timber and stucco treatment proposed for the north elevation seems misconceived because of probable vandalism, which in Winchester appears to concentrate on smooth surfaces. It is therefore suggested that this stretch of wall should be flint-and-brick (not inserted panels of flint), something that is traditional to the area with a rough texture that doesn’t seem to invite vandalism. The upper floors could be set back on a plinth and separated from the wall below, perhaps with a trough for climbing and trailing plants.

Block B

The use of so much timber on the north elevation of the Medical Centre on Friarsgate gives cause for concern, although it is noted there is a discrepancy regarding the material used to clad the gable: at 06 Bay Study it is shown as timber, while the Planning Application elevation shows it as terracotta tiling, which is felt would be more appropriate. As stated earlier, it is felt that planting would alleviate the sterile stretch of road caused by the Bus Station, something that will be important when the Cossack Lane site is developed, as seems inevitable.

It is wondered why timber rather than brick has been proposed for the south elevation on Silver Hill, and the comments made about shop fronts when discussing Block A also apply to this frontage.

Building C

The many materials, and the way it is proposed to use flint and stucco on the Lawn Street elevation is questioned. It is also felt that further thought should be given to the practicalities of the market stalls, which on present evidence seem a poor exchange for the Antiques Market building.

Buildings D, E and F

The more restrained use of materials for these buildings is welcomed.

Building G

We understand this is to be a ‘landmark’ building to act as the visual stop at the southern end of Tanner Street, a role that it fails to fulfil. Something more exciting is needed to add interest to a road in danger of becoming a disaster for pedestrians because of the amount of traffic using it. Could it not have a turret or a tower and be made of a material more obviously substantial than timber?

It is also wondered why it is thought necessary to straighten the present quirky kink in Cross Keys Passage.

Building H

The uses proposed for the Woolstaplers’ Hall are very disappointing – something more imaginative than this had been expected.

Building J

It is wondered whether a south elevation that seems to be completely of timber is characteristic of the area, even if it is near the waterway.

Because of their role in the street scene, the removal of the trees on the corner of Eastgate Street and Friarsgate is considered unacceptable, as is the additional house that is proposed at the northern end of the Eastgate Street terrace of houses. It is considered that this dwelling should be omitted.

CONCLUSIONS

In general terms the Trust welcomes the thoughtful approach to the development that is proposed. It does, however, have considerable reservations about several aspects of the application.

Relationship to its Locality

The Trust has said over the past years during previous discussions, it feels very strongly that the effect this development will have on its immediate surroundings should also be considered, and the Middle Brook Street elevation takes no account of the building on the other side of the road, however lacking in architectural merit the Brooks Centre may be. It is also disappointing that the development that will probably happen on the Cossack Lane site does not seem to have been considered during the design process. This land to the north of Friarsgate belongs to the City, and it is considered its future use should have been taken into account, so that a scheme more sensitive to the City as a whole could be devised. The Trust repeatedly urged that this area and the east end of St George’s Street should be included in the masterplan.

Planning Brief

It is considered that the increased demands made on the original brief need a convincing explanation if the undesirable consequences they have on the proposed development are to be justified, and the Trust therefore OBJECTS to the amended brief as it stands.

Height, Scale, and Mass

The Trust OBJECTS to the unrelenting height, scale and mass of Block A in particular, and also Block B.

Layout

It is considered that the cramped layout resulting from the amended brief would constitute over-development of the site, as would the new dwelling on the corner of Eastgate Street and Friarsgate, and the Trust therefore OBJECTS to these aspects of the layout.

Use of Materials

It is felt that the use of materials should be much more restrained, especially regarding the use of timber and therefore OBJECTS to the over-extensive use that is proposed.

Landscaping

It is felt more planting should be included at ground level in the development, especially along Friarsgate, where it seems the environment proposed will be as bad as at present, if not worse, and would certainly not fulfil the role of being “an important functional and visual gateway into the town centre” that was envisaged in the original brief.

The Trust OBJECTS to the proposed removal of the trees in Middle Brook Street and at the corner of Eastgate Street/Friarsgate.

Tanner Street Environment

It is felt the developments proposed for this street could result in an environment even worse than that existing, and that the way in which this street is to be used needs further consideration - surely at least some of the car-parks could be accessed from Friarsgate, as happens at the Brooks Centre? The Trust thereforeOBJECTS until this has been further considered.

The Trust is having on-going discussions with the designers of the development, and consequently at a later date may wish to amend the views given above, and to add comments about such matters as landscaping, and sustainability and art in the community which were included in the Brief but do not appear to be an important part of the application.