City of Winchester Trust
  • kingalf
  • cathedral
  • roundtable
  • westgate
  • guildhall
  • wolsey
  • stcross
  • library

Annual WCC Planning District Coach Tour - 7 October 2016

Arthur Morgan and Mary Tiles attended for the Trust.

This is a tour which takes place each year that allows councillors, planning officers, members of parish councils, and two members of the City of Winchester Trust to see how a few of the larger projects undertaken by the city and by private developers have turned out.

Site 1: Bargate Development of the Old Fire Station, North Walls.

Huw Thomas designed the dwellings which are in three separate blocks, each one sensitively reflecting aspects of the varied character of the neighbouring street scene. Any success here is, however, marred, by the busy main road traffic which denies both visual appreciation of these and convenient pedestrian access to the Winnall Nature Reserve opposite. The quality of the material finish (reflected in the price) of these twelve dwellings is impressive, but the landscaping at the rear, reduced mainly to car-parking, is hard and unsympathetic for residents especially since the ‘gardens’ are little more than enclosed back yards. Perhaps when the final stage of this development is completed on the site behind its landscaping will go some way to re-dress the balance.

The walk to and from the Guildhall emphasised how a scheme such as this can be blighted by putting inhabitants in conflict with traffic, and by a lack of pre-planning to resolve the problem.

Site 2:Dunsford’s Business Park (now in part a motor vehicle sales court)

This site, which is hardly beautiful, is off the main road through Colden Common. However the majority of the houses have been oriented to run parallel to Boyes Lane which is surrounded by woodland and fields. The ‘old-fashioned’ style of the Foreman Homes, three main blocks of thirteen units plus a single detached house, certainly fit a rural setting. But this style together with the substantial high brick walls to the rear, inhibited any communal sense despite the landscaping and discreet car-parking. This problem is compounded by the fact that the cottage blocks front on to Boyes Lane, perhaps seeking to imitate a street, but direct access on to it is denied by a fence. This means that front doors are effectively back doors, rarely used, it was felt, except by the postman. The quality of the build is high though landscaping perhaps too fussy. Similarly with the overall design resulting in a sense of over-crowding the site.

Site 2a: The Apex Site, off Church Lane, Colden Common (added since we were ahead ot schedule)

This is effectively a continuation, up the cul de sac, of an earlier Dimon scheme with its sweet ‘gothicky’ style of ten years earlier. Michael Warren Associates had picked up elements of this style but confined it to pleasing ‘Georgian’ houses (five semi-detached and two detached dwellings, each with its pagoda porch). These stood either side of the axis road to enjoy an open prospect of lawn (and parking) across, gardens being provided at the rear. Altogether this development, with woodland beyond, looks attractive.

Site 3: McCarthy & Stone Retirement Home, Winchester Road, Wickham

This is an impressive pile reminiscent of an Edwardian Country House that had rambled on with periodic additions. The exterior around the L-shaped block shows interplay of facades of differing materials and styles that echoed some of the neighbouring buildings with its mix of the grand and the vernacular. Its interior has the feel of an upgraded hotel with comfortable apartments served by all necessary communal facilities, though in detail its style would not be to everyone’s taste. Consisting of thirty-one units the number of occupants would suggest the need for much larger grounds with pedestrian access all the way around the building, both of which were lacking and much of the landscaping, albeit tastefully created, vied sadly with car-parking. This too was felt to be rather limited considering the need to accommodate visiting friends, relations and medical staff. Its location and proximity to the Square and amenities is ideal but again marred by traffic. There is only one way out for the residents and that on to the busy Winchester Road, which has narrow pavements quite unsuitable for the elderly (similar project to the Chesil Street project?). Overall, this is a well-developed scheme on an unsuitable site – it is too close to busy traffic and too small for the building given its intended use.

A generous buffet lunch was enjoyed in the King’s Head’s, Wickham, skittle alley room.

Site 4: Development of council houses at the rear of Nos 2 – 24 Westman Road, Weeke

Development of this site was controversial because part of it was a space previously used as an informal recreational area. T2 Architects successfully regenerated this uncared-for piece of land, with its decrepit garages, into six buildings comprising twelve units of affordable accommodation which also includes facilities for the elderly. The contemporary design and use of economic materials determined a stylistic integrity of a high standard. An imaginative consideration for communal space has resulted in a ‘play street’ for the children in its cul de sac and a separate green lawn with benches for the elderly; a happy environment which seems to be well-appreciated by its new residents. The use of black cladding, though striking in its contrast with the light brick plinth wall, gave an unfortunate sense of a dark alleyway along the houses because of the mature trees opposite. Perhaps in winter and spring this may not be so overbearing. Compared to the first Colden Common project this scored most favourably with a real sense of community within the privacy of its cul de sac.

Site 5: New Queens Head development, Stanmore Lane

This development, again of council houses, next to the Level 10 Church, makes quite an impact on the street. With the high bank behind, it had proved to be a difficult site and as a result its final outcome is not altogether successful. The run of buildings along Stanmore Lane is not particularly imaginative in design though CFW Architects did imitate something of the character of the existing style in order to give their dwellings credence. 'What is really regrettable is the blandness of red brickwork with matching red roof tiles (and some dark, unsubtle areas of solar panelling). Some creative play with colour and texture, and even some patterning with the brickwork could have provided a sense of variety for the eighteen dwellings. The communal road behind the small boarded gardens is not attractive in its landscaping as it is only seems to provide car-parking and bin spaces. The site is suitable for families as there is off road access to playing fields and the Carroll Centre. This access is however steep and clearly needed to comply with regulations for disability access. The resulting sharp zigzag pathway, is contrary to natural movement for the able bodied, and there was already evidence of shortcutting across the beds. Ideally separate provision for disabled and abled bodied children (with bikes) should have been provided.

Site 6: The old Peugeot Garage in Southgate Street

From the street the main edifice looks most impressive and its mass and style contributes well to this major thoroughfare into the City. The conversion of the site by Bargate Homes into three blocks separated by courtyards is designed by Huw Thomas, and the axis view through the arch into this complex is enticing especially as the old Coach House offers another eye-catching architectural contrast. However, when entering the site it is noticeable that all is not what might be expected. The first courtyard in front of the old Coach House block is poorly presented, reminiscent of a builder’s yard. The timber cladding and pergola frames of the designated car port areas seem quite out of place when surrounded by the stucco and stonework of the buildings. Moving to the last courtyard, facing the end block, it becomes evident that one is now in a rather deep, enclosed space because of the high walls and buildings to the north and south. The project is still on-going and it is hoped that details such as roof tiling on the end block and the archway ceiling will be fully resolved. Similarly, the high walls surrounding the rear courtyard need sympathetic treatment to make this important space more attractive. This is a prestigious development where the quality of the materials is high and the craftsmanship is generally very fine; it is hoped by completion the ship will not be spoiled for a ha’p’orth of tar.

We found it instructive to visit a range of completed projects of different types and in some locations in Winchester District as well as in Winchester town. It was good to see that some council housing is being built in spite of tight budget restrictions and to see that these can be very imaginatively executed (as for example at site 4). The two central Winchester locations served to emphasise the mark that Huw Thomas is making on the town. But on both sites, while the facades were excellent one felt that more attention could have been given to what lies behind. Two sites (the Old Fire Station and the retirement home in Wickham) demonstrated how the function of even a well designed building can be compromised by an inappropriate location, especially one having a high volume of traffic. If such development is to occur it would seem essential that traffic issues be taken into account and either resolved before planning consent is granted, or that some other use is found for the site. The contrast between the developments in Weeke and Dunsford business park illustrates how important planning the built environment can be for the provision of spaces within which community relations can be fostered (as in the Weeke case) of hindered (as in the Dunsford case). So, yes, an interesting and instructive day and we are grateful to the City Planning Department for having included the Trust amongst those invited.

Arthur Morgan
Mary Tiles