City of Winchester Trust
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Station Approach so far - 1st November 2016

The last approved Winchester Plan submitted in 2006 is being reviewed and the Presubmission Part 2 includes Winchester Station Approach as an area for development (ref 1).

This led to Winchester City Council (WCC) requesting a Commercial Capacity Assessment by Urban Planners, Tibbalds, which was published in late 2013 (ref 2). Based on this assessment WCC decided to develop a Brief for the design of the Station Approach. The City of Winchester Trust (CWT), which had been very critical of the Tibbalds report, provided feedback with reservations on the Brief as it developed.

Having committed to a legally designed competition process, WCC were unfortunately unable to involve the RIBA in the management of the project as had been recommended by CWT. Expressions of Interest from architects were invited in October 2015. Of those that fulfilled the subsequent pre-qualification questionnaire, five firms were shortlisted. Unfortunately three of the short listed firms withdrew during the period when submissions were being prepared. This included confidential competitive dialogue meetings between the architects and the WCC officer Management Team, a process that CWT believes may be responsible for this fall out and other subsequent problems.

WCC had set up a Design Jury (architects, urban designers and councillors, including the chairman of CWT) to review the submissions. The Jury members had to sign a confidentiality agreement that prevented them communicating with anyone, including City councillors. This meant that the Trust chairman, Keith Leaman (KL) could take no part in representations to WCC so it was agreed that vice chairman Michael Carden (MC) should represent the Trust.

When the two remaining architects had completed their designs, a public exhibition was arranged in May 2016. There was generally a poor response to the designs and it was felt that the solutions were inappropriate for Winchester with its rich heritage. CWT provided its detailed comments to WCC, criticising both schemes as unacceptable for Winchester for, amongst other things, overbearing buildings, failure to improve the congested traffic conditions or pedestrian and cycle movement, and lack of an overall vision for the area.

The competition selection system involved two sets of scores: by the Management Team for the degree of conformity with the technical requirements of the Brief, and by the Jury for the quality of the design. Priority had been given to the Jury's score by allocating it 60% of the allowable points. In the event, the Management team gave high scores to both bidders with a preference for scheme B. Whereas the Design Jury gave very low scores to both (effectively saying that neither was acceptable as it stood) with a slight preference for scheme C. Because of this disparity the aggregated scores made scheme B the winner, despite the intended bias for design quality.

Cabinet nevertheless voted that the project should proceed with the architect responsible for scheme B. However, both the Overview and Scrutiny Committee and Full Council then voted that neither scheme should be accepted, CWT's views having been sent beforehand to both committees.

After considerable debate including further input from CWT as to whether it would be possible to alter scheme B sufficiently to make it acceptable, and having taken advice from the solicitors who had designed the competition that this would be illegal, at its meeting in October Cabinet decided to abandon the competition, and to start again with a different process run by the RIBA, based on a revised version of the original Brief.

Following this meeting, KL and MC met the Leader and Deputy Leader to discuss to what extent the Trust believed it was necessary to change the original Brief. They urged that three things were essential: 1) that the accommodation requirements should be genuinely flexible to allow the selected architect to explore with the Council whether WCC's target areas could be achieved in an acceptable design; 2) that the traffic and movement study and its recommendations should be made available before the location and design of the buildings; and 3) that the numerous urban design requirements in the Brief should be emphasised as having equal importance to the commercial requirements. They also strongly recommended that in future a councillor or councillors should be present at all meetings with the RIBA and the architect.

Watch this space!

B.Brinkman 01/11/16