City of Winchester Trust
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STATION APPROACH EXHIBITION
Comments from the Winchester Trust following the exhibition of the two schemes - 27 May 2016


Fifteen members drawn from the trustees, the planning appraisal group, and the planning policy group, met to agree a statement representing the Trust's opinions on the exhibition of the displayed schemes.

The exhibition

Members were first asked to give their impressions of the exhibition. There was universal disappointment about the display boards, which were considered very hard to follow, making it difficult to understand the schemes and to make any worthwhile comparison of their merits. The process was not helped for some by members of the public, councillors and officers standing in front of the boards, one extolling the virtues of his preferred scheme, but not always seeking or giving explanations, and not infrequently discussing other matters altogether.

It is appreciated that the exhibition was not mounted to obtain a comprehensive public view or choice, that being the task and responsibility of the independent expert Jury which will have studied far more information than could be displayed in public. Nevertheless the nature of the exhibition meant that any comparative opinion given by members of the public could only be of the most superficial kind.

The exhibition did, however, give a very good impression of the architects' ingenuity in responding to the Brief and the problems they encountered in doing so, although the boards only displayed one competitor's solution to the Cattlemarket area.

The competitors' response to the Brief

Members were all agreed that if two first class architectural practices with very different backgrounds devised schemes so similarly and spectacularly unsuitable for Winchester in general, and the station area in particular, it must follow that aspects of the Brief or the competitive process were the cause. Considering that a number of the following unmet objectives were actually called for in the Brief, there must be a suspicion that their importance was abandoned or downgraded during the dialogues in favour of other objectives that were given greater priority.

1. The first objection from members was to the sheer mass of the new buildings which was regarded as totally out of scale with the existing buildings on and around the Carfax site. This even included the Record Office, a large building by Winchester standards. The Station, the only other building to remain in the area and the focus of the whole project, was dwarfed and isolated to the point of insult by the neighbouring buildings of the proposed development. Many members drew attention to the very widespread public wish to see the Register Office building retained, and the Trust's argument that apart from its own merits, it would provide an essential townscape reference for the Station, and could play a significant role in a welcome to Winchester.

2. The second element giving special cause for concern was the absence of proposals to solve or even seriously mitigate the traffic and pedestrian movement problems of the area. These are already serious and are bound to be greatly worsened by the proposed additional employment and residential buildings. The very high number of additional parking spaces, and the inevitable increase in pedestrian and cycle movement could not fail to increase congestion. Moreover, the high proportion of the additional parking proposed on the Carfax site means that the pressure on the Carfax junction and gyration around the station access roads would be severe. This also creates a conflict between the objectives of an effective transport interchange and a welcoming area outside the Station. In this connection it was observed that the need to provide all the parking underground must have had a huge effect on the cost of the project, and is presumably the cause of the great increase in residential and office floor area necessary to make the development cost-effective.

3. A further major concern was the apparent absence of an overall visionary concept for the total area outlined in the Brief, encompassing the two sites and the area between, plus the development's influence on the potential for regeneration of the surrounding areas including connections to other existing hubs and to Barton Farm. There was also no discernable policy or vision for the public realm between the two sites; there has been a tendency in the development of the Brief to overlook the enormous importance of existing roadways as a most important element of the public realm.

Conclusions

a) It was unfortunate that so many of the short-listed bidders withdrew at various stages of the competition, but fortunate that the two surviving bids have been made by architects of respected calibre and expertise, either of whom would be more than capable of designing a good solution for the area if appointed to partner the City Council in devising a Revised Brief and solution. The Trust therefore suggests that in accordance with the declared purpose of the competition being to select an architect rather than a scheme, WCC takes advantage of the immense amount of research and exploration that has been undertaken, and selects the architect recommended by the Jury to work up a scheme more suitable for the site and the surrounding urban context.

b) The Trust further suggests that the next stage should start with a comprehensive Movement Study which is a necessary precursor to the missing urban design concept for the whole area. At the same time we suggest a period of public consultation ensuring that people have a better understanding of the issues so that they can support the process. The architects should be engaged in both processes to make up for the Council's complete lack of design and urban planning expertise, which the Trust believes has been a fundamental reason for the competition process going astray.

c) In the Trust's opinion and from all the comments we have heard so far, whatever the people of Winchester may want in the way of new development around the Station, it is not anything similar to the recent characterless commercial developments further up the line. Consequently we also suggest that it would be helpful for all concerned to have an exhibition of other recent station area redevelopments for comparison.

Michael Carden
Vice Chairman City of Winchester Trust 08/06/16