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Central Area Regeneration - TrustNews Mar 17

Launch event 10.02.17 (attended on behalf of the Trust by Michael Carden and Arthur Morgan)

Community Planning advert
Community Planning advert


The event was to give an invited audience (councillors, planners, English Heritage, various groups, societies, etc.) a brief introduction to the Community Planning process, to be followed by a period when the professional team will be doing research, holding a number of road-shows and questioning relevant organisations such as the Trust, prior to the Community Planning Weekend in the King Charles Hall of the Guildhall on the 23rd (preview), 24th and 25th March, when it is hoped that as many people as possible will take part. For further details see the flyer at:
http://www.jtp.co.uk/cms/pdfs/01306_CPW-Flyer.pdf which includes contact details for the JTP team should you want more information. After the planning weekend, the Team will hold a Report Back Event on 4th April at 6.30 - 8.00pm.

Three people gave brief introductions:
Vicki Weston (chair of the WCC Central Area informal Planning Group (IPG) explained the commissioning of the professional team led by John Thompson and Partners (JTP) which had been engaged to prepare the draft Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) following the Community Planning process.

Marcus Adams (Managing Partner JTP) gave the names and roles of the members of the multidisciplinary urban design team which in addition to JTP includes Snug Architects, UBU Design Ltd, and Atkins, as well as property consultants Propernomics and Rocmor with Osmond Brookes.

Charles Champion (Partner and Community Planning Team Leader JTP) gave a detailed explanation of the community planning process, JTP's impressive experience in the field both in the UK and abroad, and the programme for Central Winchester.

The Trust was involved in many Barton Farm meetings (via the 2020 Group) with JTP and came to know and respect Marcus and his assistant Architect Partner, Rebecca Taylor, who was also present at the Launch.

‘The article on pages 6 and7 was included in a Trust newsIetter in the summer of 1996, which shows just how long the regeneration of the central area has been under consideration! Ray Attfield is an architect urban designer who was a member of the Trust Council at the time and played a major part in a number of planning issues, not least ‘The Future of Winchester - a Strategic Vision’ which we published in 2003 and of which we are planning to issue an updated version this year.’

CENTRALWINCHESTER URBAN DESIGN WORKSHOPS

In the summer of 1994 John Gummer launched a discussion document called ‘Quality in Town and Country’ with the aim of promoting quality in urban design as a wise investment. This was followed in 1995 by the Urban Design Initiatives from DOE which invited local partnership groups to apply for funding to prepare proposals for specific sites which would later be exhibited. The response was much greater than DOE expected and the funding only stretched to about twenty groups. Winchester failed to gain funding, but this year formed a group led by Simon Birch, the Chief planning Officer with the Central Hampshire branch of the RIBA and the Preservation Trust steering a wide range of individuals from various community organisations. The focus of the study was the area bounded by Friarsgate and The Broadway, see plan below, which was exposed to the critical examination of some forty people at two well organised workshop days held on 30 March and 22 June.

The area of Study, bounded by Friarsgate and the Broadway
The area of Study, bounded by Friarsgate and the Broadway


There is not much doubt that everyone found both days satisfying, stimulating and enjoyable and will have left with a very different view of that part of Winchester and the issues associated with its future possibilities.

On the first day small working groups developed broad ideas for specific sites or strategic approaches to the area and on the second the intention was to focus on to more tangible proposals but throughout there was a persistent but very understandable problem of over-generalisation or over simplification. The working groups had to seek not only a proposition for their site but also think through the consequences of any change within a framework where the idea of expertise was being challenged by strongly held opinion, where understanding situations of enormous complexity was attempted on the basis of casual experience, and where reactions to problems were too easily accepted as adequate values by which to determine the idea of a better city. The workshops might have achieved an indication of general tendencies and preferences but were never likely, and were not expected to come to arty substantial conclusions. In spite of such limitations, discussing the future of the City with Planning Officers. Councillors, architects, students and residents in an atmosphere of mutual concern, was a novel experience which must be a plus for the workshops. But this mix of interests also revealed the particular imbalance in the group. Predominant were architects and members of The Preservation Trust. Absent (with the notable exception of one now retired) were Councillors representing City Wards, the Chamber of Commerce, commercial and property interests, and other crucial players such as Highways. While it was a decision by the organisers not to invite those with a financial stake in the area, the interests of those participating is revealing. It has to be seen as a sign of concern by people already only too aware of what is at stake but equally as a sign of the disinterest by many with the responsibility and power to do something or influence the situation. In this light it is easy to regard the whole exercise as a side show, an acting out of the need to demonstrate public participation in the planning process. There has to be a degree of truth in this view but at the same time it is unfair on the very genuine intentions of the Chief Planning Officer who, on the face of it, has very limited means and little opportunity to ‘indulge’ in planning the future shape of the City.

One overriding fact is however confirmed by these workshops. There is no plan for Winchester. There is a document called the Local Plan which speaks in general terms of limiting offices and encouraging housing, and other policies which aim to reduce traffic and increase bus use, but no description of the physical plan. I would like to say that there is no vision, no sense of ideal or even ambition by the City as an institution for what the City as a place should be now or might become. but in relation to the apparently overwhelming reality of day to day planning matters, such thinking seems almost embarrassingly out of place.

Public participation in the making and continuing development of the City is fundamentally important but cannot, must not, be a substitute for an informed and carefully considered plan setting out criteria and guide lines for development before it happens. The physical reality which makes the unique City, the streets and buildings, the squares, gardens , alleys, arcades and markets have their own particular characteristics which should not be determined by the solving of existing problems, but by a positive desire to create particular places with qualities all their own. Traffic and transport will fit some places and not others but essentially must be accommodated by agreement and by management where appropriate and not determine the spaces of the City.

It was hoped that the workshops would come up with ideas for developing the area and in some ways they did, but interestingly some quite detailed schemes produced on the first day were not progressed on the second when discussion tended to go over the same problem, traffic. If one aim dominated the discussion it was the removal of traffic from the City centre but there were many who warned of the damaging consequences of responding only to the negative aspects without proposing a rational structure for the positive needs of all forms of movement into the centre. A lot of time was spent tinkering with where buses should stop and what route they should take but there seemed little awareness of the serious problem of too many over large buses dominating the City streets.

There were some clear conclusions. Create a key East West route - formed as a boulevard not as a road - to link a transport interchange at the rail station with the M3. This would give direct access to car parking provide lay-bys for buses and taxis along the tree lined space, and be in short walking distance from the whole central area. Much thought was directed at how Friarsgate could contribute to this idea since it has no role other than carrying traffic, few buildings face onto it and the need to redefine its edges could be achieved with a substantial avenue of trees. Servicing the centre would be managed by timed access determined by need and type of vehicle. Car parks such as Colebrook Street which can only be accessed via the Broadway would be closed and coaches could even now use Chesil Street as their terminus though a better network of pedestrian paths across the river and beyond becomes essential.

The first workshop produced some quite strategic ideas which could fit easily into City policy:

To re-establish and give form to the network of streets and alleys which in this area are broken and disconnected and also include covered arcades passages and market.

To require that development faces the street and accepts the responsibility to develop the quality and usefulness of places, and does not tum its back on the public.

To realise the enormous potential of the brooks, ie the waterways, by bringing them to the surface in both garden and street settings. And while below ground consider the value of the whole substrata of archaeology.

To encourage ‘layered’ development which offers small retail at ground level, and residential above or behind, and support uses which build on cultural activities already established in the City.

To encourage good architecture on the basis of a rational assessment of its quality and contribution to the city rather than on stylistic criteria.

To develop more diverse, particular and useful public places and discourage the, assumingly accidental, creation of anonymous useless spaces.

The second day dealt with four specific locations:

Friarsgate, Silver Hill, The Broadway, and the M & S warehouse building but probably left more questions than answers.

Silver Hill is a back street made of back doors. It could link through to the bus station ‘square’, connect with the M & S warehouse, which everyone agreed is a valuable building with great character, and accommodate market stalls along its two blank sides. Any such improvement assumes a better location for taxis and has to be careful about competition with Kings Walk, the creation of which reduced Silver Hill to what it is now. Consideration of the M & S warehouse depended rather heavily on dream uses such as dance studio, cyber cafe, or museum [not another one], yet did little to address the real potential of its accessible frontage onto the bus station or more profitable possibilities for its use as a very practical space if it had better connections.

The big question which remained unanswered was the Broadway. It seemed almost too big to contemplate, too important to neglect, yet it has been cast aside as a turning space for coaches and taxis. Someone said it was probably the easiest space to deal with. Create a broad flat ground surface with large scale paving, define it as pedestrian and life would flow in. Add some important parades and Civic occasions, perhaps a few more tree lines, a better connection with the brook and Abbey Gardens and enjoy the fruits of a great asset. Don't however divide it up into pieces of road and pavement or fill it with furniture like a Victorian parlour.

When you’ve got something good and big, flaunt it! When something is broken, mend it!

Ray Attfield