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Central Winchester Regeneration - TrustNews Sept 17

I should like to offer a brief review of public proceedings with consultants John Thompson Partners (JTP), architects and master planners, who were appointed by WCC to prepare a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) for the regeneration of central Winchester on the Silver Hill site following the aborted Henderson scheme. This began with a ‘Starting Again’ programme on 10 March with roadshows across the district, events in Alresford and Bishop’s Waltham and street surveys.

24-25 March: JTP held a “Community Planning weekend” at the Guildhall. Against a background exhibition, a dialogue workshop was held to air and examine key issues that would help to define the City today. Alongside this a young people's workshop was set up to engage them and draw on their ideas. Following these workshops, ‘hands-on planning groups’ considered key issue topics to prepare ideas for future planning. A second dialogue workshop examined the needs for creating a new City quarter for tomorrow, defining the question of ‘Winchesterness’. ‘Walkabout groups’ led by members of the design team explored topics within the site such as movement and transport, retail and market, archaeology and heritage, landscape and watercourses, and more. Talks were given, the most memorable being that by Nick Taylor on Scarborough's Renaissance, which underscored what could be achieved creatively with determination and will. The hands-on planning groups and the walkabout groups consolidated their key findings towards furthering planning issues and possibilities.

The information gathered over these two intensive days was to be collated and analysed for a Report Back on 4"‘ April.

4 April: JTP held a “Report Back”, outlining the key themes that emerged from the Community Planning process. These included ‘Winchesterness’, ‘City Experience’ economy (i.e. not another Whiteley or Basingstoke), transport, bus service and new interchange, heritage and culture that reflected the City‘s deep-rooted history and character, housing and community, with continued participation that keeps the process going.

Between 4 April and 4 July there were no open meetings of the Councii’s “Central Winchester Regeneration informal Policy Group" (IPG).

June: in early June it became known that there was to be a IPG meeting to be held in private with JTP. Alarm bells began to tinkle. Before this was to be postponed it had elicited a long letter, published in the Chronicle 15 June - headed ‘Turning Point’ and supported by nearly 70 signatures (mine included) - outlining acknowledged objectives for rege neration that should neither be overlooked nor missed. Our Chairman wrote a letter in support. Andrew Napier wrote an article reporting on this move headed ‘New Pressure over Silver Hill’.

Another unsettling issue emerged on 1st June. WCC had put in an application for the demolition of the bus station workshop, ostensibly to facilitate the re-routing of the buses and the reconfiguration of the courtyard bays. As this was a key site within the regeneration area, awaiting the JTP Report on 4 July, we recommended that this application be postponed until after this date, otherwise it might be seen as pre-empting the purpose of JTP's role as consultants. We then discovered that it was on the agenda for the Planning Committee meeting for 2 June. No time had been lost and, needless to say, it was approved. The bus station now has a banner declaring ‘New Bus Station Under Construction’.

4 July: JTP presented its emerging SPD and Vision. The press release flier titled this ‘New Vision for Central Winchester Regeneration to be revealed by Master Planners’.

The presentation, though professional, thorough and comprehensive, left me feeling somewhat underwhelmed. My earlier sense of optimism and purpose generated from those heady consultation days in March was subdued by their rather prosaic summary, one that did little to inspire or suggest a creative vision (as claimed) for the heart of our City. ‘Winchesterness' had not been determined further by any emphasis for a focus on its character of Culture and Heritage but mainly through building scale and type. It is understood that the final drawing presented was to show an emerging design framework and at this stage constrained to outlines of space and movement within the public realm. (Unfortunately, in the Chronicle for 6 July the banner headline was ‘New Vision for City Centre revealed’ and this claim was illustrated by rather sketchy topographic projections not a little reminiscent of drawings from the discredited earlier scheme.) Though mention was made of the value of the extensive consultation process, much of this seemed to have been left out of the picture by the end of the presentation, so one felt somewhat bereft of any sense of optimism fora real vision to guide this unique opportunity to develop Winchester for its true posterity. In the ‘broadsheet’ handout there is a red boxed statement about the SPD which “will not say what type of shops, historical, cultural and leisure activities will be going where. It will outline which areas of the site will be available and acceptable for the different uses”.

l hope this caveat will not preclude a master plan that addresses the hopes and aspirations publicly declared for a creative civic regeneration in Silver Hill. Without this there is the real possibility for the development to fall short of its promise to be more than a commercial hub.

The Q&A session which followed was a good exercise in public participation and this has been continued by the lively debate through letters and articles in the Chronicle. Certain themes have been reiterated, significantly one that calls for the harnessing of the breadth of knowledge, experience and expertise that exists within the City which would be invaluable to WCC - something it should avail itself of for mutual civic benefit and public confidence.

24 August: Marcus Adams of JTP met CWT representatives at the Heritage Centre. The open, free and invaluable discussion was initiated by CWT's question, ‘Where are we?‘ since the issues arising from the public forum on the 4 July meeting still remain unanswered by WCC. Answers are expected at the next IPG meeting, scheduled for 25 September.

Even though the limitations of an SPD (Supplementary Planning Document) are well understood by CWT, i.e. an SPD is only to present an emerging design framework as a possible way forward for a development, JTP were alerted to the fact just how much their excellent consultation days had raised public expectations for this area and their findings of 10 Key Themes, presented on 4 April, should somehow be incorporated within their notion of a mixed use quarter - perhaps with a focus on cultural/communal areas? JTP gave examples of schemes within other towns and cities where areas had been rejuvenated by encouraging public interest in such public places that in turn led to economic regeneration as a result. JTP suggested that the SPD might become a Charter for a Forum where established groups could co-ordinate in order to guide the Vision forward. CWT’s ?nal question, ‘What next?’ arose out of a lack of confidence in the Council's ability to deliver the Vision, and such fears were further compounded by the limitation of skills within the Council to implement delivery mechanisms beyond selling off plots purely for commercial returns. Because of the concern that the SPD may be seen by the Council as an end in itself, it was strongly felt that the expertise of JTP should now be engaged to move towards a Master Plan, then a Project Plan to develop the Vision for Silver Hill.

Arthur Morgan