Planning…schmanning


So here’s a picture our little hometown of Brackley taken by a funky company called Access All Aerials, Bicester who use the latest drone technology to deliver high-quality aerial photography/videography, surveying and 3-D mapping. Their cool owner lets me use the image if I reciprocate with accreditation. It’s a happy arrangement and I was able to share it with one of my local clients who was building a local town-based information platform. Anyway here’s the image taken just as dusk is falling and I really like it…

You can see how the town is bounded like a red wine glass by the A422 heading west towards Banbury and the M40, and by the A43 to Northampton and the M1 on the east side. At the bottom of the town you can see the Tesco complex to the left and all that to the right of the little black mini roundabout is the home of the mighty Mercedes F1 team. Our lovely local lake which we walk around a lot is to the left hand side and you can just about make out the 1000 or so new houses which have been added at the top end of the town extending into the distance.  There’s a discernible business district on the eastern boundary. It’s a neatly-balanced little town I think. The old bit, where we live, is naturally the bit at the heart of the picture with the illuminated market square area.  And it’s there that this posting is focused.

You see I have a huge disliking for one particular building created in the 60’s because it is both ugly and totally incongruous with its surrounding  neighbours. Every town and city seems to have these and for some reason local planning authorities allow these to be built. The responsible authority for planning and consent issues here is the South Northants Council. I’m sure you must have a building where you live that is similarly horrible.

Before I name and shame, some background history might be useful. The town of Brackley used to be a significant staging post  on the route from Oxford to Northampton with around 30 coach houses and hostelries established in the town to cater for the  transit traffic in the 17-18th c. This led to the establishment of several competing breweries – it must have been a heck of a party town 150 years ago. The William Blencoe  brewery occupied a prime location in the centre of the town. It gradually merged with other breweries before closing in the late 50’s I believe after which the site became a distillery for vinegar production and, according to some reports, a marmalade production plant. I’ve come across some unspecified brewery images and this may well be the one. It’s red brick and slab ugly but it was a factory so that was understandable.

Anyway the buildings were all knocked down in the early 60’s and the site cleared to create a multi-function facility with a medium sized supermarket on the ground floor (initially the Co-op but now a Waitrose), an antiques centre in a huge concrete bunker of a basement with social housing flats on the upper floors. Surrounding it is a huge concrete car park serving the supermarket, antiques centre and surrounding businesses. There is no garden area for the tenants, no creche nor play facilities. It must be a soulless place in which to live. And it looks like this…

 


As you can see it’s redbrick and slab ugly and you can see from the last picture how it dominates the midtown skyline – that’s actually a view from one of our bedroom windows. Not pretty eh. I like to shop at the Waitrose and check out the antiques but it looks and feels a bit like like visiting a prison. And I wouldn’t mind but you can see from a small sample of the images below of the buildings immediately surrounding the bloody complex, that most of them, whether old or new, employ lovely local stone in their construction and are of modest size…

These are all within a 150 yards or so of the redbrick monolith known as Rossiter House. Now I’m not a Prince Charles; I don’t believe that every new build has to follow Georgian design principles and natural looking exterior surfaces. Because you can end up with places looking like Noddy Town. I like difference and randomness. I also love modern architecture and its use of steelwork and zinc roofing, yellow brickwork, concrete floating surfaces etc enormously so long as it is well-designed and is an interesting adjunct to the built environment in which it sits. But how can any local planning authority sign off ill-fitting eyesores that simply don’t match, complement or add something architecturally significant to the local building stock? I just don’t understand it. And by all accounts the tenants of Rossiter House dislike living in the complex because it offers nothing enriching in any sense. There are no social areas nor green spaces just bleak corridors and quite a lot of neighbour noise.

To me it looks like the planning authorities back in the 60’s said to themselves, let’s ignore every damn thing in the town’s heartland and allow something to be developed which virtually reproduces something that kinda looks like the factory complex that was torn down 60 years ago because it was a fucking eyesore. If anybody can explain the logic of this to me please I’d be very grateful. It smacks of the local authority being bullied by a developer saying let me build the superstore and I’ll throw in some much needed social housing to sweeten the deal. Just don’t question the design and facilities.

I think we deserve better than that.

pp

 

10 thoughts on “Planning…schmanning

  1. Hi Paul. Brackley looks a lovely place to live. I agree that some Planning Authorities seem to have had their brains removed from the end of the Second World War through to the 1970’s and, in some cases, beyond. I’ve now lived in two major cities, Liverpool and Swansea, which were severely damaged by bombing during the war. Terrible and yet it presented the opportunity to rebuild in a positive and architecturally pleasing way. However, whether it was due to financial, temporal or other reasons they made a right hash of it. I suppose you can understand it to some extent. However, both councils then decided, towards the turn of the century, to renovate and refurbish. Here the story changes, as Liverpool, in my opinion, have done an excellent job, which Is supported by the comments I get back from friends who have visited and the increase in tourist numbers. However, Swansea, despite several botched attempts, have failed miserably and, unfortunately, have not been unable to shake off the description, according to one well known travel guide, of being the “Ash tray of Wales….just drive through”. A great shame as it sits alongside some of the most glorious countryside in the UK. It seems to employ planners and elect politicians who have no apparent understanding or ability to achieve something that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. All the best. Phil

    • Hi Phil

      Great response mate. I like the new Liverpool a lot too. I think they’ve done a great job renovating many of the old buildings, which many authorities would have torn down and turned into concrete high rise. I agree with you about Swansea though, it’s just not attractive. A missed opportunity as you say, especially given the surrounding area. I think that’s why I love London so much, it’s got some seriously great architecture balanced with lots of green space. New York is incredibly iconic but harder-edged and incredibly angular and straight-edged. It either charms or harms you. Fortunately for us, the former.
      Stay safe and well guys

      pp

  2. I lived in Coventry for many years and as the late great Jeremy Hardy once said at a gig there “What a shame the Luftwaffe dropped so many concrete buildings here !”. The city centre was basically a 60’s shopping centre encircled by a ring road and devoid of any signs of life at night unless you included brawls at chucking out time.

    • Hi L

      and thanks for checking by. I know what you mean about Coventry city centre and I think they created exactly the same thing in Birmingham until the Bullring was redeveloped. What happened to planners’ thinking in the 60’s eh?

      Hope you’re all staying well – like the new changes to the house – at least your planners have got it right!
      pp

  3. I worked in Brum city centre in the early 80’s and now I can’t find the office nor indeed the road I used to work on. Everything is being altered and/or knocked down. Many thanks for the comments on my home as I do all the planning and design, Husband Al does the knowhow and son provides the muscle!

  4. You should be so lucky. We got the iconic Keirby Hotel as a centrepiece in Burnley centre when they demolished the perfectly refurbishable (is that a word) Victorian stone buildings. I tried to attach a picture but couldn’t. The Mechanics Institute, theatre, and dining complex next to the Town Hall were saved and are splendid buildings totally fit for purpose.

    • Hi John

      I managed to find a photo of the hotel on Flickr and you’re right; it’s a shocker. It looks more like a Ministry of Defence complex and on one of the booking sites it says that rooms are available from £19 per night. Wow. I just cannot fathom how planners allowed this sort of rubbish building to be constructed in our town centres. Especially when, as you say, buildings of some class were demolished to make way for them. To me it’s a civic crime. Anyway rant over, Have a lovely evening guys

      pp

  5. I suppose using iconic to describe this monstrosity is relevant to the architecture of the time but perhaps infamous would be more appropriate, it really is gross.
    John.

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