Trust Annual Report 1998

 

Development Control

 

As will be known by anyone at present trying to buy a home in this part of Hampshire, houses are in short supply.

 

Developers are endeavouring to rectify this situation with all possible speed, and consequently it seems that any empty space in Winchester, however small, is considered ripe for building houses or converting to residential units.

 

The trend towards increased residential accommodation in the city centre noted in last year's report is continuing, and it is welcome this is now often achieved by converting empty offices. These changes of use should bring much-needed life into the city centre after the shops and offices have closed - we hope less noisy than that arising from people leaving late after an evening spent eating and drinking in the many establishments catering for their needs.

 

For many properties this change of use is a long overdue return to the building's original purpose, such as the former Georgian Restaurant in Jewry Street, now being turned into flats after many years of being boarded-up, and 38-42 Tower Street, which is being converted from offices into four town houses. At 56 Tower Street, a terrace of four three-storey houses is to be built on the site of the charming but structurally unsound farmhouse and its garden, so this road should have quite a different character in the near future. It would be even better if the ugly multi-storey carpark opposite was also demolished and replaced by something more in scale with the street scene - not very likely in the near future, but we can live in hope!

 

Some surprising premises have also been suggested for conversion, for example Black Swan Buildings on the corner of High and Southgate Streets. As presented in the application, this scheme was considered unsatisfactory because the cheapest possible way of altering the building seemed to have been chosen, and this would result in very cramped accommodation and unpleasant communal access corridors. It does however seem that a different approach might provide a satisfactory conversion for the building.

 

Development is also proposed at Ropewalk House on the corner of North Walls and Hyde Abbey Road, where the existing office block would be demolished and new houses built on the site, at present largely covered by grass that can be glimpsed through the openings in the surrounding walls. It would be built by the developers at present working on the adjoining Marston Brewery site, and we felt it a great pity that no way through between the two sites was envisaged, since this would allow pedestrians a route away from the heavy traffic on North Walls. We also felt the original application sought too great a density, as was the case with another scheme currently under consideration for the corner of Greenhill and Sarum Roads, where it is proposed that Sarum Court should be demolished and nine houses built in its place. While Ropewalk House is not of any architectural interest, the same cannot be said of the 100-year old Sarum Court, which appears to be in reasonably good condition. It is unique and characterful, an ex-Water Board building with a presence that complements the mass of another component of the junction, the recently refurbished West Hayes. Neither scheme was designed to take advantage of an interesting corner site, the aim in both appearing to be to cram as many houses as possible onto the plots.

 

Corner sites are of particular importance to the street scene, which is all too often unappreciated by developers. This was so a year ago when it was proposed that Denstone, a sizeable Victorian house on the corner of Christchurch and Ranelagh Roads, should be demolished to make way for two pairs of semi-detached houses. As was reported in our 1997 Newsletters, this was resisted, and consequently a house claimed as unsound and impossible to divide into smaller units has been refurbished to form two dwellings by the original developer in an admirably sensitive conversion that adds considerably to the character of that part of the conservation area.

 

Another very successful conversion - of considerably greater scale! - is Peninsula Barracks, where work on both the Upper and Lower Barracks is almost complete. Winchester has had a lucky escape on this site, for the original scheme of much higher density would have replaced the army buildings with a selection of lumpen and rather grandiose structures. Instead, we now have sensitively converted original buildings and an open area of great benefit to Winchester and its citizens.

 

Now another scheme of some size is under consideration, on the site of St Paul's Hospital. Here some of the original buildings will be retained and converted for residential use, with some new housing and doctors' and dentists' surgeries also being built. The scheme is still going through the planning process but initial impressions are that, like Peninsula Barracks, this should also be a sensitive development. Winchester will be fortunate to have two such imaginative schemes in its central area.

 

We wait to see if vulnerable sites on the City's outskirts will have the same good fortune. Although by no means certain, it seems Mom Hill may have escaped major development for the time being, but what is going to happen at Bushfield Camp and Abbotts Barton Farm?

 

We also await with bated breath the appointment of an officer to replace Andrew Rutter, on whom we have relied for so many years when listed buildings were undergoing alterations. The Trust has no right of access to the interior of buildings and in our comments on these applications we have been able to say with confidence that we relied on the judgement of the Conservation Architect to ensure that everything was done correctly. His historic and structural knowledge of buildings was very great and he will not be easy to replace, but the Trust believes passionately that an Authority such as Winchester and its District, with its very many listed buildings and conservation areas, should have an officer with considerable experience and understanding of the architectural detailing and structure of historic buildings. Let us hope that our elected members will be prepared to pay the salary that will be required to attract such a person to our City.

 

Shione Carden

Chairwoman, Development Control Committee