TrustNews January 1987

 

The Brooks Development

 

Our Concern

 

This Trust was actually founded in 1957 to oppose demolition of the houses, shops and inns which occupied the Brooks area. We believed then, and we believe now, that the decision to demolish these buildings was a disaster for Winchester:

 

  1. We lost an historic collection of buildings which no one would dream of demolishing today.

     

  2. We gained a "temporary" car park (it was proposed to rebuild houses without delay) which is largely responsible for the central area traffic problem.

     

 

Winchester City Council has decided to redevelop the Brooks site and last summer it issued a brief to developers.

 

Whilst we welcome this decision it is vital that the opportunity to provide a scheme worthy of an historic city is not lost. We believe that there is some danger of this, and for this reason the current edition of the Newsletter is devoted largely to the subject.

 

Map for the Brooks Site

 

What the brief says

 

The brief sets out the ground rules for a competition in which developers are invited to submit- proposals for the development of the site.

 

The developer must provide:

 

  • Shopping - approximately 60,000 to 80,000 square feet.

     

  • Parking for 350 cars, 50 bicycles and 60 motorcycles.

     

  • Street Market for 60 traders.

     

  • New Link. Road between Friarsgate and Upper Brook Street and the Improve¬ment of Upper Brook Street itself and its junction with St. George's Street.

     

  • Pedestrianisation of Middle Brook Street between Friarsgate and Silver Hill.

     

  • Partial Pedestrianisation of other adjacent streets - see site plan.

     

 

The develoment may contain a pub and/or a restaurant and a modest amount of housing.

 

The Council will grant a 125 year lease to the successful developer who will pay the Council either a premium, or a ground rent, or a combination of both.

 

Competition Programme

 

The competition is being conducted in three stages. Stage I took place last autumn when the developers were invited to make preliminary submissions. It is believed that 57 developers did so. Out of these 12 were selected for Stage II and were required to submit entries by 9th February 1987. These were judged by Winchester City Council at the beginning of March and three shortlisted entrants have now been chosen to proceed to Stage III. The three finalists are Town & City Properties (Development) Ltd. with Arundell House Securities Ltd. (architect Leslie Jones), Ladbroke City & County Land Co. Ltd. (architects Building Design Partnership), and Heron Property Corporation Ltd. (architects Ley Colebeck). They must submit fully detailed schemes by 18th June.

 

There will be a public exhibition at St John’s rooms starting on 2nd July and lasting one week. There will then be two further weeks (ending on 23rd July) in which the public may submit comments.

 

What the Trust thinks

 

We welcome many aspects of the brief, particularly the emphasis which it places on good quality design and materials. It advises developers that the scheme should be in sympathy with the scale of the surrounding buildings and should also provide for attractive roof forms when seen from both street level and afar. It provides that the proposed shops and car park must seek to recreate a street architecture in this part of the city, and calls for buildings and streets that have a scale and richness of detail that one would associate with an historic town.

 

However, we are convinced that there is a grave danger that the requirement to provide spaces for 350 cars (which is an increase on the number previously accommodated on the site), to say nothing of 60 motorcycles, will frustrate the objectives implicit in the brief and that a golden opportunity will be lost.

 

The Trust also thinks that a one week exhibition is too short and has expressed this view to the City Council.

What the Trust has done so far

 

In June last year we were told to our amazement that the brief would not be made available for public comment. This was a deplorable decision and a surprising one. Public participation in planning has been encouraged by Central Government for nearly twenty years and the City Council has a good record of asking people what they think before decisions are taken.

 

We wrote to the City Council and to individual Councillors protesting and pointing out that this was the people of Winchester's own land and that they should be allowed to say how they would like it to be developed - to no avail. "No consultations on the brief" was voted through the Council Chamber in July.

 

We wrote to all twelve developers selected for Stage II, setting out our views on the brief (as summarised in the January Newsletter). This produced a number of letters from developers, two of whom had meetings with us.

 

We also had a meeting with some members of the City Council's Working Party (Councillors Penman, Edwards and Cloyne) on 20th March. Clearly no purpose would have been served in discussing the brief itself but we were able to get some impressions as to progress and to find out what form public consultation will take at the final stage and make some suggestions for improving the procedure. We also asked for some financial information on the respective schemes to be made available at that stage.

 

What to look out for

 

Townscape

 

This is the most important subject, to which all the other points contribute. The buildings should be generally in scale with the rest of the City, but this need not preclude an occasional idiosyncracy because without them a town can be very dull. But in principle the size, scale, texture, shapes, materials and colours should be in character with Winchester.

 

What is most important, and most frequently overlooked, is the shape of the spaces between buildings. The City Centre's character depends more on the spaces than the buildings themselves. For the most part, roads are relatively narrow and not quite straight; they are closely contained with buildings which hug the line of the road; corners are sharp and often distinguished by a corner building. Wide bends and sight lines for speeding traffic (as proposed for the Echo corner) are definitely not Winchester. There are even narrower pedestrian "cuts" in unexpected places, sometimes bridged by buildings, and likely to produce surprise views.

 

Anyone allowed to design so large and important a part of Winchester should first define the City's character and then show us how they have respected its traditions. Look out for this when the schemes are displayed!

 

Architecture

 

We want buildings that Wintonians can be proud of, both now and in the future. This does not mean that they must all be safe and old fashioned; they should be in the tradition of Winchester rather than traditional, and a little bit of controversy about their appearance would do no harm - most good things have been controversial in their time. There should be variety - a difficult challenge for architects designing what is in effect one big building. Detail must also be good: eaves, rainwater pipes, window cills and a host of other small features matter as much as the grand design.

 

Landscaping

 

Whilst we would regret the unnecessary felling of the established trees, we do not think that they should in any way dictate the design of the development. They are interesting and unusual, but they are not Winchester trees either in species or position. Trees in central Winchester grow in yards and gardens, not along roads, and we would like to see spaces designated for trees which will one day be big and leafy, to replace those which we are losing year by year.

 

Central Winchester is not a place for flower beds, but there are little courts with interesting paving, walls and railings, and opportunities for flower boxes and baskets. We would like to see all these things, and especially we would like to see some parts of the waterways, which give the Brooks area its name, uncovered again.

 

Some more sculpture would not come amiss, and perhaps we should follow the example of Cambridgeshire and require all developers to spend 0.5% of the building cost on works of art?

 

Building Uses

 

We are very keen that there should be a reasonable proportion of small useful shops. Winchester has lost too many of them, and while there is no planning law to prevent such changes in private property, there is no reason why we should not insist on small shops on our own land. The official brief is seriously deficient in this respect, probably because the citizens of Winchester were not asked what they wanted of their own development. It is not too late to make an issue of this point.

 

Similarly, we think there should be some non-prestige residential units, preferably small flats above shops, so that the area remains lived-in at night. We would also like to see restaurants and cafes and anything else which would attract citizens and tourists into the area, taking a little of the pressure off the High Street.

 

Traffic

 

Under this heading we include the movement of people and goods on foot as well as in vehicles. For too long, the provision for vehicles has been given undue priority over pedestrians.

 

In Winchester where there is little through-traffic, cars and buses carry people who will become pedestrians, and lorries carry goods for them to buy. So we must have vehicles, but should some of the most valuable central land be expensively set aside for the wasteful use of empty cars? And should central roads be designed for constant use by lorries designed for the open road?

 

It is quite clear that things are changing: even Los Angeles, the city designed for the motor car, is restricting the use of private cars in its central area, and many great historic cities have been doing so for years. Must we be so short-sighted as to commit the centre of Winchester to all the unpleasantness of continued traffic congestion for many years to come, by irreversible investment in a multi-storey car park accessible only from roads which should have pedestrian priority? And must we create wide corners for over-large vehicles?

 

Numerous towns have already found minibuses to be popular and effective, and a small "hail-a-bus" was recently spotted as close as Southampton!

 

We are not unrealistic dreamers. On the contrary, (and not for the first time) we can see the way things are going and do not want Winchester to do something it will shortly live to regret. There is an alternative strategy, for traffic: not so familiar, not quite so convenient for some, but better for Winchester as a whole, and now is the time to put it to the test. Once the Brooks are redeveloped it will be too late; besides, we are already losing all the car parking on this site for a period of 3 years!

 

Traffic and Parking - The four solutions

 

Solution I

 

As traffic increases, build new roads, turn existing roads into dual carriageways, and provide multi-storey car parks in order to satisfy the demands of motor traffic at the expense of both buildings and pedestrians.

 

This was the official policy of the postwar years, which the Trust successfully combated, stage by stage, until all the road-building aspects of the policy have been dropped.

 

Solution II

 

Substitute traffic management for road building inside Winchester, but continue to increase car parking spaces in the City Centre.

 

This is the current official policy to which the Trust is as strongly opposed as ever, because it is only Solution I watered down.

 

Naturally everyone will park as close to the shops as possible, which means that while a central car park remains available most people will try to use it (indignantly criticising any alternative), so St. George's Street and Jewry Street will continue as they are now, and prosperity will be prevented from spreading outwards from the High Street.

 

Solution III

 

Do nothing at all. This is the policy of many French towns and has much to be said for it. The local economy does not seem to suffer, the town remains undamaged, pedestrians have a sort of priority and vast amounts of money are saved.

The Trust is not very keen on this solution, but would prefer it to I or II, largely because we believe it is only a question of time before the restriction of car use in towns and cities becomes official policy, and central car parks become white elephants.

 

Solution IV

 

Gradually do away with central parking (except for small areas for very short stay and for special users), while increasing parking provision on the edge of the central area. At the same time improving conditions for pedestrians by giving them priority over vehicles in central streets, by extending covered ways and short cuts, and by experimenting with public transport (with the money saved from not building Multi-storey car parks and by more profitable use of the land), so that alternative methods of movement can be tried in Winchester.

 

The "gradual" part of this approach has been upset by the car parking requirement in the Brooks Development Brief, because this enormous investment would not only perpetuate car domination of central streets but greatly reduce the chances of making any of the improvements which are an essential part of Solution IV.

 

It is also illogical to press ahead with a central multi-storey car park when a number of factors could make it unnecessary:-

 

  1. We shall be losing the parking on this site for 3 years in any case, so that shoppers will have become used to parking elsewhere.

     

  2. Bus de-regulation and changing attitudes (including pressure from the Chamber of Commerce) mean that Park and Ride has become increasingly viable.

     

  3. There are rumours that the County Council is considering a Park and Ride scheme for employees. This initiative might lead to the freeing of a substantial number of the present County and District parking spaces for shoppers.

     

 

Gut Reactions

 

The suggestion that central parking space (other than for essential users such as the disabled) should be actually eliminated arouses two instinctive reactions:

 

The first is from retailers who are concerned that their trade will suffer.

 

The second is from the public at large who wish to know "...if I can't park there, where can I park?

 

Both points of view are understandable.

 

Although retailers have often expressed misgivings wherever pedestrianisation or restricted traffic access has been proposed (and did so in Winchester in the case of the High Street), it has been found invariably that trade in general has improved when the public can shop in attractive and traffic free surroundings. Anyone who doubts this should visit York or Chichester.(Clearly in the case of a supermarket involving heavy shopping, car parking is essential, but the brief specifically excludes a supermarket from this development).

 

The essential proviso is that there must be nearby parking plus, desirably, additional facilities such as Park & Ride and/or Hail & Ride and improved facilities for Park & Walk. (Is it right that so many streets within reasonable walking distance of the shops are cluttered up by all-day parkers who pay nothing for the space they are using?)

 

We believe that Winchester could provide such facilities if it has the will to do so.

 

Note: The diagram shows off-street public parking facilities currently available within half a mile of the Central Car Park.

 

The Cost of the Car Parking requirement in the Brief

 

This must be counted both in environmental and financial terms.

 

There can be no doubt that the requirement imposes a severe handicap in design terms on developers and their architects and that we should get a very much better-looking scheme without it. On the public and the tourist it perpetuates heavy traffic and pollution in the centre of the City.

 

 parking map of Parking in Winchester

 

Financially, the City loses revenue which it could devote to improving parking and related facilities on less valuable sites elsewhere. The parking requirement in the brief places a heavy burden on the development. The amount which the. developer can afford to pay the City Council (i.e. the premium/ground rent) will depend on the amount of retail and other space that he has to let, and this is bound to be restricted by the parking requirement. The developer must of course also recover the cost of constructing the car park.

 

Let us not be under the illusion that we are getting the car parking free. And let us not forget that a sizeable portion of the cost will be borne by the 24.6% of households in the Winchester District which have no car.

 

Some Popular Misconceptions

 

Winchester is badly off for car parking spaces as compared with other historic towns.

 

Not so. Early in 1984 the City Council' undertook a questionnaire survey amongst local authorities responsible for a number of large (L), medium (M) and small (S) historic towns throughout England.

 

The towns for which information on population to private and public parking space ratios were provided were: Cambridge (L), Canterbury (S), Chester (L), Chichester (S), Durham (L), Exeter (L), Gloucester (L), Guildford (M), Hereford (M), Leamington Spa (M), Lewes (5), Lichfield (S), Lincoln (M), Newbury (S), Norwich (L), Oxford (L), Ripon (S), Salisbury (S), Shrewsbury (M), Windsor* (S), Worcester (M), York (L) and Winchester (S).

 

* Windsor provided information only on public parking spaces.

 

Results:

 

Population to private parking space ratios ranged from 87:1 (Lichfield) to 5:1 (Lewes). Winchester was second best with 1 space per 7 people.

 

Population to public parking space ratios ranged from 56:1 (Hereford) to 6:1 (Salisbury and Winchester).

 

The parking situation in Winchester for shoppers and visitors has been getting steadily worse.

Not so. In August 1981 the number of public off-street parking spaces (including season ticket only spaces) was 2,383.

(Source: Winchester Town Centre Parking Survey, County Surveyor, October 1981).

 

In January 1984 the Number of public off-street parking spaces (including season ticket only spaces) was 2,449.

 

(Source: WALP Supplementary Study No. 1, County Surveyor and City Director of Planning, January 1985).

 

In March 1987 - After the closure of part of the central car park - the number of public off-street parking spaces (excluding season ticket only spaces) was 2, 614.

 

(Source: "Parking in Winchester" leaflet issued by the City Council, March 1987).

 

The cost of parking in Winchester is exhorbitant

 

Not so. Winchester's most expensive short stay surface car parks cost 25p for the first hour and 50p for the first two hours. Eqivalents in Southampton (near the Bargate) cost 35p for the first hour and 70p for two hours, which is the maximum permissible length of stay. (Incidentally, the privately operated NCP multi-storey car park in central Southampton charges 50p for the first hour and £1 for the first two hours).

 

The cost of all-day parking in parks operated by Winchester City Council varies from £4.00 (in the central Friarsgate Multistorey) to 40p (in the Worthy Lane Coach Park).

Perhaps the true cost of parking in Winchester can be gauged by an advertisement that appeared in, the 'Hampshire Chronicle' on 6th February 1987 offering "Reserved Car Parking, approximately 100 yards from High Street, £1,850 p.a. plus VAT". Ignoring the VAT, 52 weeks x 6 days works out at fractionally under £5.93 per day.

 

As was explained in our December 1985 Newsletter, car parking in Winchester is in fact heavily subsidised. Among those helping to subsidise it are the 24.6% of households in the District who lack a car.

 

It is now almost impossible to park anywhere near the Precinct.

 

Not so. At about 3.40 p.m. on Tuesday 31st March 1987 (after the closure of part of the Central Car Park) a Trust member made a quick inspection of the Friarsgate Multi-storey Car Park just across the road. The ground floor entrance contains 4 bays for disabled drivers. Only one was occupied. The next level was full, but none of the subsequent levels were. The upper roof contained only one vehicle and the lower roof was empty. the highest covered level contained only 3 vehicles, the next one down only 21 and the next only 15.

 

At 4.13 p.m. the same afternoon 57 vehicles were counted in the Central Car Park, which is still capable of accommodating 116 vehicles. The occupancy rate was thus under 50%.

 

At 9.10 a.m. on Saturday 4th April the Central Car Park contained only a sprinkling of cars.

 

We have been told that some people avoid the Friarsgate Multi-storey because it is dirty and because they fear vandalism. Our investigator spotted no vandals, but the lift and stair well were very dirty. Surely something could be done to make the place less unattractive?

 

Studies have demonstrated that Park & Ride would not be feasible in Winchester.

 

Not so. A Park & Ride Technical Report was published by the County Surveyor in 1974. It dealt with the possibilities for P&R for journeys to and from work in Winchester. Commuters from outside the City could park on the periphery in special car parks and would then be ferried to and from their places of employment by public transport. It was noted that for a P&R system to be effective there must be controls at the trip destination in the City Centre and that the possibilities for control could be an increase in long term parking charges or a physical reduction in the number of spaces available.

 

It was found that P&R terminals could be effective on all radial routes except Stockbridge Road (which had insufficient numbers of long distance commuters). Suitable sites for terminals were identified on the other radials. The total annual operating cost was given as £184,650, with an anticipated revenue of £97,500, implying a deficit of £87,150 per annum. When the costs of provision of the car parking places replaced by the P&R scheme are calculated, however, they were shown to be nearly double this. P&R therefore pays.

 

Surprisingly, the Report ignored the likelihood that a proportion of commuters living within the ring of P&R terminals would also want to use the buses. Furthermore, although it was suggested that the P&R buses could be used to provide a higher level of shopping and social services during the off-peak period at very little extra cost, it made no attempt to quantify the costs and benefits of this.

 

The leading conclusion of the Report was as follows: "It may be concluded that a park and ride system for Winchester could make a valuable contribution in solving the present and future problems associated with traffic and parking in the City Centre."

 

Although the 1974 Report was quite positive about the benefits of P&R, it is a curious fact that City and Council Councils have ever since referred to it as evidence of P&R's non-viability. No serious study has since been made of the subject, although a supplementary document to the 1985 Plan was published, which purported to re-examine the issue.

 

This document, besides making such arbitrary and unnecessary assumptions that P&R would need to be financed by the central car park tolls, failed to link costs and benefits of P&R with those of central parking provision. Indeed, the latter were ignored as an element in the equation. The assumption was effectively made that P&R was competing with an indefinitely expandable central car parking area which costs nothing to provide. Naturally, P&R does not show too well in such circumstances, but then they bear no relation to reality.

 

The 1974 Report remains the only official document which has seriously attempted a cost/benefit analysis of P&R and central car parking. Its message has been too long ignored. P&R schemes are now widely accepted as offering major economic and environmental benefits in towns of all sizes from small west country seaside resorts to large towns like Oxford.

 

Future Action

 

By the time we and the public at large are permitted to see the three shortlisted Brooks proposals in July this year they will be in detailed form and a great deal of work will have been done on them by the developers and their architects. We believe, however, that even at that late stage it will not be impossible to modify the selected scheme by eliminating or reducing the scale of the car parking, or, at worst, ensuring that it is so designed that it can be converted to other uses in years to come. (The brief actually suggests that developers may like to submit designs with this possibility in mind, though it does not require them to do so).

 

The Brooks site is already closed to cars; the redevelopment will take approximately two and a half years to complete and it would be ironical if at the end of that time the City presents us with car parking facilities, expensive financially and environmentally, with which we have discovered can live without. Surely during this period it would be worth a test experiment of Park & Ride?

 

Whether or not members agree with all the views expressed above we urge them, and the public at large, to take the keenest interest in the Brooks Development and to make their views known to the City Council.

 

Note: A Paper on the Brooks Development is available in the Members' Room in the Heritage Centre.