Monday, 27 January 2014

Prudhoe faces yet another development crisis?

How many people work full time for Prudhoe? Is the Homes and Communities Agency really the Homes Agency? What is 21st century development?

Work back through my blog and over several years around 2010 there were many blog posts over the Town Centre. Prudhoe should have a new town centre fit for purpose in a mushrooming town. An area was zoned in the 1960s. It remains undeveloped to this day. At great effort its landowner in summer 2012 finally got planning permission only for his prime partner to walk away. The result on a site surrounded by neighbours is long term planning blight. It is a very unfortunate outcome. In my view the project failed because its landlord totally lacked the vision to deliver an excellent proposal respecting all his neighbours and their many concerns as well as the geography of the site. Not everyone can be kept happy all the time but unless most people are kept happy most of the time things do not work. The project that was offered to Prudhoe was simply second rate, 1960s rather than 21st century, "good" should not  be good enough.

That is a preamble to saying "it is all about to happen again". Move a mile and more from the town centre and you reach the valley of the Stanley Burn. An area largely of woodland, defined Green Belt and as it happens wholly inside the Derwent Valley Heritage Landscape and subject to a very large upcoming HLF project. Within it lies Prudhoe Hospital, the link is to an English Heritage and English Partnerships report from 2008 which makes sound reading. That explains the historic context and at 1.1 says:
Context of the Prudhoe historic characterisation

In 2005 English Heritage (EH) and English Partnerships (EP) began jointly to explore the use of Historic Characterisation (HC) in preliminary regeneration planning. Three experimental pilot projects were carried out to test various methods using former hospital sites - Graylingwell in Chichester, Hanham Hall near Bristol, and the present study, Prudhoe, in the Tyne Valley. EH and EP intend to use the results of the pilots to produce generic guidance for the use of HC on sites of similar scale and levels of complexity. 

EH and EP believe that conducting HC at the pre-masterplanning stage can make a positive contribution to the planning and regeneration process. Such early characterisation is not intended to replace archaeological evaluations or the traditional detailed surveys of architectural fabric that might be needed at later stages to inform detailed design or as mitigation. Instead, HC offers something new for planning and design teams: a forward-looking and contextual understanding of a site’s historic development and present day historically-derived character that can be drawn upon to inform the masterplan for a site.
That sounds splendid. It is only since last summer that the outcome by what is now the Homes and Communities Agency has become clearer with the notion that outline planning permission will be sought soon.
This is the result:
There is a new hospital: tick. There is one new development called Humbles Wood, ongoing now. Okay. Alarm bells begin. Two major new developments have happened, Moor Road has received no attention and no access beyond the car and the foot is provided.

And so we reach the last few weeks and the appearance of this diagram. For all this effort from EP and EH what have we got? A project to build not a community, let alone one respecting its context, but a plan to knock as much down as is possible and build 375 homes? Where will these people work? How will they get to where they work? Where are the employment opportunities on site? How are the homeworkers and self employed going to be faciliated?

The point of the Characterisation was to start a debate! It was to lead to something like the Crichton solution. But it appears wholly derailed. Why?

Because as this visualisation appeared, people have started to ask questions. There are two listed properties which the developers HAVE to respect. The Hall and the Walled Garden. They will respect them. The developer knows that. That does not mean Community benefit will follow and in a narrow sense that does not have to be. However there are people in the community who want a crack at the walled garden and I would think it incumbent on the developer to talk closely with them. There is a reasonable chance that this will happen.

But what about the rest of this huge site and this:

The top picture shows the 1930s recreation pavilion and figure 17:5 in the EH report shows it in all its new glory. Find that.  The bottom picture is one of the resident blocks which could be adapted in various ways into outstanding housing of character. A character to retain the Garden Village character of the original location and which justified EH's initial interest.

Only a development which creates a community and offers workspace in a special and characterful context will do. That means respecting, some, not all, of what there is.

That is not what the HCA Gentoo proposal currently does. It does the BARE MINIMUM to respect legal obligation. Its primary aim appears to be the short term gain of as much profit as possible and leaving Prudhoe to pick up the pieces. And what are those pieces, 375 new homes, no public transport and a massive traffic jam at Blaydon Roundabout or Ovingham Bridge. There is no contextual planning. There is no notion that a B road from Horsley over the Tyne and through this environment to Ebchester would be a good idea. There is just nothing apart from we want to demolish everything we can and build 375 homes and walk away. That is not community building!!! Gentoo - the Sunderland social housing organisation say of themselves "Our vision is to improve the Art of Living beyond imagination".

I am saying this now because Prudhoe has a Community Arts Project looking for a home. I approached HCA asking that we might be allowed to look inside the Recreation Pavilion. I was sent away with a flea in my ear (by email) and told the building will be demolished. It has no protection and because even EH could not find its original architect's name unlikely to get any. It should have a considerate owner. It does not. It is Prudhoe's De La Warr pavilion. No kidding, it is what it can be.

It all sounds as if  the "Prudhoe is there to be done unto by its landlords" complex is alive and well again. Urgent action by the Town Council, our two County Councillors, the Community Partnership (which is certainly alive to all this) and our MP is needed.  There is a difference this time around, we have another MP and he is well briefed on the issues:

Saturday 25th January 2014.

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