Response to Cheshire East Senior Design officer on the Planning application.
Updated: May 30, 2021
I would like to make further representations in opposition to the scheme, given the comments from the Senior Urban design officer, Jacinta Taylor at Cheshire East Council, who despite the narrative in the various sections of the representations, it still falls short of suggestion approving the proposals. I feel that the final conclusions do not represent the comments that are made in that narrative.
I would like to add the following: -
Discussing the lift tower, “Revealing the lift tower by peeling back the cladding and adding a locally responsive material could easily achieve this. It would make a feature of the corner and be able to act as a ‘locator’ similar in the way that the clock tower did, but this time for the bus station when viewed from Delamere Street approach, again, signalling the arrival to Crewe in a more punctuated way. In the same way that Delamere House, the clock tower and Christ Church tower is clearly visible as a way marker from the train station, potentially the tower could too” – This comment can only suggest that “Big Bill” should not have been knocked down in the first place, as the design officer suggests, that a prominent “locator” needs to be replaced, in urban design terms. The demolition in the first place is irresponsible urban vandalism and, in my opinion, should be replaced with something similar as a ‘locator’, at any cost.
The design officer further comments: - "Whilst the proposal provides a new architectural style to the town centre and makes the proposal stand out, it should also reference the existing context within the design". And further adds “The link to the context and the historical assets that lie close to the site is important and should be expressed some way in the materiality of the proposal. It could be suggested that the service tower be brick clad (brick slips) to add warmth to what appears to be quite a cold external façade and also to provide the link between the listed cottages, the retail units and the car park”. Once again, this provides a clear indication that any existing façade should reflect what went before, which adequately reflected the era and a transition from the previous architecture.
“It is important that the proposal presents a high-quality design that creates a new identity and sets a standard which subsequent developments within the town centre will follow”. The current proposal is a far cry from a from a high quality design and is mere uninspiring copy of other schemes and that of a homogenising trend of the failed scheme in Northwich. The current design therefore falls far short of what is required for Crewe which should reflect its industrial heritage,
3. Built Form
“The massing of the proposal fits well within the townscape, both from long and near viewpoints although there is a question whether the design is strong enough to deliver the impact of a landmark that is easily recognisable as a destination hub”. I would draw the planning committees attention to this comment by the Urban design officer. The design is not strong enough to create an inclusive vibrant and democratic urban space as a destination for Crewe. It falls far short of what is required for the community. The design offer forms no opinion or guidance of the rest of the scheme as a built form, and I feel that a more critical approach is needed to steer the committee on the built form, otherwise you must form an opinion that the design is indeed inappropriate for Crewe.
“The connectivity to and through the site to Victoria and Delamere Street has improved to provide safe access and routes from the proposed bus station and car park to the wider town centre”. I disagree, I feel that a wider Masterplan of the whole town centre is given some consideration, which takes in to account all the town centre sites, including all the car parking surrounding the town and to see if a more suitable site for the Bus station can be found that would add connectivity to the whole town centre rather than a myopic view locating it in this space. Multi-storey carparks could be pushed to an outer area in the town centre on existing carparks, to satisfy a short-term issue if required, when hopefully Cheshire east will adopt sustainable transport policies including more active travel, encouraging walking and cycling users, rather than attracting more vehicle movements in a central location. To build a car park in this location is not sustainable.
"The removal of the established green infrastructure is unfortunate, but there are opportunities within the site to enhance and strengthen the natural elements". I agree that removing established green areas is very unfortunate, but anything that attempts to replace these areas, MUST be better than those areas before. The current plans fall far short of this requirement, and the Design officer offers little constructive guidance.
“This has been achieved up to a point, but more greening should be applied to the proposal in the form of landscaping to Delamere Street. The inclusion of living green walls could be added to enhance and soften the building edge, as well as providing an integrated SuDs solution”. I agree with the comments, but the proposal must include a more democratic public green space, as opposed to private space, and must go further than a green wall, it must include open green space and perhaps some re-wilding in place of the bus station and car park.
“There is opportunity within the design of the public realm landscaping to provide elements of creative SuDs features (as mentioned previously) or growing spaces to engage the local residents in community activity". I agree with the comments but must be pointed out that the space has to be defined as ‘public space’ not private space that prevents it being used for the benefit of the community, and managed as a place appropriately.
6. Public spaces
This perhaps the most important section and possibly the least commercial element of the scheme. The design officer suggests, “The public spaces are well defined with the use of hard and soft landscaping. The car park footprint has been set back to provide an area of public realm. It provides a valuable space for the public to use along with aiding with air quality control and climate change mitigation”. I disagree, the public space falls far short of what is required. The is a distinct academic position on public and private space and this superficial label of public space is very misleading in this context. The open public space needs to be much larger at the expense of some of the buildings and must be designated and adopted by the local authority Cheshire east to ensure future management. The public space element needs to be fully explored and understood by the committee, to label it is does not go far enough. These comments on this section by the design officer fall far short of what is required and misleading.
The design officer suggests “The uses included within the bus station and the wider proposal allow for flexibility for future change and incorporate accessible elements throughout the design”. These comments are totally inappropriate, since 2016 Barons Quay and has similar “flexible space" and has failed to find any occupiers in 5 years. This illustrates that the scheme needs a complete rethink, retail and leisure are not the answer. Flexible uses a can come in the form of shipping containers if needed, whilst retail decides its direction post pandemic. This scheme offers no solutions for an adaptable town centre and actually sterilises the town for many years to come, just as Northwich has. Crewe has an opportunity to have a vibrant inclusive town centre and the current scheme will not allow this, it needs a real rethink with active community engagement not just engineered support.
8. Homes and buildings
No comment, but the site could contain some homes and provides.
“There appears to be no sustainable aspect to the proposal which is surprising and disappointing given the current climate.
The use of environmental standards to reduce the energy consumption or the use of energy creating technology should be explored further and incorporated to reduce the carbon footprint of the development.”
This comment actually sums up the whole reason why the current scheme cannot be passed. The current NPPF suggest that any scheme needs to be sustainable in environmental terms and the scheme provides no evidence that sustainability has even been considered. For these reasons alone, the committee MUST turn down the application.
Any place management project must contemplate the ongoing management of a place. The design officer states, “The proposal does not disclose the element of lifetime management and maintenance within its design, maintaining the high-quality public realm or technological/material longevity”.
Place management has been defined as, “a coordinated, area-based, multi-stakeholder approach, harnessing the skills, experience and resources of those in the public, private and voluntary sectors” (Journal of Place Management and Development) and informally as, “the process of making places better”. The activity place management coordinates can be categorised as place making (regeneration, refurbishment, development and expansion); place maintenance (cleanliness, security and access) and place marketing (communication, events and branding). For the application to be considered further information should be provided to contemplate these aspects of place management moving forward.
The design offers states; - “Whilst the proposal seems acceptable, it falls short in delivering the aspirations to provide a development of exceptional quality and architectural design that both enhances the character of the town and projects the image of an emerging new town centre worthy of the expected growth within the next few years with the arrival of HS2”.
It is difficult, considering the final conclusion how the design officer can say the proposal is acceptable. Considering Cheshire East have set their sights so high with the arrival of HS2, the scheme falls far short of and design aspirations, sustainable goals that will provide a town centre the community can be proud of.
The design officer provides no evidence to suggest that the conclusion of “acceptable” can be reached. The design officer puts forward no compelling issues in favour of the scheme.