Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Port Marine, Bristol

Back in the mists of time, when I was just an assistant CAD bitch at Derek Lovejoy Partnership, I can vaguely recall working up proposals for Port Marine, near Bristol. At the time it was quite a big deal - a major new housing project built on a former industrial site, that was going to be a big step up in quality from anything else done by a major housebuilder. Poundbury was very much the role model for the scheme, so we were given lots of scope for nice paving, planting and trees, whilst the architects got a big budget for porticos, quoins and neo-classical garage doors.

Thus it was with some interest that I recently went back to visit the site. Sadly, I couldn’t specifically remember ‘my bits’, but I did have a general sense of déjà vu as I looked around. It’s all a bit of a pastiche, but quite a pleasant one and somewhat unsurprisingly it’s on the Prince’s Trust list of developments that Prince Charles likes.

As you can probably see, there’s a bit of a nautical theme to the area. If the buildings were people, they’d probably be wearing a blue and white stripey top, deck shoes and possibly a neck scarf or captains hat. Quite nicely done though.

Not a great photo this, but it does show one of the green ‘squares’ which are a bit of a feature of the development.

I think in principle, these areas work well. Where they are let down is by the maintenance, particularly in the soft and planted bits, which are looking tired and unkempt. Lot’s of Marshall’s Saxon paving and Conservation kerbs!

You could make the same observation again; while the overall design is interesting, the poor state of the grass detracts from the areas appearance.

Some of the more modern town houses in the scheme.

…and it all goes a bit Poundbury!

A bit of a theme developing here; nice quality housing, rather unkempt road frontage.

I know it’s a bit twee, but I still think this is a reasonably interesting streetscene (bar the big blocky extra floor emerging from the pitched roof on the right hand side). Pastel coloured building renders all look a bit ’west coast of Ireland’ to me.

The offending, big blue block! Front gardens work well in my opinion.

I actually rather like this mini square. It’s a nice scale for the houses around it and the flowering cherries give it a different feel from the surroundings.

Another of the development’s ‘squares’. Quite a nice one actually – I’ve a feeling I designed it!

Port Marines answer to Bath’s ‘Royal Crescent’ – a curve of buildings overlooking the central greenspace. More multi-coloured render.

The central greenspace. Looking generally underwhelming and uncared for. The grotty looking, blocks of concrete were once part of the old harbour in place of more conventional park benches. Nice idea, but all looks a bit random now.

Not really looking any better from this angle. I’m not quite sure what you’re meant to do in this space?!?

The centrepiece of the park, is this Gormley-esque sculpture. In spite of my myself, I actually quite like it. I’m told it was inspired by the five radio towers which used to be a feature of the area. This was the brochure image of the development, and seemed to be widely used as an example of public art.

From the front...

Finally, I thought I’d drop in this image of the big sculpture’s mini me, which is just round the corner. It’s obviously by the same artist, and hopefully gives you a little better idea of the construction. Not sure I like it really. I think that somewhere there must be some Government guidance on public art, which states that a certain percentage MUST be made of corten steel.

I think the overall result is generally pretty pleasant, if not entirely to my taste. Unfortunately the big let down is the maintenance of the public realm and greenspaces. You can’t blame the developer for this, as it is almost certainly down to the local authority that adopted it (and no doubt charged some fat commuted sums for doing so). Interestingly, we showed a client around here as an example for the redevelopment of Llanwern steelworks, and it convinced them to look at a community interest company (CIC) rather than LA adoption. See story here.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Eco-towns - PPS Response

Publicity image for the 'Pennbury' eco-town, Leicestershire

The Landscape Institute has recently published it’s response to the Government PPS on ‘Eco Towns’. As I had some comments on the subject, I’m quoted as an author of the report. I suspect the format of the response means that the LI has to come up with comments that fit particular statements. It kind of reminds me of the questionnaires that I had to fill in for the canteen when I lived in University Halls of Residence. They’d ask questions like “How would you rate the choice of vegetarian options?” or “How do you rate the variety of menu’s?”. When you really want to answer the questions, “How does the food taste?” - inevitably pretty vile, or “Is the food fit for human consumption?”- a simple no would suffice. Hence the PPS response deals with, ‘Are the locational principles for eco-towns sufficiently clear and workable?’, rather than the more straight forward, ‘Are the proposed eco-towns in good locations?’ Maybe this is the reason that I’m struggling to see much of my input! That said, I think the LI is right to push the whole ‘Green Infrastructure’ and ‘Place Making angle’, which seem to be gradually moving into the public conscienciousness. If you’re at all interested, I’ve put the press release and a link to the document below.

"8 May 2009

Landscape Institute verdict on Government's Planning Policy Statement for Ecotowns

The Landscape Institute has submitted its response to the Government's latest proposals for ecotowns. Over the past 6 months, a consultation has been underway on the content of the draft Planning Policy Statement for the new towns which sets out the standards that the developments are expected to achieve.

The Landscape Institute is particularly disappointed at the apparent failure of Government to grasp just how significant a role green infrastructure can play in meeting a wide range of standards to be achieved, ranging from water management to food production and biodiversity.

Another concern surrounds the lack of emphasis on the importance of place-making in the creation of ecotown communities. The Landscape Institute believes this is fundamental to the success of the ecotowns as places where people will want to live and where business will want to invest.

Read the full response here.

Find more information on the Government's ecotowns initiative here."

Friday, 8 May 2009

Up the river without a paddle

I was very interested to see an email from ‘Green Places Magazine’ pop into my inbox advertising the ‘Our Rivers’ - “crusade”, which is apparently the largest ‘river action campaign’ ever seen in the UK. It asks for people to ‘stand up for your river’ and it is looking for local knowledge to feed into the River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs). Sounds good, thinks I – after all I’m someone who is interested in landscape, ecology and in particular, rivers.

So I click on the link to check it, and it’s then I start to feel a bit perplexed. The organisations involved are the WWF, RSPB, Angling Trust and the Association of River Trusts. It’s all a bit vague about what they’re after – almost as if they have to consult people, but don’t really know what they are trying to achieve. The kicker comes at the end of the ‘About Our Rivers’ section:

“The Water Framework Directive does not deal with all the issues that might concern you as someone who cares about a river. For example it doesn't deal with navigation, access…”

And this is where I have a problem.

In my spare time I’m an enthusiastic kayaker. I’ve been into kayaking and canoeing for a few years now, having first tried the sport sea kayaking around the Turkish coast. Since then, I’ve spent many weekends getting up at silly o’clock in the morning, to drive to far flung rivers across the country! For those who aren’t aware, the UK isn’t overly blessed with places to paddle. The main problem is access.

It is estimated that only 2% of the rivers in England and Wales have public access or a right to navigation. The legal reasons for this are complex and still not entirely clear. In England and Wales, landowners own the riverbed (unlike pretty much everywhere else), although the water running over it is still the property of the Crown. Although to my knowledge no-one has ever been found guilty of trespass whilst on water, it is still alleged by some that it is illegal to do so without the landowners permission. The other issue, is that you generally have to pass over private land to get onto a river.

Kayaking instructor and film-maker, Simon Westgarth, gives his explanation of the situation:
“The problem we have in England and Wales, is that to get on the river you should seek the permission of the land owner. Often the land owner will grant permission, yet in some locations there are fishing right to sections of water, other people can own these and probably pay a fee to the land owner, and in turn bear influence on whether the land owner will grant permission to get to and from the river. Its a very foolish situation and unique to England and Wales, where as in Scotland they have seen the good sense to change the law to accommodate the recreational demands of a modern society. In all my travels, there are few water access restrictions, those rare cases are based on conservation demands to very rare nesting birds or time restrictions to allow fishing at both dawn and dust. I would hope we’d get there in the UK, but politically the powers at be seam to be willing to uphold the status quo, in spite of the its ridicules outcomes.”

The British Canoe Union (BCU) have been campaigning for better access almost since it’s formation in 1936, but unfortunately there has been little change in the situation over the last 20 years. The sad fact remains that an influential minority are vehemently opposed to rivers being more widely used and accessed by the public, and have successfully prevented people from boating, swimming and even accessing riverbanks, for quite some time. The angling community are very much at the vanguard of those who want to prevent greater access. From the ‘Our Rivers’ website I clicked on the Angling Trust link and this is what I found.

Angling Trust statement on Navigation:
“The British Canoe Union has been actively campaigning for free, unlimited navigation access to all watercourses, at all times, which is an entirely unreasonable demand. Anglers pay billions of pounds for the rights to fish on rivers, and yet boaters are demanding free access which will have a major impact on the quality of fishing and can cause damage to spawning areas. Anglers also invest millions in the upkeep of river environments and pay a rod licence to the Environment Agency which pays for investment in fisheries protection. The BCU is proposing that boaters should have the right to paddle wherever they choose without paying a penny.

Many rivers do have an established right of navigation and voluntary agreements on other rivers are being established with some success, but this is not a universal solution by any means.

The Angling Trust will make these arguments to politicians and in the media and will help broker agreements between anglers and boaters where possible. We will also fight for enforcement action to be taken wherever unlawful navigation becomes a regular problem.”

First of all, the irony of an organisation which is part of a campaign called, ‘our rivers’, that has a policy of preventing wider river use, is not lost on me. However, I also thought it would be worth picking up a few of their points, as I understand it.

The BCU is asking for a presumption in favour of access, but implicit in this is the understanding that this can easily be suspended if there are environmental or local reasons to do so. The statement also mentions payment and financial reasons for why they are opposed to wider access A LOT. You’d almost think that this is their major objection. There is also mention of damage to spawning areas – I have seen no meaningful research showing that canoeing causes any environmental harm, and as someone with an ecological background would be interested to see it. I should also point out that spawning beds are highly protected under the Environmental Protection Act, and that if any damage could be proved the parties involved would be liable to prosecution.

Which leads me onto the final issue – ‘access agreements’. Both Labour and the Conservative party advocate access agreements as a way to resolve the issue of river access. The odds on land owners volunteering to let people across and onto their land aren’t great. In the last 20 years there have been no significant new access agreements and in this time a number of other access agreements have collapsed. What incentive is there for people who are already using the rivers, to share it with others? The situation is similar to the right to roam – would landowners have voluntarily allowed ramblers onto their land?

I have no particular issue with fishing, and I can understand why having new people boating, swimming or walking alongside their rivers, would be a bit of a pain. It’s going to scare the fish away! But these aren’t reasons for why other people shouldn’t be able to enjoy the rivers of England and Wales. Access for all seems to be working well in Scotland.

OK so why should you care?

Rivers are a key part of our natural heritage, and as a society we should all have access to them, and responsibility for their upkeep. Canoeing is a great sport. It’s suitable for a wide range of ages and abilities, from young children to the elderly. It can be active and adventurous, or it can be a peaceful way to see nature and the landscape. It’s also a sport where the disabled can take part alongside able bodied users (I’d recommend people check out adventurer, Karen Darke).

The issue is highly complex, and I fully expect that some will feel that my explanation is incomplete or incorrect. However, iIf any of this sounds unfair or if you’d just like to find out more, then I’d urge you to check out the following website: