Will Portas help Old Town? I doubt it
Re: Old Town’s successful Portas Pilot win: Here we go again, throwing money at it.
Regenesis was a disaster. Millions were spent on keeping its own staff off the dole and refurbishing its own offices - nothing else. Other ideas recently mooted have been around for 20 years or more and it is already council policy to develop an arts and cultural quarter behind the Loft Theatre. Random works of art will not attract people to the area who will spend money there - a pointless gesture.
Some years ago, I was involved in a number of projects in the area on behalf of potential developers and entrepreneurs. A scheme in Clemens Street, for a sizeable frontage, to provide housing over the shop and add a wing to the rear was subject of endless meetings and negotiations with council planners who raised every conceivable objection. The developer gave up in the end. One of the objections was that Clemens Street was unsuitable for housing because of the noise climate. Little hope of getting use of upper floors there then.
A similar pattern was the case with a development in High Street bringing upper floors back into use. Again endless negotiations and changes to the proposal, requirements for an expensive flood risk assessment, even though the site was not in the flood risk area, and eventually a requirement for parking space was the straw that broke the camel’s back. This was despite the fact that the site is within two minutes’ walk of the half empty Court Street car park. Again, the developer gave up.
In my opinion, the first thing that needs to be done with the money is to appoint a firm of urban designers/architects with experience in urban regeneration. They should be required to prepare a plan for the area including guidelines on use of upper floors and rear wings on buildings and proposals for vacant sites. There should be a number of case studies as to how this could be achieved.
A team of positive and motivated planners should be set up by the council to implement the proposals. Any planning applications in the area should be dealt with by this team and not by the development control section. The objectives should be to encourage development, not to stifle it.
Is there any hope of this being achieved? I doubt it. More likely, a number of old ideas will be recycled along with pointless gimmicks. I do hope that this time, however, the council will realise that it is public money which is being wasted if my pessimistic scenario is the correct one. - Geoff Wilson, Arlington Mews, Leamington Spa.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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