When I walk around British cities, I often wonder how the planning decisions that left them with cheap estates and ugly, dark, under-used shopping malls ever got taken. Well, Winchester is finding out.
What happens is that the council finds itself in possession of a very large area of land – in this case a two hectare area known as Silver Hill – in bad need of renovation – in this case because it’s covered in a dilapidated bus station, a rotten 1960s health centre, and some crumbling brick car parks.
So, it decides to call in a developer. And it spends a long time coming up with a scheme that nobody is exactly keen on, but which does at least have some redeeming features – in this case, a new bus station, some much-needed town housing, and a nice little scheme to open up the Abbey Mill race that was covered in concrete some decades ago.
Then, something happens to stop the development – in this case, a recession that saw the preferred developer go bust but then rise again in the form of Henderson Global Investment.
This gives the developer an excuse to junk the best bits of the plans – and the new bus station – and to press on with the worst – excessively high buildings, cheap facades, single aspect flats – while adding an egregious department store that reminds everyone of the Brooks Centre horror of the 1990s and looks destined to kill off the High Street.
As the local Tory MP goes missing in action, an appalled minority of councillors mount legal challenges and local people turn out to protest; but a complacent/desperate/complicit (delete as appropriate) council backs its developer and pushes ahead anyway.
Well, if yesterday’s Winchester March against the Silverhill development and other eyesores can change the future, the last bit won’t happen.
Winchester City Council leader Rob Humby and Henderson aren’t showing any signs of relenting. But the courts are involved; and the diggers aren’t on site yet; so hope there’s still hope.