A ‘drop in’ event organised by Winchester City Council, Lifshutz Davidson-Sandilands and other experts showed a model and plans for the Station Approach in Winchester, including (clockwise from left) an office block divided by a colonnaded walkway, a plaza into Station Hill flanked by a micro brewery, Gladstone Street, level access across the site, and a ‘gateway’ from the tracks to the town.
Winchester has been struggling with two, large development sites. The first was at the ‘bottom’ of the High Street, where an area called Silverhill. This was earmarked for 74 shops with single aspect flats hung around a car park above them; but it fortunately collapsed in the face of widespread public disquiet (and the online revolution/retail downturn/coming recession that has collapsed demand for shops).
The other is up around the station, where there is a proposal for offices on what is currently a temporary car park, albeit with some trees on it. A proposal a couple of years back for huge, glass faced, blocks was abandoned. Since then, architects, public realm and movement experts have been in and trying to come up with something better.
Which, to be fair, they have. Local residents had the chance to look at the ideas – and rather a nice little plywood model – last weekend. And there’s a fair bit to like. The offices are still very, very big, and there’s no doubt they will impose on the street scene, even if Winchester’s hills mean they don’t impose on longer views.
But the latest proposals are for two blocks, rather than a single one, in natural materials, separated by rather a clever, flat walkway through the site flanked by colonnades (the view coming out of the station will be not dissimilar to the one you get coming out of Turin railway station, which would be a novelty for the south of England).
Also, the plans retain rather a sweet ex-pub and ex-register office (the architects would like am micro-brewery: wouldn’t we all?) and create a new public space/café with terrace at the bottom of the site, where it lets out onto the Sussex Street/main road (this looks a bit yummy mummies do Costa outside Waitrose, but we can’t have everything).
However, the constrictions of the site mean that a lot of the public realm proposals, while nice in themselves, don’t really go anywhere. So, there’s a new plaza outside the station. But there’s nothing to connect it with a ropy walkway over to a car park to the north east, which actually functions as the main route into town for a new student block and people living at that end of town. Or with an even more ropy underpass that takes people to the London side of the station.
The plaza lets down to a road called Station Hill, where there are some decent trees. That should at least give bewildered tourists some idea of how they are supposed to get into town, which is not at all clear at the moment (although it’s not the most direct route to the catehdral or military museums).
However, at the bottom of the hill they will still be faced by a scrubby set of lights that only occasionally and grudgingly let people through traffic that comes from all directions. While anybody who uses that nice, flat pedestrian route through the development will similarly find themselves at a road which, if they can get across it, leads only to the dead bulk of the county council’s offices.
The experts at last week’s event seemed well aware of, and frustrated by these problems; which require engagement from Network Rail and Hampshire County Council if they are going to be addressed (neither body is known it town as a model of responsive citizenship). The advice of local councillors was to keep going and to keep raising the issues
Because we now have plans for a city gateway. And it’s quite a nice gateway. But it’s in danger of not leading anywhere…