Thursday, 24 November 2011

Information about the Prudhoe Town Centre

Two thoughts just now on Prudhoe's new centre. Matthew 7:12 "So in everything, do unto others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." . Had that been a guiding principle in the design of the proposed centre, much of the pain could have been avoided by the designers asking themselves would I wish to live in the neighbouring properties once this work was finished? To see the result of not doing so, explore this link
. And by playing with the 999x sequence up and down you can find all or a huge amount of correspondence in the public domain about the project. Very instructive. Thanks Clive Elsdon for some tuition here.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Is the Prudhoe Town Centre redevelopment abandoned and if so Why?

A month ago the Prudhoe Town Centre redevelopment scheme looked all set to receive its planning permission after years of twists and turns. About a day beforehand, the meeting was cancelled. Since then something of a catch all about legal advice and the applicant being required to submit more information has sufficed by way of explanation. I have asked councillors, the chairman of the Prudhoe Community Partnership who is also the vicar, for explanations. Nothing in any detail is forthcoming. The Hexham Courant has hardly been able to expand the knowledge base. This week its publishes two letters from opposing sides of the spectrum: Peter Gallagher and Tony Williamson. Sometimes people wonder why I don't get more involved in the actual political structures. Read those letters for an answer. It is mudslinging and misunderstanding on both sides and that is not something I wish to take part in. Nonetheless this inability to communicate between the various parties may go far in explaining why this process has become so frustrating over many years. The process goes back some years before the original application for the current scheme was submitted in 2007. Now in bullet point form, I intend to list out some of the reasons why I suspect if the current scheme is dead, that is so. Tony Williamson's letter (pro) seemed to suggest it is dead although on what evidence I do not know. Perhaps the results of the Sainsbury consultation this September were so negative as to disincentivise them?

  • At the outset the scheme should have had a vision and a name. One that encapsulated the excitement of what was on offer. I have several times in this blog referred to The Hanging Gardens of Prudhoe. This was not a random choice and only incidentally was meant to allude to a fate for the protagonists. The Hanging Gardens concept is one of antiquity and refers to the hillside. The space for the development is the last open space left within Prudhoe's centre. It sits on one of Prudhoe's greatest assets: its hillside. The development owner is famed for the Alnwick Garden. It is basic common sense that the two be combined and that above everything else encompassing the shops and the houses, there would be a Garden experience of such notability that it made Prudhoe a destination. A multi storey car park or a Supermarket facade could have become an exercise in hydroponics. People with memories in Prudhoe realise that the Co-Op development and its car park destroyed a very pleasant park.
  • As such the scheme needed to be 21st century in nature. I often asked those for the scheme to outline for me its 21st century elements. They never have because it is'nt. It is a scheme from the 1980s. And it never really took cognisance of its hillside location. The hillside became a problem not an asset. And that is how we ended up with Berlin Walls, sound barriers and massive blocks of development overlooking houses.
  • An element of a 21st century scheme would have been efficient communication to sell the project. A regularly maintained website with an updated FAQ responsive to questions could have worked wonders. The site is surrounded by houses and the proposed development literally looks down on many. Pleasing the neighbours should always have been paramount to remove objections. IT could have helped this, instead the developers seemed to stir up a hornet's nest amongst their intended neighbours.
  • The information provision was always poor. Dumping huge arrays of files in the library and calling that consultation was anything but. Again a website could have had a 3d walkthrough, which, had the plan had inherent excitement, could have convinced the doubters. It simply did not seem that Northumberland Estates ever wanted to enthuse the community. It looked as if they took them for granted. It certainly did when as this blog shows the Estate has spent months claiming on its own website to have planning permission for the project when it had nothing of the sort. A public consulation inviting responses took place in August/September of this year and not a word about the results has yet been forthcoming.
  • Four elements of detail (at least) excited consistent adverse comment (other commentators may suggest more). The big three for me were the multi storey car park, the restrictive covenants on the shops and the new junction on station bank. Each of these three it seemed to me was unwelcome and unworkable. Probably the one highest on my agenda and those I spoke to, were the restrictive covenants. It looked like swopping one supermarket monopoly for another. The knowledge that at the end of all the upheaval, a whole genre of shops would be excluded like a butchers, wholefood (Holland and Barratt), a Thorntons, a fishmonger was amazing. Just what sort of town centre was this going to be for the largest town in Tynedale?
  • The fourth element really became evident this summer and perhaps it was this that pulled the meeting on the 19th October? The situation with the drains and the sewers. I have heard so many incompatible versions of this. One argument says that the development was actually going to solve the problem because it was to have a separate drainage system to the river. If so that was not made clear in Fairhurst's summary handed out in October 2010. Another argument says that the Estate maintained there was no springwater on the site when clearly there is. What appears to have driven the point home was the event of 6th August when it became manifestly clear that Prudhoe's current drainage system was not working. The simple point to me is that Prudhoe operates with a 600' hydraulic head and that unless development is exactingly married to that fact, some dramatic problems will arise.
  • It is evident that the matter of leadership and trust comes into this. Whether in respect of the springwater or their claim to already have planning permission, the Estate lost the community's confidence. The Duke never once came the 3o miles to engage with the population. The whole affair of the Judicial Review articulated this. The proposal was rejected once by a judge and although it could be argued this was on a technicality, commentators like the Hexham Courant certainly interpreted this as a rebuff to the Estate's plan which had already then attracted thousands of objectors. I certainly thought that when the plans were represented at a consultation in St Mary's Parish Hall in October 2010, one would see a radically changed scheme taking account of the many concerns which by then were well known. I remember being amazed by what I saw and I remember the inescapable mood of those in that room. They were angry. More than anything else, this was the moment I decided to start quietly taking soundings amongst people as I met them. Gradually over several months, I became astonished at what I learnt. Very successful business people were explaining to me exactly why the proposed scheme would not work. Other people were expressing amazement that successful businesses like the existing snooker hall were going to be sacrificed with no arrangements for their replacement. I was very surprised to discover that this did not seem to concern the Prudhoe Community Partnership.
  • A very sad consequence of all of this as the letters in the Courant have consistently shown is that the landowner's scheme has entirely divided the community. It is not difficult to find heated arguments developing over the affair. Neighbour can quite literally fall out with neighbour. Since the landowner in this instance is not some absent commercial entity but the feudal landlord, I judge that to be somewhat scandalous.
  • As Tony Williamson's letter says, the land will be developed. It cannot be left. If indeed the Northumberland Estates/Sainsbury scheme is dead, how might I suggest going forward? The asset of the land and its view is so valuable to the community that the Prudhoe Community Partnership should raise funds to buy the land and find a new development partner. One who would really work with this community to develop a scheme which would enthuse the community. Perhaps the result will not be a Sainsbury? It might be a Morrisons or an Aldi. I don't mind. I never objected to a new supermarket. The Co-Op as I repeatedly say to myself when forced into it, has not made any friends by its pricing or stocking policy (Consett offers a vastly wider array of supermarkets and other food outlets all competitively priced). So by all means lets have a new supermarket, some more housing, shops that allow for a butchers, but in all that let us make sure that the development treats the hillside in such an exciting manner that it will become the positive talk for 50 miles around.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Prudhoe's Drainage

I went to the Prudhoe Civic and Community Forum meeting last night about the flooding. The most forceful presence came from a newly appointed West Area Highways manager Richard Hayes. It seems he is very ready to understand that Prudhoe has deep seated drainage problems that unless they are addressed will continue to cause a lot of distress to affected properties.

What I now say is a little bit of reading in: but I conclude his advice would likely to be no development planning permission until a wider study into Prudhoe's geology and drainage is concluded. And that one should not be surprised if the solution is an interceptor drain of some size running along the spring line. That is roughly from the west end of the bypass, along the back of Prudhoe Castle School, the bottom of the Kepwell, between Broomhouse Lane and the new development to the area of the Cockshaw Dene where it would discharge into natural drainage. This scheme would intercept surface and land water discharges.

Once it was in place, the capacity would be there to proceed with the town development.

The objectors were going on about granite! I had to interject. There is no granite anywhere near Prudhoe. I had the geology map with me to prove it. Apparently as one told me later, Fairhurst's had suggested this. If so this shows just how out of touch and hopeless the Fairhurst's input is. The geology of Prudhoe whilst complex is perfectly clear. The rocks are coal measures: coal, limestone, sandstones, shales, fireclays. Most are porous but the clays are not and will play a role in springlines. On top of the rocks there is boulder clay and sands and gravels. Plenty of the latter along the hillside clearly shown on the map. Where they meet clay, you get springs and where the underlying rock outcrops the same also happens.

It seems to me that previous developers have been allowed to get away with murder - especially as it now appears along Castle Road. It is very important that Northumberland Estates are not allowed to repeat this. They have had ample opportunity to do their work properly. They seem to have failed to do this. The objectors say that NE deny there are any springs on the development site. They have photographic evidence to prove otherwise.

To my mind the NE planning application should not be taken further until the drainage study is concluded and implemented. There is every reason a planning committee could want to say this to the applicant. There is no way that the applicant could object as they have manifestly failed to undertake the studies they should have done.

The event of 6th August was evidently very distressing and it has been followed up with smaller scale repeats since then including October 18th on Station Bank. However if these unfortunate events have injected some realism into the development plans in Prudhoe, something will have moved forward.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Tales from our National Parks

Are any of you following the BBC series Tales from our National Parks? The theme combining heritage, landscape and planning would always interest me and with the other related planning thread of Prudhoe Town Centre I was bound to watch. Up there in my personal interest stakes with the Nick Crane series on towns earlier in 2011. What do I get from these programmes? That planners are in a strange world of their own. Last night the issue was the Tyndrum Gold Mine. It was absolutely clear an entire community on its ankers wanted the project and had waited quite long enough. Planning permission had previously been granted by an earlier authority. So what did a new National Park authority do with a chief executive from Greenpeace? Erect hoops every inch of the way. The whole issue really came down to the tailings dam, dealing with the waste. Common sense might have said say to the applicant, we support you but unless your application deals with the tailings in a way we can approve, don't bother. Oh no, the whole expense of a frustrated application was indulged in. A 12/10 vote down and another year spent on a re-application. All this effort could have been saved with some straight talking at the start. In reality life is not that simple. Perhaps the Park Authority never really wanted to say yes and had hoped that after one rejection, the applicant would go away. But they did not, instead reading between the lines, I suspect some influential supporters lent on the Park Authority (telling scene of the Park Convener giving the Chief Exec some guidance). Thankfully anyway Tyndrum will get its gold mine now. Sadly Honister does not look likely to get its zip wire. The Lakes say they want to be Britain's adventure capital. Yet they don't want a zip wire at Honister exactly where a cableway from the slate quarry worked for decades. The park authority has removed sports boats from one of the most obvious locations in Britain: Windermere, a huge space well able to accomodate speedboats in designated zones. I have my serious doubts that those running National Parks have any real ability to support business. They view their landscapes as precious artforms when in reality they are nothing of the sort. All the great National Parks had their wealth built on industry and this their current guardians are in denial over. And back at the ranch in Prudhoe, the story is rather different. Here there is a beautiful valley with no protection. There is a public who have made their views pretty clear: that any development should fit the landscape and not engender monopoly. And although the jury is still out (because a key meeting got pulled) I am not convinced the community's opinion really counts for much. That is the common thread: why don't planners listen to community opinion. And will the Prudhoe community have to take the type of measure the folk of Tyndrum did to get heard?

Also in today's news another Northumberland planning story whereby a 230 year old pub bites the dust for yet another Supermarket in Morpeth? What is it with those folk? Morpeth was a lovely town now being totally given over to car parks and supermarkets. There are at least three developments already in existence.