Monday, 11 May 2009

It's grim oop The North

Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire: the shape of things to come?

You know when you've arrived as there is a sign on the motorway saying The North, just in case the unwary have strayed inadvertently from long weekending with chums in the Cotswolds and taken a wrong turning on the way back to Kensington. Maybe it's a warning to lock the doors and wind up the windows, and don't stop until you've managed to U turn back and reach where you may be in daily danger of a mugging, or a stabbing, but at least one can understand the aarccint of the assistants in Fortnums, a Pashmina will be adequate to protect from the weather, and if tripe is on the menu it's because it's fashionably rediscovered and offally trendy (served wittily with a drizzle of jus des ognions) and not a cheap daily staple. Or is it for when they pack the Purdeys and the tweed in the Range Rover for the annual murdering of the grice, just so they know they aren't too far from a snifter at the shooting lodge, where even if the natives are a tad scarily incomprehensible they will still touch forelocks and doff the clorth cep, and do a jolly good job as beaters?

I don't recall seeing a sign saying The South.

Well, that's a few of my irrational northern prejudices, alongside a spot of unwarranted stereotyping, given an outing for this week. What follows is of course perfectly logical and untainted by personal bias.

I'm intending to visit Hebden Bridge this week, a town oop north of quaint, rugged, old fashioned charm, which in part relies for trade on people like me visiting to spend my money. I like it, and presumably those people who choose to live there do also, because in the main it is a town of quaint, rugged, old fashioned charm, with traditional buildings and a conservation area at its heart. If I wanted to visit somewhere full of jokey 'iconic' ironic architecture, then the City of London is where so much of it is at . Yes the City still has its pockets of joy, but it also has a great deal of crap, thanks in part to its City Planning Officer Mr Peter Rees and his desire to allow developers to build whatever nonsense will bring them all, developers, architects and City council, most cash. This isn't confined to the City, of course, but so far some London boroughs have resisted this sort of lunacy. However, these days I avoid London as much as possible, and stick to the charms of places like Hebden Bridge. Perverse I know, stick in the mud certainly, but I Knows What I Likes. And I like small towns in the north.

Hebden Bridge isn't really where you'd expect to get a cheery welcome if you decided to impose on the locals your 21st century idea of what is good for them, and anyone who thought that strange lumps of wonky buildings, with stone cladding, large sheets of glass in odd places and the now usual random fenestration was something the place was crying out for must hardly have expected an easy time, and...

Studio BAAD's Hebden Bridge scheme triggers death threats

Hebden Bridge-based Studio BAAD has become the victim of a hate and intimidation campaign after submitting revised plans for a mixed-use development in the West Yorkshire town.

Over the last few weeks bricks have been thrown at the practice’s windows, staff members’ car tyres have been let down and the firm’s PR has been told in a phone call that he would be ‘drummed out of Hebden Bridge in a wooden box with the lid nailed down’.

The practice is pointing the finger of suspicion at opponents of its ambitious £10 million Garden Street project, which could create 48 homes, eight shops and 160 ‘much-needed’ car parking spaces in the centre of the former wool-producing town...

Well, after a long battle the public inquiry ended last week, and the outcome is waited with interest. Odd that Stephen Bayley, he of the Observer and predictable rants against anyone who doesn't think that anything new by one of his pals in the architecture game should be rubber stamped through no matter how unsuitable (the Holburne extension in Bath for example: hasn't so far branded those in Calderdale Council who failed to wholeheartedly approve, and the many local people who rose up to object, uninformed Philistines. Or not yet, at least, for yesterday he was too busy ranting predictably about HRH The Prince of Wales. Given a choice of old buffer to be marooned on a desert island with, I think I'd choose HRH over Borer Bayley any time.

(Why is he given so much space in the Observer? He's got nothing fresh or informed to say about architecture. Or indeed anything very much, these days. Yesterday's man, really.)

Anyhow, for those who want to see what folks have been making a fuss about, here's Hebden Bridge's own version of the current Chelsea Barracks furore, which seems to have stolen so much of the meeja limelight away from Yorkshire, possibly because of HRH's involvement in trying to have that dog of a development in London stopped:

That link also leads to the planning website, where it's worth looking at the documents showing the elevations.

Yes folks, that's right - this is what was proposed for the Hebden Bridge Conservation Area, apparently to solve a parking problem! This is what the developer says on its website:

The proposed mixed-use Garden Street Development in the centre of Hebden Bridge is set to play a pivotal role in tackling the town’s desperate need for additional car parking facilities, and will have a positive impact on the town’s future economic, housing and tourism growth

Now I'm not saying it's terrible architecture, it isn't, in the right place it could be fine, like, say, Croydon, but... Hebden Bridge? And future tourism? Me, I'd never go again if the place was spoiled with this bizarre scheme.

Cut one trend setting modern architect and they all bleed, of course... being artistes and therefore prone to the vapours... actually I think mostly they hate each others guts and bitch behind backs about each other summick dreadful, but when it looks as though the gravy train may be halted they do tend to club together and pretend that they aren't in in simply for the spondoolicks, and in fact are missionaries bringing light to lead us into the path of right. I love the letter written to the Guardian by a bunch of 'leading architects' calling on the profession to boycott HRH's speech to em... the ROYAL Insititute of British Architects, on the grounds he's sometimes rude about them.

Here's the letter:

In the mid-1980s, Prince Charles publicly trashed several works of modern architecture, both built and unbuilt. In doing so he used his influential royal position by intervening in the democratic process of planning applications securing, for instance, the secretary of state's rejection of the design for the National Gallery extension.

Twenty-five years have passed. At the end of March, the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects announced that Prince Charles is to deliver the RIBA Trust's annual lecture on the 12 May. Within a week, the press reported that Prince Charles had re-established his mid-80s technique of seeking to oust modern architecture in favour of his preferred style of architecture, dismissing the Rogers Stirk Harbour design for the former Chelsea Barracks in favour of a published neoclassical design (The view from Highgrove, G2, 23 April).

The prince's latest move displays the destructive signs of his earlier interventions, when he set out to scupper modern architecture. This intervention must now be resisted by the profession; not because of the question of architectural style, but because his actions again threaten an important element of our democratic process. To all architects who value these democratic procedures, we advocate a boycott of the Prince's lecture at the RIBA on the 12 May.

Peter Ahrends

Will Alsop

Ted Cullinan

Paul Finch

Tony Fretton

Piers Gough

MJ Long

Ian Ritchie

Chris Wilkinson

Those posturing architects, and others who have made such a fuss about his (perfectly legal) intervention in the Chelsea Barracks debacle, fulminating about the fact it's 'not democratic', clearly can't see the funny side of trying to stifle free speech. If they think they are so right, and he's so wrong, why worry? Surely the 'democratic planning process' they are lauding will bring about the right result?

We wait to see if the same democratic process will bring about the right result at Hebden Bridge, where the local authority planning committee members turned the application down, against the advice of officers (CABE loved it, natch) and the developer appealed.

Another place oop north looking forward to a public inquiry is Lancaster. What is happening there is becoming ever more weird; the local authority, having failed to take heed of what all sensible local people want (their lovely old city, with its listed buildings and conservation areas treated with some sensitivity, since you ask) jumped into bed with developer Centros. Centros, it seems, now has a policy of targeting anywhere which hasn't so far been comprehensively ruined in the recent past with some ghastly shopping mall, 'mixed use' development' and 'public' arid area with a few scattered seats and beds of litter-strewn shrubs usually referred to as a public piazza. Naturally, it carries out fakery consultations, approaches local planners to tell them that what everyone is calling out for is a new commercial development with a Debenhams at its heart (well, who can live without a Debenhams on the doorstep?) and they are doing you the biggest of favours by 'investing' in your little place, where they won't be making pots of dosh but charitably bringing jobs and shop til you drop joy and affordable housing.

Anyhow, after a mega fuss about the plans passed for Lancaster, (I'm not saying it's bad architecture, it isn't; it's really terrible architecture, and it also involves the loss of some eminently re-usable traditional buildings) Centros isn't actually going to be there to defend its plans. No, I don't think I've ever known an inquiry without the developer being there either, but Centros, wily operators that they are, have saved themselves a shedload of money by allowing the local authority to do all the defending of the scheme at the inquiry. So it's going to be an interesting one.

I wrote about it here:

But I will repeat the appropriate links again to the SAVE site:

which has the details, the background, the pictures (see in particular the e-report, and Ptolo Dean's articles on the subject of Lancaster)

and also the Lancaster campaigning group, It's Our City, driving the opposition to the plans all the way:

SAVE commissioned architect Richard Griffiths to draw up an alternative plan for Lancaster, re-using historic buildings and stitching the regeneration area back together with a fresh and sensitive scheme, which will surely enhance Lancaster, if given the chance to be implemented.

So, if you want to go along and see for yourself, here's the opportunity:

Special Event

A new vision for the Canal Corridor

A presentation by Richard Griffiths
Wednesday 27 May, 20096.30 – 8pm
The Storey GalleryMeeting House LaneLancaster, LA101524 844133

Admission free. Everyone welcome.

Richard Griffiths of Richard Griffiths Architects will present his ideas for for the conservation-led regeneration of the Canal Corridor site in Lancaster.

As well as discussing his vision for Lancaster, Richard will show and describe other successful conservation-led projects he has worked on in London and Oxford.

Richard has been commissioned by SAVE Britain’s Heritage to produce a new ‘high level’ scheme for the Canal Corridor site and will be appearing as one of SAVE’s expert witnesses at the forthcoming Public Inquiry in June.

There will be a question and answer session after the talk. Richard’s plans and drawings will be available for viewing at the Storey on Thursday 28th May 11am – 5pm.

Will Palin
SAVE Britain's Heritage

So far, no coterie of 'leading architects' has written to the press to complain about the 'intervention' of SAVE in the 'democratic process'. Rather better for all concerned had it not got to the expensive stage of a public inquiry, concerns from local people and national conservation groups been listened to, and something decent been drafted in the first place, of course, but that's democracy for you.

As for HRH, breaking news this evening on the BD website is that:

Prince Charles will use his RIBA lecture tomorrow night to tell architects that they are “first and foremost place makers and not designers of buildings”.

No mention of carbuncles it seems.



waynecolquhoun said...

What does, Oop, mean I have never heard anyone saying "Its grim Oop North" but there you go.

Nemesis said...

Oh, I say it daily. It is frequently grim this far north...