One of my photos

More town planning

June 11th, 2005 · Posted by Skuds in Life · 2 Comments · Life

I’m back on the topic of town planning because I am still interested in it.

This afternoon Jayne and I escaped from the kids for a while by going down to Three Bridges where Fairview Homes were holding a consultation on development on the current Crawley Leisure Centre site. One of the ways the council are funding the building of the new leisure centre is by selling off the land which the old one occupies.

One reason I wanted to go was that I used to live in Lewisham, and remember how Fairview seem to have built on just about every site in the Lewisham/New Cross area, including the old Millwall FC site. What I remember most is the vast expanse of blank brick wall fronting onto the railway lines. I used to go past it on the way to work every day, and it was one of the ugliest things I have ever seen – so I was hoping to find that their designers have got some taste in the last dozen years.

While I was not expecting to see anything as interesting as Portmeirion or Hundertwasser House (or any of Hundertwasser’s other designs) I was hoping to see something more original than what Crawley has been getting for the last 10 years.

What Crawley has been getting is more or less the same as Basildon, Bracknell, Swindon and everywhere else has been getting – vast expanses of uniform brick. Look at an aerial photo of Maidenbower or the newer parts of Broadfield and it is as if a giant has eaten a large meal of bricks and tiles, then thrown up over a few acres. It is mostly detached houses (sited at odd angles to with impractical triangular gardens) and a few blocks of flats which are brick-built with pitched tile roofs. Its not that its a bad look, its just that there is no variety at all: just street upon street of generic housebuilder catalogue houses.

What I found was that Fairview do not have firm plans yet, or not ones they are making public, but instead they are showing example photos and drawings which show the sorts of design they are considering. Some of them are quite bold. Its probably just a fashion, and these new designs will become the visual cliches in a few years time, but right now they look like a refreshing change for our town.

Its especially good that the majority of the units will be one- and two-bedroom flats, as that is really what the demand is for. A large proportion of Crawley is three-bedroom houses, for historical reasons, and we are now getting ot the stage where the children of the occupants of all these three-bedroom houses need somewhere to move to.

I have some reservations about the practicalities of the proposal. Having been round a few developments and seen the problems there, I think it would be a shame if we, as a town, did not learn from past mistakes, and learn from successes elsewhere. For example, the plans include the provision of a convenience shop and cafe in the development. I like the idea of some mixed use like this. With 800 units, the development is big enough to make a shop and cafe viable, and it will prevent a lot of car journeys. What they didn’t include was any provision of a community centre building. Many estates smaller than 800 units find it worthwhile having one, if only to hold meetings of the residents association. With all the residents having to pay a maintenance charge to a management company which will be looking after all the maintenence of the public areas, the place is bound to have a resident association. Many of the services that we look to the councils for will be carried out by the management company.

I am also a little concerned about the implementation of the ‘home zone’ concept. Its a great concept, but I worry that we are not ready for it yet. The idea that there is no demarcation between road and pavement is supposed to slow traffic right down, but I can still imagine the local chavs roaring up and down in their hot hatches.

I suppose my biggest concern is about the status and ownership of all the public spaces and roads. If the roads are private who will enforce any parking restrictions to prevent commuter parking, for example? (The current leisure centre car park is often full of cars belonging to commuters who would rather walk half a mile to the shops or station than pay to park. Where will they go when their free parking is removed?)

Overall I was quite happy with the display. It reminded me a bit of places like Leusdenhof where a friend of mine lived, but on a smaller scale and nearer to the town centre, and better looking. (The flats in Leusdenhof are lovely inside, but from the outside the place looks nasty)

You never know, maybe having so many flats available in one (convenient) place at the same time will reduce the demand for knocking down all our older houses with large gardens and putting flats up instead?

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • storm

    Well, they’re built. Now what do you think? Is it another Marble Cake Estate? I don’t suppose for one moment, that Fairview had any real concern for the environment, built or virtual, in the sense that there could beat within a community heart – the constant, revitalising energy it requires to keep it healthy. Estate shops, gyms, doctors? Internal commerce, doesn’t work; tried that in the sixties. It’s seems a little remote in its practice. Trouble with estates is that they look inwards, no oxygen or receptivity to enliven the mind. They die, in short. Live on, plenty of faux Prada; ergo: no soul.

  • Skuds

    I’ve not looked around too closely, just seen what is there from the road or train while passing by. Doesn’t look too bad to me.

    Mind you, having recently passed through places like Issy, the place looks positively low-density by comparison, and yet I am sure the residents of Issy are quite happy there – where every one of the huge blocks seems to have a neighbourhood restaurant or shop at its base and nobody has to go far for their baguette.

    Far better than vast estates of train-window housing.