Come along to hear Guy Benson (Head of Planning and Development, Regeneration and Development Directorate, Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council) talk about the Challenges of Planning from a local authority perspective.
Most of us live in a world of buildings; they are all around us and a part of the landscape. It is important to us therefore that they should, as far as possible, be attractive to look at, well designed and suitable for their purpose. To be surrounded by ugly monstrosities can be very depressing and can affect our quality of life. Many buildings will also carry memories for us; a school, place of work or a church where we were married, for example. Some are of historic interest or add character or beauty to their area.
For these reasons buildings may have an importance beyond their practical use, or if no longer required for the purpose for which they were originally constructed.
Newcastle-under-Lyme Civic Society does its best to highlight buildings which it believes are of significant merit to be worthy of preservation for the enjoyment and education of future generations, and lobbies to protect them if they become under threat from development. We are not always successful, sometimes practical considerations overrule sentiment, but in many cases we are listened to.
In addition to this, we have also inaugurated a scheme by which, in active co-operation with Newcastle Borough Council, we make bi-annual awards to encourage and reward examples of good design and workmanship for new developments, both commercial and residential, and tasteful refurbishment of older properties. If you know of any such construction, completed during the last two years, which you feel should be considered for such an award, please let us know.
Now is the time to consider nominating a building or landscape project that exhibits good quality design and execution within the Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme. For further information see below or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
There has been a planning application submitted (16/00933/FUL) to demolish the former Savoy Cinema in the centre of Newcastle and to build an 11 storey block of student accommodation in its place. This site is in the Newcastle Town Centre Conservation Area, adjacent to our iconic Guildhall and in close proximity to St Giles Church.
The unsympathetic height, mass and design of the proposed building is unlikely to compliment or enhance the centre of our market town which consists mainly of three storey Georgian / Victorian buildings.
The Civic Society is strongly objecting to these proposals.
If you feel that this proposed development will detract from the character, ambiance and domestic scale of our Town Centre Conservation Area we urge you to make your views known too.
For further information visit –
publicaccess.newcastle-staffs.gov.uk and type Savoy in the search box
Contributed by Philip Crush
Supermarkets are convenient.
They offer easy parking, useful trolleys, a wide range of products, competitive prices, special offers and open at times that suit our busy lifestyles.
BUT convenience costs.
In the days before the growth of supermarkets every town centre was full of small local traders serving their local communities. High Streets were bustling with life and each had its own character.
What a contrast to today !
Travelling the country we see empty shops, charity shops, banks and building societies, pubs and coffee outlets. Many shops that are still trading display the gaudy corporate livery of massive chains. At street level most towns look the same.
Fortunately if you lift your gaze you will see a glimpse of Newcastle’s former character and individuality. We have some very attractive buildings (if you can ignore their hideous “modern” shop fronts).
We must find a way of breathing new life into our town centre. We need to promote Newcastle’s individual character and encourage the establishment and development of specialist shops and workshops providing goods and services not available in the large chain stores and supermarkets.
I want the best of both worlds –
Convenient supermarkets AND a thriving town centre.
By Griff Rhys Jones,
by permission of Civic Voice and the National Trust
A few years ago, standing on a bridge, overlooking a motorway that enabled people to roar across Glasgow at ninety miles an hour (at enormous cost to architecture and quietude) I was proudly told by a charming Civil Engineer that the desecration I was witnessing had been achieved by just seven planners.
Later that week, surveying the bosky splendour of Prince’s Street Gardens, I found out that the same fate had been narrowly avoided for Edinburgh, by the work of just seven concerned and determined activists.
Thank God for those people.
Nimbyism is good. Nimbyism is hugely valuable. If you do not look after your own back yard, who do you expect to do it for you? The State? The non-governmental authorities? Your neighbour?
There may be martyrdom required, particularly if the interests involved are driven by big nobs with lots of ambition, but go for it. Here in Bloomsbury, the local Camden Civic Society and the Bloomsbury Group have been roundly abused for questioning the grandiose empire-building of the British Museum authorities. In newspapers and letters they were told they ought to know what’s good for them. The scheme will go ahead. But at least the locals modified what was a badly conceived plan.
The museum is still going to knock holes in the north wall of the Great Court. It’s OK, apparently, because its only a hundred or so years old. They would not countenance a similar cavalier approach to even the humblest shard of its precious artefacts, but will forever disfigure the historically important monument that houses them. Beats me.
Now I admit I am conflicted here. I long to see the Museum expand and extend. I want it to have extra exhibition space. But I also feel for the local groups. They have been defeated. Perhaps they will take it to heart. However, if they have lost a big battle, let us not forget what they do as a matter of routine. These are people who will prevent ugly air-conditioning units being plonked on the front of Georgian terraces, or alert us when developers try to stick too many flats into a limited site. Or stand up against rampant new advertising hoardings. They repulse the every day degradations that can quickly ruin any area.
I also fervently support the people of Mistley, who are justifiably outraged that a property man has stuck a long, ugly nine foot high chain link fence across their ancient quay. (I have seldom encountered such a dreadful abuse of the law.) I support the Hadleigh Council and the local folk who want to stop a Tesco dragging traffic into this peaceful Essex town by building a superstore on the water meadows that back onto their river. I want to be out leading a protest against the National Grid’s plans to run a second swathe of pylons across the beautiful countryside to the west of Ipswich. I salute local action. Let voices be heard. Join up. Stand up. Take part. Speak out.
New legislation is en route to allow governments to drive though more grand projects under the guise of emergency and to avoid local complainants like me. But most of the “urgent need” to put in new infrastructure has been caused by the long term dithering of those tasked with planning for it. The politicians had to decide decades ago, and they did not. Now they tell us that we must stand aside because it is “vital”. Hasty, “emergency” action to build indiscriminately sited wind farms and quick fix power stations lessens the value of life for all of us now and for generations to come. The appearance and quality of our countryside and urban environment is a matter of our future happiness. Those who stand up for their own backyard are reminding us that we live in a small country. This back yard belongs to all of us.
After all, it was urgently necessary to build those great sweeping motorways into the heart of towns fifty years ago because of a doomed theory of commercially driven “centralism”. Now we are beginning to see that the green, effective cities of the twenty-first century should be a series of sectioned villages, where we work and live and play, with shops and workplaces intermingling in attractive medieval street plans. The immediate future wants the motorcar banned. It is cities that avoided those earlier emergencies that will thrive. The wheel turns. It always does. The best laid plans of mice and men often become unsightly leftovers. Be proud to be a Nimby.
Contributed by Dr Angela Drakakis-Smith
As more building sites come on stream within Newcastle and although there appears to be no rapid uptake of these sites, it is important to be aware of any planning applications made for these sites to the Newcastle Borough Council (NBC) especially those in and on the edge of the town centre. Although much official information is being placed on the NBC website (although not always it seems) it is easy to overlook this The Former Georgia Pacific site has now been redeveloped and the small hotel and supermarket are open for business. The old Pomona Inn (a listed building) and the former Social Services building at the Ryecroft (and on the same block) are up for sale. It is thus likely that this whole block will be redeveloped in the near future. There is talk of a Hilton hotel next to the Pomona Inn which threatens to be higher than its neighbour, the Premier Lodge.
The NBC have produced a town centre redevelopment plan. For whatever reason (and I don’t think residents have ever been told why) this was rejected by the government. This plan tended to state in vague terms what the NBC didn’t want rather than what it did want in strong terms. Whilst this might signal to developers an ‘open mind’ for the town centre and a welcome to all comers, it is likely that developers would prefer clear guidelines in order to avoid the waste of time and money making unsuitable applications which would be likely to fail. Attempting to direct developers was the division of the Plan of the town centre into different zones – eg business, leisure, shopping etc.. – although the heights suggested for any of the prospective development appeared problematic.
With regard to the Town Centre Conservation Area Plan it would appear that the NBC are pushing the Georgian flavour of the town to centre stage, having removed many of the significant Victorian buildings during the last big regeneration of 1960s and 1970s. However, most UK towns have passed through a plethora of historical eras and building styles so that erasing one historical period in favour of another is not always useful unless there is a strong vision of what is important and significant architecturally to that town. This issue needs to be given wide discussion and beyond the environs of a small clique. Buildings are not taken down and rebuilt overnight. Usually it is a long process often kept under wraps until the end when it is too late to change anything except minor details. Open discussion is vital to the success of any plan.
Even as we speak the town centre redevelopment is being discussed and has been being discussed over the past year or two. It has yet to come to public consultation. Nevertheless, the market stalls are being moved from the bottom of High Street to make way for a taxi rank and despite the traders’ protests, which until raised at the town LAP and at the Civic Society, appeared to be falling on deaf ears. This reshuffle was taking place based on a Market Trader Report . Readers of this report might have had greater faith in what was being said if only the report had spoken about Newcastle-under-Lyme instead of Newcastle-upon- Lyme for the first 50 pages!
And so we stand on the edge of new major developments which could transform the town centre and its environs. The ethos of the ‘big society’ being pushed by the present government suggests that people should have a say in what goes on in the borough and particularly within the town centre. This should not be the sole privilege of a business-focussed minority or ‘friends’ of the NBC. There are many avenues already in existence for this to happen – the Civic Society, LAPs and Residents Associations’ being but a few. Until this happens and residents are fully involved and engaged in the civic processes, this borough council has some way to go before it gets into the swing of the 21st Century. We live in hope!
Contributed by Jeanette Hilton
Head of Customer Services, NBC
Early in 2008, I was fortunate to be given the remit to refurbish the Guildhall, one of Newcastle’s most iconic buildings, to create the Borough Council’s first combined front line services centre. This represented a huge undertaking; nevertheless we were determined it would be successful. The choice of the Guildhall was not without its challenges; it has always been part of Newcastle’s life ( including my own), acting in the past as a ‘community hub’ for the people of Newcastle, but more recently its future use had been uncertain having been closed for a number of years.
The Council’s vision was to recreate the community hub in a modern way; providing centralised customer focused facilities fit for the 21st century whilst preserving as much of the historical nature of the building as possible.
This was achieved through the hard work and dedication of a team of people, all bringing their expertise and input to the project. Close working with English Heritage, conservationists and local interest groups/individuals, culminated in a successful re-opening in December 2008 to a standard which proved worthy of a Civic Society Award in 2009.
What of the present? The Guildhall Customer Service Centre is growing and developing in both the range of services provided, and the diversity of people who are accessing our services. The Centre is visited by upward of 5000 people each month with approximately 4000 of those coming in to request or receive services. Others still come in to admire the salvaged Minton tiled floor and to recount their memories of the building.
Providing services that are in tune with residents’ needs, particularly in the current economic climate, is quite a challenge but is key to the success of the Guildhall Centre. Services that have been available since the opening include information and face to face advice on services such as Council Tax and Benefits, Waste Management, Planning and Building Control, Streetscene, Land Charges, Parking Permits and Environmental Health. Additional services include the issue of Concessionary Bus Passes and, since April this year, Disabled Persons Badges. All our customer service agents are specially trained in the wide range of services on offer and will wherever possible try to resolve your query on the spot.
Feedback from our residents is essential in improving our services; for example, through listening to what our customers say, we recently introduced the Council Payment card to make the paying of Council Tax and Business Rates easier. This has simplified the process, reduced waiting times and is less time consuming for residents.
There is growing interest in the use of the three private rooms at the Guildhall by partners and community groups. Regular bookings of these facilities include the NHS Condition Management Scheme, ConneXions, Coalfield Regeneration Trust (Family Employment Initiative), Shaw Trust and Building Control Advisory. Many community groups and partners provide one day events and promotions, such as the recent Fire Brigade Electric Blanket Testing day attended by over 400 people.
What of the future? Over time, the Guildhall is again becoming what it was always meant to be; a ‘community hub’ for the people of Newcastle. I feel very privileged to have been part of the regeneration of this wonderful building. I would like to encourage residents and visitors to become part of its future; using, commenting on and developing its facilities will ensure the Guildhall is preserved for future generations.
The Guildhall Customer Service Centre is open from 9am to 5pm, Monday – Friday
If you would like to arrange an event or promotion, please call in at the Centre or email email@example.com
Contributed by Mr Ron Redgewell
As we go to press, the Public Inquiry is taking place into Tesco’s planning application to nearly double the size of its store in Trent Vale. Fellow member, Paul Farrelly, MP, succeeded in convincing the Secretary of State to ‘call in’ Stoke-on-Trent Council’s decision to approve the application, thus enabling a Planning Inspector to review the case and make recommendations to the Minister on the application. The enquiry was held over five days in the Stoke-on-Trent Council Chamber. In advance of the enquiry the Secretary submitted the following to the Inspector in the context of a ‘letter of objection’ to the store’s enlargement on behalf of the Society.
The intention is to change the store from a traditional, predominately grocery supermarket, to what is in effect a ‘department’ store. The intention being to move into the non-food market where the profit margins are higher by taking trade away from the Newcastle Town Centre.
Background to this application is one where the Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Planning Development Committee approved the application by the narrowest of margins, 5-4. This approval was against advice from City Council officers and specialist retail consultants, against the views of the local North Staffordshire Regeneration Partnership and counter to representations by Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council and the advice of its officers.
Recent legislation, “impact test”: we understand the legislation that came into force in the Spring means that developments such as that proposed by Tesco at Trent Vale must pass an “impact test”, to show that a new store or extension responds to unmet demand without harming consumer choice, the local High Streets and environmental concerns. We are aware that Tesco plc, made some 28 planning applications in the period prior to the new legislation coming into force, in the full knowledge that many of these applications would fail the “test”!
We strongly feel that this application fails the “test”:
(1) As it will draw non-food trade away from local high streets.
(2) Create a demand for more traffic movement, as there is not a public transport hub nearby, as is the case with Town Centre, High Street and Stoke.
(3) It will severely disadvantage the elderly and disabled through lack of public transport.
(4) There has been little or no reliable evidence that there is a strong demand from the public for this development.
Contributed by Dr Angela Drakakis-Smith
Parks appear to be on the mind of the Newcastle Borough Council (NBC) of late. The Queen’s Gardens and the Queen Elizabeth Gardens were due for a makeover, as were the Brampton and Thistleberry Parkway – the latter being not so much a park as a landscaped walkway. Plans and applications for funding were made for the first two and plans are currently being drawn up for Thistleberry Parkway.
Whilst it is important that parks and parkland are maintained to a high standard by local authorities, and the NBC seem to have succeeded in this so far, there is a difference between a park and a funfair. This issue needs some debate. For example should a park provide every possible amenity that the heart might desire – seats, lighting, picnic tables, green gyms, sculpture parks, ice cream stands and public lavatories to name a few? Or should they be aesthetically pleasing green backdrops in which people can freely create their own leisure activity and exercise their minds and bodies? If people want to sit in the park then there is nothing to stop them bringing their own blanket or folding chair. Whilst formal seating is fixed the blanket and chair can be moved to follow the sun/shade. Both can be folded up at the end and taken home (along with the litter) with no harm being done to the landscape. Are these the parks of the future – where people start to take some responsibility for their leisure rather than have this dictated to them by the powers that be?
Unfortunately, neither the Queen’s nor Queen Elizabeth Gardens were successful in attracting funding to their applications. Both plans appeared overly fussy and wanting to fill any available space with ‘things’. Fancy entrances and railings appear to be de rigueur at the moment! Sometimes less can be more. Unfortunately, too, it seems, that residents were called in at the last minute to support these applications. Possibly another reason for their failure. Indeed, those applying for funding appear to be out of touch with the requirements of the funders. These applications have gone back to the drawing board and the Civic Society have asked to be more involved with the process.
In the meantime the Thistleberry Parkway is being threatened with ‘things’. The play areas has already been established and although it is unusable during wet weather, – the area floods – the children seem to enjoy it. Residents did warn against this flooding, no-one heard! And these are expensive mistakes.
So where are we at with the Borough Council’s parks? Do the NBC actually know what people want/need/would like from a park? Should we find out before plans are even on the drawing board? The Civic Society would welcome your ideas, so step out and step forward. We are all ears!
A planning application has just been submitted to the NBC for the Castle Motte within the Queen Elizabeth Gardens This will entail the construction of a viewing platform and information boards, the removal of trees from the mound and new entrance gates and mounds. This is a somewhat sensitive application since the motte is a listed site. Also there are protected species of fauna and trees. An added complication is the removal of trees rooted in the earth which is the motte. If these are removed, what remains of the original motte?