Southern Water – ‘Performance Status Red- significantly below target’

On Friday October 2nd, the Environment Agency published their long awaited ‘Environmental Performance Assessment (EPA) results 2019 for water and sewerage companies’ document and the results don’t make for happy reading for Solent area residents.

Click on the chart if you want to zoom in on the detail of why Southern Water have just been revealed as the poorest performing water company in the country.

The full Environmental Performance Assessment for 2019 is available here.

HBC Warblington Press Release – Greenwash at its worst!

An excellent letter from from Ann Buckley, co-ordinator of the Havant Borough Residents Alliance, to the Portsmouth News in response to the recent HBC press release .

“I write in response your recent article “Trailblazing move to help housebuilding’.

My first reaction to this was, if Havant Borough Council had listened a decade ago and acted upon a motion put to the council on housebuilding and pollution in the harbours it would have been trailblazing, but they did not take action. The borough would not have ended up in the situation when most of the building industry locally has been on hold for more than a year because of nitrate pollution in Langstone and Chichester harbours.

Havant Borough Residents Alliance (HBRA) brings together residents’ associations and conservation groups from across the borough and has carefully scrutinised the progress of the Local Plan to 2037 over the past four years.

The council’s press release for the launch of the Warblington Farm Mitigation Site which is part of the Local Plan, seems to HBRA to be misleading and inaccurate. The press release states that the council has purchased the farm. This is not correct. The council has owned the farm for decades and has simply changed or regeared the farmer’s lease.

In your article, a quote from the environment minister Rebecca Pow gives the impression that Havant is about to get a nature reserve a ‘green open space for them to enjoy’. In reality the current scheme is for a third of the council-owned farmland to be taken out of agricultural production and then looked after by the farmer without public access. HBRA was told by the council there would not be a nature reserve for at least a decade.

The council’s cartoon that accompanied the press release shows a cow with a suitcase. This seems to indicate the dairy herd will go and as you say in your News article ‘reduce cow waste’. This is not the case, the herd and the much-valued Warblington Castle Farm Dairy, which delivers milk in reusable glass bottles locally, will continue. The council also gives the impression that the land is intensively farmed but that is not true either and the farm already has a rich coastal ecology with hedgerows,wild flowers and wetland habitat for birds and other creatures.

HBRA is also concerned the well-respected Chichester Harbour Conservancy and the Langstone Harbour Board have not been included in discussions about the Warblington coastal mitigation site.

The whole process leading up to Havant Borough Council’s decision on the Warblington site was lacking in transparency with residents excluded from meetings and some reports. Even towards the end of the process residents were told there would be a planning application for ‘change of use’ from a farm to a nature reserve, where details could be scrutinised, but that also was not true and has now been dropped!

It seems likely there will be no nature reserve for now but plenty of housebuilding in the Havant borough is again possible. Perhaps those new developments should include signposts for the displaced wildlife to their new off-site habitat at Warblington Farm.

Greenwash at its worst!

Ann Buckley
Co-ordinator HBRA

Nutrient neutrality and the HBC Warblington Farm ‘initiative’.

While we welcome a positive news story for Havant, we should put today’s press release from Havant Borough Council into a broader context and in doing so perhaps remove some of the political spin. (To read the original press release from DEFRA et al, from which most of the text of the HBC press release has clearly been taken, look here.)

The issue of nutrient neutrality has been around since pre-Covid times, first discussed here after a Havant Borough Council meeting which we attended in January and highlighted by discussions surrounding the Campdown development planning application.

Since we all went into lockdown in March, Havant Borough Council have been scurrying around behind the scenes (and mostly under the covers) trying to find a way around the safeguards of the EU Habitats Directive while fobbing us off with an endearingly patronising video to explain the issue:

If that didn’t make everything crystal clear and explain why Havant Borough Council are taking over the lease on Warblington Farm, let’s have another go. It really isn’t quite as simple as they’d have you believe.

The serious issue at hand is the state of health of the Solent, a large estuarine system internationally recognised for its marine habitats. With increasing flows of nutrients into the Solent, the balance of the organisms inhabiting the Solent is upset, with increased algal growth depleting dissolved oxygen and killing the marine life on which the wild bird population depends.

Several rivers flow directly into the Solent, notably the Medina, Yar and Newtown rivers on the Island side and the Lymington, Beaulieu and Meon on the mainland. Other rivers and streams flow indirectly into the Solent through the four harbours, including the Test and the Itchen. Between them these water courses drain a large land area around the Solent, carrying significant volumes of nutrients, including nitrates from farmland, treated waste water from housing and industrial development, and surface water runoff, some of which, for example from roads, carries additional pollutants.

In August, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust (HIWWT) issued a ten page briefing document which gives a reasonably clear explanation of the issue and the need for mitigation. Take the link to open the document in a new tab in your browser and do take the time to study it.

The purchase by HIWWT of Little Duxmore Farm on the Isle of Wight as a project to take it out of ‘intensive’ agricultural use and return it to the wild, seems on the face of it to be a neat idea. By removing the farm’s use of nitrate fertilizer from the equation and selling ‘nitrate credits’ on to Fareham Borough Council’s developers, it’s a ‘win win’ situation for all.

Or is it? Certainly it is for HIWWT who, swallowing their principles, stand to gain sales of £2M worth of ‘nitrate credits’ from their £1M investment in the farm. Certainly for the housing developers who get to move ahead with their development projects and certainly for Fareham Borough Council who now have the ability to meet more of their central government imposed housing numbers.

So how does this relate to Havant? Havant Borough Council’s action in taking over the lease of Warblington Farm from Henry Young provides them with the same magic money tree. The nitrate credits theoretically released by rewilding Warblington farm will enable HBC to sell them on to the likes of Persimmon Homes who are desperately keen to get on with the Campdown development.

The big loser in this game, sadly, is the very wildlife around the Solent that the EU Habitats Directive and the ‘Dutch Case’ set out to protect. Why? Because the nitrates being released into the ground from agricultural land take years or decades to finally leach through into the watercourses. While the objective of ‘re-wilding’ farmland is admirable, the benefits certainly won’t be seen in our lifetime. What will be seen in our lifetime, however, is the impact of the additional housing development which will now move relentlessly ahead, unchecked. The problem for the Solent and its wildlife will get worse, not better, for the foreseeable future.

The Solent is a uniquely valuable waterway, not just for its wildlife but to the communities that live around its shores. To safeguard that value, in an ideal world, we need to move beyond nitrate neutrality and actively plan to decrease the nutrient load, appreciating that the Solent area is probably already overdeveloped and overpopulated.

Postscript – September 14th 2020.

We’ve put together a page with references to various external sources which may help with your understanding of the Nitrate Neutrality issue. To check this out, go to havantcivicsociety.uk/nitrates, or just click the link.

A subterranean surprise at the Wessex site

Demolition at the Wessex site had been proceeding at a steady rate until the machinery struck thin air, exposing a large chamber about three metres deep on the site of the large workshop building on the New Lane side.

The surprise find has been tentatively identified as the site of a coke oven, a Victorian red brick arch briefly visible in the void before the machinery was put back to work. The brickwork can still be seen in the image below, behind the iron joist structure which has since been removed.

As a salvage worker on site remarked, this was “completely unexpected” before adding “you never know what you’re going to find until you break up the ground”.

To the south of the void, five large cast iron pipes are now exposed, presumably relics from the former town gas works.

A lost opportunity for a bit of industrial archaeology perhaps? For those interested, the developer’s original ‘Heritage Statement’ for the planning application can be found here.

Stop Press!

June 5th, the hole just gets keeps getting bigger.

Langstone Technology Park – DCF comments

Yesterday afternoon I went along to the Civic Plaza to observe the Development Consultation Forum discussion regarding proposed development at Langstone Technology Park.

In the early seventies, this was the site which put Havant firmly on the global map as a centre of high technology manufacturing and information services. We’d already seen the international success of Scalectrix and Goodmans, and we’d seen Colts kick off the ‘We’re backing Britain‘ campaign in the late sixties, joined in short order by Kenwood. But then the IBM Plant and IBM Information Services Limited came to town and put the community and its workforce firmly on the worldwide stage.

Those of us who remember the four original buildings on the site, awarded the Financial Times award for Industrial Architecture in 1972, might recall that one of the key attributes of their architecture was the way in which they connected with the context of the site, a large green meadow which stretched right down to the shore from the A27.

Another of the fine attributes of the architecture was the way in which the untidiness of car parking was lost from view behind the site. Of all the development since IBM sold the site, the expansion of visible car parking in front of the site has done more than anything to destroy the impact of the site when viewed from the A27. OK, that’s a personal opinion by this particular writer, but the impressive view of the Arup site from the A27 trunk road made a real statement about Havant.

The current owners have engaged Rapleys, a property and planning consultancy, to breathe new life into the site. Their presentation last night was less than inspired, simply reflecting the unimaginative approach taken by their team. Their proposal, to demolish half of the original Plant building – ‘Building 1000’ – and replace it by a larger car park does nothing to present the site as something special, when viewed as a gateway from A27 flyover. A more challenging architect might demolish the newer, western end of that building and position the car parking there.

Rapley’s comments last night that they needed to introduce more glazing to make the buildings ‘sustainable’ for modern use should also be challenged. Take a look at the original design at the top of this page and you’ll note that the bottom half of the building has extensive glazing. For the top, introduce light wells and courtyards but for heaven’s sake, keep the beautiful external elevations.

The standard of ‘architecture’ in the brief published for the meeting doesn’t really inspire confidence. The ‘concept’ and ‘design’ drawings shown below are those of the Rapleys, but the choice of font is mine. (If ever drawings deserved the use of the MS Comic Sans font, more appropriately reserved for five year olds, this is it)

Our advice to the owner? Firstly find a more challenging architect who understands the value of the heritage assets then take your marketing to the next level and look for more imaginative potential users of the space. Don’t forget that modern ‘cloud computing’ isn’t actually ‘up in the sky’ but requires acre upon acre of data centre floor space. Almost exactly what Arup designed back in the sixties.

Our advice to Havant Borough Council, capitalise on the quality of the original globally renowned site and refuse to allow third rate mediocrity to replace it.

Is there a future for the original IBM Havant site buildings?

Back in January, we reported on a move to list the former IBM Havant Plant buildings at what is now the Langstone Technology Park. If such a move is to bear fruit, it can’t come soon enough. Havant Borough Council’s Development Consultation Forum #48 will consider the future of this site on Tuesday 21st May at 6:00pm and the author of this piece plans to be there..

An early image of the Havant Plant, taken from the north western boundary.

The first Havant IBM manufacturing building in Solent Road has long since disappeared, demolished to make way for Havant’s first ‘out of town’ Tesco store. The building which replaced it was the long, elegant structure shown above, designed by Arup Associates and winner of the prestigious Financial Times Award for Industrial Architecture in 1972.

The IBM Information Services Ltd. building constructed on the same site, linked to the plant building by a glazed corridor and reception area, was an integral part of Arup’s design. Known internally as the Respond building, an IBM acronym that escapes me now, the building resembled a record deck with a concrete rendered lower part concealing a computer centre and a dark glazed upper part containing offices.

Sadly, the visual impact of the two original buildings in the context of the green field in which they stood has been greatly reduced by the development of the large car park at the eastern end. The original architecture contained a small car park for visitors and executives at the steps up to the main entrance in the glass link between the buildings.

The main car park was just to the south of the manufacturing plant and also included a number of temporary buildings which provided the home for two groups of systems and application programmers, one looking after the IBM manufacturing information systems, the other developing the systems which ran IBM’s World Trade business operations. To the south of those temporary buildings, past the original car park, the remainder of the land down to the shore remained undeveloped, save for playing fields and the IBM staff club on Southmoor Lane.

This shot shows the site after the second phase of development, but still before the rest of the Southmoor area had been ‘developed’. The two original buildings are the Respond building at the left of this group of four, with the IBM Plant building in the foreground. The first, sensitive extension of the plant building can also clearly be seen at the right hand, western, end. The two buildings in the background of the group are Arup’s second, later bite of the cherry. This shot shows the small visitors’ car park at the main entrance and the glass walkway between the two original buildings can still be seen.

In 1977, the new IBM UK Headquarters offices opened at North Harbour, with staff relocating from the Havant temporary buildings, the original London headquarters building in Chiswick and the single storey glazed temporary building in Northern Road, Cosham.

The Havant temporary buildings were bulldozed to make way for the second phase of the Langstone site development. The old London HQ site still exists, renamed Chiswick Tower and now home to the British Standards Institute, while the young Norman Foster’s ‘temporary’ glass building at Northern Road, Cosham, was eventually awarded Grade 2 listing and has for some years been occupied by HMRC as ‘Lynx House’.

Going back to the two original buildings at Langstone, it’s worth understanding how important this site was, both to IBM and to Havant. At the time of their construction in the early 1970s, Havant was already home to a number of global manufacturing brands, Kenwood, Colt, Lewmar and Goodmans being four other significant global brands. Minimodels, the manufacturer of Scalextric was moving out of its Leigh Park site but the Havant area was still a hotbed of technical development and manufacturing with a proven quality workforce. The existence of these brands in Havant were influential in IBM’s decision to build such an important manufacturing and development site on the Langstone site.

A little background is probably appropriate…

By the early 1970s, the IBM world was divided into two parts of roughly equal business size, IBM US and IBM World Trade, the main company product line being the IBM 370 series family of mainframe computers. Now dwarfed by the technology in our homes and pockets, these huge machines were the state-of-the-art computers of their day and were used to run the business of many of the Fortune 500 companies.

An IBM 370 series installation, including the Central Processing Unit at the back, tape drives on the left, removable disk drives on the right and printers in the foreground. The Havant Plant building and the Respond building each typically contained around four of these water cooled behemoths at any one time in secure air conditioned machine rooms, running IBM World Trade’s operational and manufacturing business.

The US arm of the IBM corporation produced all of the component parts of these systems for the North American market in a number of plants across the United States, each plant concentrating on a specific component.

For the World Trade division however, the manufacturing plants were spread around the world with the new Havant plant site building the Central Processing Units (CPUs). Other plants, notably in Sweden, Germany, France and Italy, but also in Japan, Mexico and Argentina produced peripheral components all of which were brought into the Havant Plant building for ‘systems integration’ before final shipment of the complete, tested system to the customer site.

In the 1970s, that long flat building was divided into three parts. At one end was the machine room, housing the computers that managed the manufacturing process while at the other end was a clean room where semiconductor chips were developed and manufactured. The bulk of the floor space in between was taken up by the manufacturing space for the ‘big blue boxes’, the CPUs. Hanging from the ceiling above each of the half dozen or so being constructed at any one time was a board with the name of the customer for whom that system was being built.

To those of us who witnessed this manufacturing operation ‘from the inside’, it was an impressive spectacle, a demonstration of the power and reach of the IBM corporation as a once genuinely global business.

So should the site be protected by listing?

The original buildings date from a time when Havant peaked as a globally acknowledged centre of high tech manufacturing industry. It could also be said that the time also marked the point at which IBM’s dominance of the global computer systems market peaked.

By the 1990’s, the IBM Havant plant was reduced to the development and manufacture of computer disk drives. In 1993, with UK manufacturing costs being too high, the IBM Corporation let the Havant plant go to a management buyout and the site became the home of Xyratex.

As soon as they were contractually free to do so, IBM opened a new low cost disk plant in Hungary in direct competition with Xyratex. The ethical principles espoused by Thomas Watson for IBM had been diluted and devalued by the 1990s. The creaking IBM printer business was similarly sold off in a leveraged buyout, forming the Lexmark company. Once again, when contractual constraints were lifted, IBM re-launched its own printer division using low cost manufacturing.

I’ve not seen inside the Havant Plant building since the late ’70s but feel sure that the overall architecture of the space must still be sound. As a large exhibition hall with superb transport links, it might be preserved by a far sighted owner.

But then the progressive vandalism of the last forty years of insensitive planning and development might just have rendered it beyond recovery…

I might also argue that IBM actually started the rot here by selling off its own global property portfolio in order to keep balancing the books. The relentless increase in performance of computer hardware predicted by Moores Law , coupled with the commoditisation of the computer hardware business, necessitated desperate action to keep the stockholders happy.

In the sixties and seventies, the IBM UK property portfolio displayed some of the finest architecture of the day, the Langstone site just one example. Nowadays, there’s only one site in the UK still owned by IBM, and that’s Hursley. The reason? IBM UK never owned it, it’s the property of the US company. Even that other Norman Foster building on the South Bank is now owned by Alan Sugar.

(I should point out that the rambling views in this post are personal observations by the editor and are not necessarily the views of the HCS Committee. Bob C. )

Denmead Belles WI visit to the Gazebo

Together with Anna Glanville-Hearson, our hard working secretary and Gazebo Garden Coordinator, the local Havant nature-friendly garden specialist, Martin Hampton, recently led an evening guided walk for 14 members of the Denmead Belles WI group.

We went to the Meadow and 3-Pond Copse at Lower Grove Road and then on to the Gazebo Garden where the visitors were all very interested in both the Gazebo and the garden, and especially in the new wildlife-friendly elements that we have recently introduced.

A very big ‘Thank You’ to all our Waitrose shoppers!

A big vote of thanks to Waitrose and Partners for their generosity to the local community!

To all of you HCS members, friends, relatives or just casual shoppers with an interest in our ‘Secret Garden’, you’ve managed to raise a terrific total of £480 on the Community Matters – ‘green token’ – Scheme at Waitrose in Havant.

This gives a welcome boost to the funds available for the maintenance of the Gazebo structure and the planting.

With thanks to you all
from the HCS Committee and the Gazebo Garden maintenance volunteers.