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.

Spot the difference! The Domino’s challenge.

Here’s a little something for the weekend. Are you ready to take the Domino’s challenge? Well if you are, here’s a little ‘Spot the difference’ test:

Do you remember the planning application for the Domino’s Pizza Takeaway at 39 West Street? Well, to be more correct, both planning applications for 39 West Street? Turned down unanimously last October, then curiously passed when it was resubmitted in January?

Well the application, and subsequent approval, was for a ‘Hot Food Takeaway – Use class A5. Why is this significant? Well A5 covers ‘hot food take-away’ only. To be used as an eat in establishment, which Domino’s at 39 West Street is morphing into, they’d need to have another change of use to A3.

In support of their application, they submitted a plan for… well… a takeaway. Just take a look at the detail on that plan, below, and note the position of the ‘oven’ and the ‘preparation area’.

Then next time you’re walking past, take a look at what they actually built!

We’re delighted to see that the enforcement team are on the case and we’ll keep you posted on their progress.

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. )

A quick and easy litter questionnaire

Havant Civic Society have been invited to attend a meeting of the Business and Commercial Services Scrutiny Panel on Wednesday 5th December to discuss the subject of litter in the town.

Please take a couple of minutes to answer the two questions below, pressing the ‘Submit’ button when you’ve finished.  The responses we receive will help to inform our input to the Scrutiny Panel.

Please don’t forget to press the ‘Submit’ button
immediately above this line!!

Regeneration Strategy Approved! No surprise there then

The ‘Opportunity Havant‘ Regeneration Strategy Document first surfaced in public at the Cabinet Meeting on October 24th.  Just two weeks later, it was presented to the full Council this evening and after being proposed by Cllr Pike, questioned by three deputations from the public, seconded by Cllr Wilson and ‘debated’ by the full council, was approved unanimously.

Havant’s much vaunted Regeneration Programme has hit the road running!  Or so you might be led to think…

This is the town where bundles of tumbleweed and old McDonald’s boxes have rolled slowly past the faded hoardings at 44-54 West Street for more than a decade. The town where nothing happens. Don’t build your hopes up, despite all the trumpeting about ‘a new interventionist approach’ and ‘using compulsory purchase powers to bring forward schemes, making the required budget available’, it looks like the tumbleweed will be here to stay for at least another five years.

What we saw this evening was certainly not a debate in any accepted sense of the word.

debate
From the editor’s ‘Concise Oxford’, bought at a real bookshop in 1970, at a time when ‘selfie’ would never have been accepted as a noun.

Not once were any of the points raised from the lectern by HCS and the other representatives of the public speaking,  questioned or debated.

1) The Regeneration Programme documentation must be freely available to the press and the public. We see no justification for the exemption of entire documents; redaction of detail where necessary should suffice.

2) The Governance approach is lacking. We expect to see local communities of residents represented at the External Stakeholder level along with the professional communities who provide for our health, education and safety.

3) Phase 1 – i.e the next five years – must deliver tangible benefit in each of the regeneration areas in order to achieve buy in from the community. As published and approved, the only change delivered in that time frame will be on the Civic Plaza site.

Cllr Buckley could have triggered some real debate when he remarked that the most important word in the document was ‘interventionist‘ (it hadn’t been lost on us either).  In his opinion, the new approach would provide a means of empowering the council to do great things, providing the issues of Governance could be understood and grasped.

A deafening silence ensued.

One of our own ward councillors broke her meeting silence only once, raising the important question of whether or not the Mayor’s ceremonial chain of office could be worn if his driver wasn’t present.  Our other ward councillor agreed to investigate and respond.

Bless ’em.

#rethinkhavant

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‘Yarn bombing’ in Havant and Langstone

We are indebted to one of our members for these pictures.  The ‘guerilla knitters’ have been at work and we’re delighted to see such well cultured vandalism in the town centre and surrounding areas. With Havant Civic Society’s self driven regeneration programme including the restoration of town centre listed buildings, including the Gazebo Garden and, with a fair wind, the signal box, it’s lovely to see the Yarn Bombers doing their bit to brighten up the historic town centre for this significant centenary.

We do hope that Havant Borough Council will take a lead from this community and kick start their own Regeneration Programme from its current glacial pace with some urgent projects in the town centre.  They might also take note of our editor’s suspicion that one of the new town centre businesses may just have had some involvement here.

Expect more on the subject of regeneration later.

#rethinkhavant

Havant Borough Environment Group Questionnaire

D7C_7816This questionnaire is the joint venture of numerous cross-Borough volunteer, conservation and residents groups.  The intention is to highlight resident’s priorities for their surroundings.

Few people can be unaffected by ever increasing alarms about the state of our environment; polluted air and water, Climate Change impacts, threats from extreme weather events, lack of green space and recreation space for a rising population and the rapid rise in endangered species make frequent headlines.

Here in Havant Borough, we need to focus on the particular local environment issues that need attention in the new Local Plan 2036

All of your views will be collected and a report will be compiled then sent over to Havant Borough Council.

Please take the time to complete this survey which can be found by clicking on this link.  The survey will open in a new browser window.

£25 Million Health and Housing Scheme Falls Through

Seven years ago planning consent was given for a new community hospital on the old Oak Park School site in Havant. The new unit would have provided a range of services including older people’s beds, replacing those at the Emsworth Victoria Cottage Hospital and Havant War Memorial hospital after they both closed.

Despite planning consent the NHS decided in 2010 not to proceed with the hospital but agreed to extend the existing Childrens’ Service building close to the Oak Park site in Havant. The Oak Park Clinic resulted and now offers day services such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy but not  the beds for older people which would  reduce bed blocking at QA Hospital.

To recover the lost hospital beds, an imaginative scheme was drawn up to develop the large site, owned by Hampshire County Council (HCC) and the NHS.  It would be a nursing home with eighty beds and a hundred rented flats for older people.  These are flats that include a range of services on site including social care. The tender was drawn up and a consortium won the bid in 2014. The following year the planning application was approved.

Contradictory government policies initially paralysed the project.  While encouraging extra-care housing their Welfare Reform policy capped rent levels making supported housing more expensive relative to Housing Benefit which would not cover the costs. After much lobbying nationally, the government agreed to support these higher rents for these supported homes and negotiations continued.  Most recent investigations reveal that the appointed contractors have now pulled out thus wasting another 4 years work on the £25millon project and forcing HCC to start again.

In summary we started a journey eight years ago with the prospect of a community hospital; that gets cancelled and was replaced with a scheme to provide homes for older people and also a nursing home. This has now fallen through and we are back to square one. It’s hard to resist the view that there has been inadequate scrutiny, poor procurement, no information from Hampshire County Council and now a much smaller development than originally specified.

Surely Havant Borough deserves better?

[This post submitted by Ann Buckley, Coordinator of the Havant Borough Residents Alliance and member of the Havant Civic Society Committee.  Ann is a member of the Chartered Institute of Housing and former Hampshire county councillor]

Bartons Road new development – In the News

Havant’s hard working local news reporter was on site in the Council chamber last night.

Tamara Siddiqui has written an article in today’s Portsmouth News  on last night’s Development Consultation Forum for the Bartons Road ‘west of the crematorium‘ housing development.

Click on the underlined links to read the articles.  As always, we would value your comments.