Planning Reform – Councillors are revolting!

Yes, you read that correctly. Following on from our post on the CPRE’s take on the ‘Planning for the Future’ white paper, we’re encouraged to read in the press today that ‘a survey across Tory heartlands has revealed party representatives are baulking at ministers’ plans to sharply increase housing targets in electoral strongholds like Hampshire and Surrey and are rejecting attempts to cut planning committees out of routine decision-making.

Conservative leaders in councils are becoming increasingly vocal in their opposition to the plans which they fear could result in countryside being concreted over for housing and core voters deserting them in disgust.’ To read the full article from today’s Guardian, click on the image.

For Havant, the increase from 504 homes per year based on the 2014 numbers currently used, to 962 homes per year in the ‘new world’ represents a ridiculous 91% increase. Read our summary of the CPRE post and get in touch with your local councillors and Alan Mak to make your views known.

Shoebox living – A warning for Havant?

A Sunday Times article on September 6 highlighted the issue of ‘shoebox living’, illustrated by a plan of six ‘flats’ in Southampton in a conversion from a former gas showroom.

Retail unit converted to tiny flats in Shirley, Southampton.

Developers are exploiting planning laws to convert empty banks, takeaways and barbers into tiny flats, causing fears Britain’s high streets are becoming modern slum housing. Relaxed planning laws and the impact of the coronavirus on the high street have led to a flood of applications to convert shops into homes under so-called permitted development rights (PDRs), which until recently had mainly been used for office conversions.

Since 2013 ‘permitted development rights’ have let developers bypass the requirement to apply for planning permission when turning office blocks into flats. Developers may not transform the outside appearance but have automatic rights to change how the property is used. This was expanded to include shops, bookmakers and launderettes in 2016, before fast-food outlets were added last year. Government data suggests 60,399 homes have already been created in this way and with the ludicrous housing numbers set for Havant, and the empty retail units in the town centre, we could well be next.

The Sunday Times article set a useful reference point by stating that the average car parking space in Britain is about 12 square metres (m2). This caused us to start looking at the sizes of new flats which have already been approved by Havant Borough Council, starting with the flats which are already part sold at 40 North Street on the site of the former Trentham art gallery and workshop.

Taking the ground floor flats as an example, there are currently two compact one bedroom flats, each with a floor area of 30 m2.

40 North Street – One bed flats

It’s not hard to imagine that the two currently unoccupied retail spaces at the front of that building will at some point be turned into another two ‘spacious’ flats under ‘Permitted Development Rights’ (PDR).

40 North Street – ‘Retail’

Across the road from 40 North Street, the old North Street Arcade has also been in our sights. Of the 29 flats currently approved for construction there, the largest at 70m2 contrast with the smallest at 37m2.

Prince George Street – One bedroom flat
Prince George Street – Two bedroom flat

Meanwhile, ‘north of the tracks’ at the Wessex site in New Lane, construction has been motoring ahead during lockdown and the flats being built are close to completion. The smallest of these starts at a relatively spacious 50m2, while the largest units squeeze two double bedrooms and two bathrooms into 78m2.

New lane – One bedroom flat
New Lane – Two bedroom flat

While en-suite shower rooms to the main bedroom in a two bed flat presumably attract higher market prices, it feels that a single family bathroom and more living space in a flat would make for a better living space. But then again, since we suspect that many of these flats will be ‘buy to let’ properties, the two bedroom / two bathroom ones could well morph into shared occupancy properties.

(Perhaps I’ve been watching too many episodes of ‘Homes under the Hammer’ during lockdown!)

North Street Arcade and its nitrate bill

You may have noticed the changes taking place during lock-down at the front of the North Street Arcade site. During the lockdown, the ill-starred Grastar Restaurant unit has been divided into two separate retail units while the former Dominos site has also been refurbished as a retail unit. The new flank walls suggest that the opening into the new flats will remain from North Street as originally planned, but a glance at the revised development plan submitted in May shows three additional retail units inserted into the arcade current entrance.

The net result of this will be that there will be six retail units facing onto North Street, as opposed to the eight retail units currently standing mostly empty around the existing arcade, with 29 flats built behind. It’s not clear what the west facing units on the two floors above the retail units will be used for.

As we explained earlier in the year, planning permission was granted for the original application back in January, conditional upon the imposition of a ‘Grampian Condition’. That committed the developer into the payment of an additional levy for offsetting the nitrogen generated. To see how this works, take a look at the nitrogen budget calculation which was added to the planning application in August. This calculation was generated using the Nitrogen Budget calculator issued by Natural England in June. If you’re able to open MS Office Excel files and are sufficiently curious, you can download the calculator here and play with it yourself. A ‘non-technical’ explanation of the issue and the process can be found in a PDF file accessible to anybody.

Behind the boards at the Wessex site

There’s more concrete pumping going on this morning as the foundations take shape quickly now, burying for good the eyesore which was the Wessex Construction yard.

We still think it rather a sad that more effort wasn’t put into investigation of the industrial archaeology of the old town gas works now long gone, briefly visible in this picture from June.

Portsmouth Water – site proposals

The first move by Portsmouth Water to redevelop their Havant premises has now broken cover with the publication by developers WYG of a briefing note concerning the first stage of an overall development programme.

The image below shows West Street at the top, including the entrance to the existing headquarters building, Brockhampton Road to the left and Solent Road running along the bottom. The Bosmere Medical Centre is clearly visible centred along the bottom of the image.

Portsmouth Water site aerial view [Source, Google Earth]

The report in today’s Portsmouth News highlights the broader picture, including as yet unpublished proposals for 135 new houses accessed from West Street. These would cover the land at the top of this image.

The first stage outlined this week proposes the development of a new headquarters office building to the south of the existing West Street site and immediately to the north of the Bosmere Medical Centre in Solent Road. Also included are three commercial units, with access to the new employment sites sharing the Solent Road entrance currently dedicated to the Bosmere Medical Centre.

Given the volume of traffic already using Solent Road at peak times, adding Portsmouth Water’s office traffic to the mix will surely make things worse. Peak traffic times also align with peak surgery access times and with the volume of patient traffic, both private car and taxi and with regular deliveries to Boots, the on-site chemist, wider use of the existing surgery access road need questioning.

The proposal will be the subject of a Development Consultation Forum on October 22nd at 6:00pm. Since this is likely to be of wider interest to our members, many of whom will be patients registered with the Bosmere Practice, you may wish to come along to that meeting.

Latest update on the Colt site

As you may have seen in today’s Portsmouth News, Southampton based Drew Smith Homes have been awarded funding by Homes England to construct 95 homes on the former Colt site in New Lane, half of which will be offered as ‘affordable homes’.

Colt Drew Smith Galliford Try

It’s difficult to make much sense of the illustration included on the press release, but rest assured we’ll bring you the detail of the planning application when the developer submits it.

We originally brought you news of the outline planning application back in May, and we expect the detailed plans to follow much the same approach. To recap, this is the overall Masterplan for the site:

Colt Site – Master plan from outline planning application
The proposed view south from Bartons Road.
AT the bottom of the hill on Bartons Road at the junction with New Lane.
Proposed light commercial works at the north end of New Lane.

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. )

Civic Plaza ‘Car Park Redevelopment’ project

‘Car Park redevelopment’ may be something of a misnomer and it’s worth reading the document that was presented at the Havant Borough Council Cabinet meeting on March 20th.

In this document, you will find further explanation of the project proposal and the timescales. The timescales appear to be driven by conditions on the component of funding from Homes England. While that £3.5 million is being touted as ‘significant’, it is a drop in the ocean in the context of the full project costs. Take the link to this document and you will find an explanation of the ownership of the various sites shown in the chart below.

The fact that HBC own or can easily acquire these sites is the reason why they’re intent on this being Phase 1 of their Regeneration Programme.