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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.

Home Page – May 2019

May 2019

We’re well into 2019 and it’s already proving to be an interesting year. The main news items are summarised below, while other details can be found by taking the links to ‘Recent Posts’.

Our earlier appeal for an ‘inner circle’ of HCS members to assist the committee drew an encouraging list of volunteers who will soon start to receive some requests for help with projects starting up. These include the development of the Havant Town Tree Trail which is now being taken off the ‘back burner’.

If you’re wondering what the image above is, look here.

The Regeneration Programme – Where the money is going

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March saw the press release from HBC which trumpeted the kick off of the first Phase of the Regeneration Programme. The architect’s computer generated image took a little time to digest until we realised that the five gabled pitches in the foreground occupy the space now taken up by the JobCentrePlus in Elmleigh Road. A couple of other gabled blocks occupy the site of the Police station and the Magistrates’ Court space while a new street opposite Mavis Crescent leads into and through the site of rather more mundane blocks of flats. The existing Leisure Centre can be seen beyond, and the Civic Plaza is hiding behind the trees at the top left.

When presented to the Council in March, the plan looked encouragingly like the output from a formal planning tool. However, our analysis of the dates it contained suggested that it was little more than a sales presentation, the dates on the Gantt chart straying quite some way from the dates in the text.

We look forward to seeing further detail on the plan in due course, and now that Phase 1 appears to be taking off, we especially look forward to an outline of what is expected for Phase 2.

The Regeneration Programme – Where the money should be going

The site at 44-54 West Street, long blighted by years of lack of development and neglect, failed to sell at auction on April 30th. The current owner of the site had chanced their arm with a reserve price of £810,000 and there were no takers.

Now is surely the time to remind Havant Borough Council of Point 9 on Page 14 of their ‘Opportunity Havant’ Regeneration Strategy document:

  • “Where necessary the Council will utilise its Compulsory Purchase Powers to bring forward schemes and will make the required budget available.”

As far as we’re concerned, action on this site is now long overdue and ‘necessary’.

The same can be also be said about 5-7 East Street, the two single story shopfronts between Streets and the Havant Club. This site is also up for sale by auction this month with planning permission granted‘ with a guide price of £250,000.

Domino’s Pizza

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Take this link to view Havant Borough Council’s own Healthy Borough assessment.

Domino’s have already opened their new takeaway* premises at the former HSBC bank site, despite our concerns regarding traffic and parking.

The Development Management Committee at Havant Borough Council did not cover themselves in glory over this, leaving many questions unanswered and giving a clear indication that they pay little more than lip service to the process of public consultation, particular when threatened by developers with the costs of a planning appeal. Frankly, we think the DMC should show some political courage and stand up for the future of the town, rather than rolling over and caving in to pressure from a prominent local developer.

*Their next opportunity may not be long in coming. While the planning application was for A5 Use (Hot food takeaway), it is clear already that Domino’s are already encouraging customers to sit down and eat in. Given the size of the site and analysis of the company’s strengths and weaknesses, we think it highly likely that they will retrospectively apply for a change of use to A3 (Food and drink) licence within a short time.

North Street Arcade

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The closure of the old Domino’s outlet in North Street Arcade coincided with the removal of some of the furniture and equipment from the short-lived and sadly defunct Grastar Restaurant. Could this mean that there will now be some movement on the application for 21 flats on this site? We note that the recently updated marketing plan for the remaining retail units on this site strongly suggests that there’s little future in the site as a retail arcade.

The Wessex Site

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For those to the north of the town centre, there is further good news with demolition finally in progress at the former Victorian town gasworks, a site long abused by the not quite late but definitely un-lamented Wessex Construction Company, and more recently the home of A1-Recovery and Practical Car Rentals.

Development plans for the site were approved almost two years ago, subject to conditions relating to possible contamination and with those issues now resolved, it seems that the developer has decided to move on with the project.

Construction on the Wessex site needs to start within 3 years of the decision notice, September 17 so we hope that the developers will start building work promptly once the demolition is complete.

The Havant Borough Local Plan 2036

The plan has now been submitted to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, together with the comments received and the Local Plan’s Examination will start. This is expected in the Autumn of 2019. Further detail on the expected timescales moving forward is in the Local Development Scheme.

The Local Plan 2036 is now heading for the next step of a statutory planning inquiry. Its progress through the public consultation process has not exactly been a shining example of local, regional and central government coordination, particularly given the late delivery of the Hampshire County Council Transport Assessment on which so much depends.

#rethinkhavant

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.

We’re in Waitrose today!

The HCS Committee members and the Gazebo Garden volunteers will be manning the Gazebo Garden stand in Waitrose from around 10:15 onward today, as part of the Waitrose Community Week.

Do stop by for a quick chat – we’d be delighted to see you!

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. )

WDRA AGM – Havant Regeneration

Our thanks to the Warblington and Denvilles Residents’ Association for inviting us to their AGM last Friday. Given the ongoing vacancies for WDRA Chair and Vice Chair, the meeting was chaired by the WDRA Newsletter Editor, Ian Crabtree. Hats off to Ian for a very well run meeting!

The meeting at the Stride Centre in Denvilles was very well attended and had, as guest speakers, Cllr. Tim Pike and Andy Biltcliffe, Regeneration Lead for Havant Borough Council. Tim Pike, recently re-elected as Councillor for St Faiths, continues in his role as Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Lead for Finance and Regeneration. Andy Biltcliffe also continues in his role as ‘Head of Regeneration (South)’.

It’s good to see continuity of accountability in these roles given the importance to us all of the Havant Regeneration Programme.

Andy took the meeting through his latest sales pitch for the Regeneration Programme. When the strategy was originally published, the scope of Phase 1 was defined as “Quick wins, sites entirely in HBC ownership & opportunities for income generation” . The new pitch presented by Andy at Friday’s meeting now includes ‘Havant Town Centre’ and ‘Brockhampton West’ in the scope of Phase 1 in addition to the Civic Plaza site. Phase 2, originally “More complex longer term projects “, now shows ‘Waterlooville Town Centre’ and ‘Leigh Park Town Centre’.

We’re keen to understand what the Phase 1 plan includes relating specifically to what residents perceive as Havant Town Centre since, let’s face it, development on the Civic Plaza site isn’t high on our list.

The original ‘Opportunity Havant’ document contained the following important commitment which was reiterated by Andy Biltcliffe in his introduction on Friday:

“Where necessary the Council will utilise its Compulsory Purchase Powers to bring forward schemes and will make the required budget available. This will give greater certainty over delivery of the Regeneration Programme.”

Opportunity Havant – November 2018

We remain cautiously optimistic that the HBC team will now put serious focus on the use of compulsory purchase to address the long term issue of the derelict sites in West Street and East Street.

However, when questioned on just this point, Andy replied that since the East Street development sites were for sale at a price well in excess of £1M, they were out of scope. He seemed surprised when we pointed out that numbers 5 and 7 are currently up for auction at Nesbitts on May 30th with a guide price of £250,000. We’ll be watching that auction carefully since, as we reported earlier this month, 44-54 West Street recently failed to sell at auction and remains on sale at £810,000.

Andy made the comment that since compulsory purchase requires compensation to the landowner of ‘market price’ plus ten percent, these properties remain out of reach of the Regeneration Programme. Our counter argument is that if, as Tim Pike commented, the prices being asked by these developers are unrealistically high, then the Council should step in and work with independent surveyors to determine what the real market prices should be.

Further questions from the floor highlighted that recent attempts to engage with the HBC Conservation Officer on the sad state of other Georgian buildings in East Street have so far fallen on deaf ears. This despite the fact that the very same Conservation Officer acts for Petersfield, where residents appear to get more attention.

This sadly doesn’t surprise us; interaction with Havant Borough Council via telephone or email is hit or miss at best, with emails rarely acknowledged, regularly ignored or simply badly handled by Capita’s Coventry based call centre. Perhaps rather too much emphasis is being placed on delivering flashy marketing communications setting unrealistic expectations. The ‘Homes England’ announcement is a case in point. The reality of the Phase 1 Civic Plaza development plan now seems considerably more limited in scope. Do not expect to see the JobCentre, the Magistrates’ Court or the Police Station redeveloped; Phase 1 development at that site now looks more like just a few blocks of flats on the Civic Offices car park instead.

The next whizzy graphic extravaganza will be on Thursday 13th June at the Meridian Centre when HBC will reveal an exciting new CGI video presentation from their PR partner.

We’ll be there, sack of salt in hand, just in case…

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.