Council is 'Minded to Support' Oaks Development

Former Councillor Vlod Barchuk reviews last night's meeting



Controversial New Plans For The Oaks

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Some 50-55 residents made themselves as comfortable as possible in the hot and humid upstairs room at the Rocket to hear a presentation by the developers of the proposed re-development of the Oaks shopping centre.

The architect gave an overview of the scheme. For the uninitiated, it consists of 149 housing units, including 33 3 and 4 bed properties, includes a 35,000 sq ft supermarket, 198 parking spaces for shoppers and 34 for residents. The existing Oaks retail units will remain (difficulties with breaking leases given as the reason), with a little bit of slap to be applied to the High St frontage.

The most distinct feature of the proposal is an 11 storey cuboid adjoining Churchfield Rd and St Mary’s burial ground, with the higher stories overhanging the street – an escapee from a Tetris game calling itself the periscope. The architect described it variously as a ‘landmark’, ‘making a statement’ and a ‘focal point’. Residents’ comments suggested they agreed with these descriptions though not as the architect meant them.

Residents were equally unimpressed by the proposed cladding of the development, a forest motif where one could not see the woods for the trees and not just because it would be made of anodised metal. The architect admitted there was nothing like this in the area.

There was equal scepticism as to the infrastructure implications. One resident pointed out the traffic problems caused in Churchfield Rd when Netto vehicles had been delivering to the store, now gone. Asked about the pressure on schools places, Brendon Walsh said this was already allowed for by the extra place being created with the new Priory Centre school.

Brendon also said that the Council was minded to support the scheme. If this was the corporate view, it clearly wasn’t that of Cllr Dan Crawford. Dan pointed that the previous scheme had drawn objections because of its density and the proposed 10 storey periscope, to which the developers had responded with more housing and a taller tower. Rev David Brammer, whose responsibilities include custody of the burial ground, said the church would not want to support a scheme that did not have residents’ approval.

Meetings between developers and residents often contribute something to the English language but usually not intentionally. When challenged that he had avoided presenting a view of the Tetris periscope from Derwentwater Rd, the architect was adamant that “he had not avoided it, it’s just we haven’t got round to it”, an excuse any child that’s not done his homework should have in his armoury.

This meeting being in Churchfield Rd and chaired by the eminently reasonable and even handed Sara Nathan, residents had left nooses, pitchforks and burning torches at home, but it didn’t appear that the developers had won anyone over. No timetable was given for further proposals or planning applications, so we all went home shrouded in a mystery nearly as opaque as the proposed metal tree cladding.

Vlod Barchuk

May 23rd 2012



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