Castle Quay extension: CQ2 : Autumn 2014 Update
In January we outlined in some detail the proposals of the new proposed shopping centre / hotel / carpark etc generally referred to as Castle Quay 2 or CQ2, which is a major extension of Castle Quay (see our January newsletter and comments below). In February 2014, Cherwell District Council (CDC) granted outline permission for the proposal, subject to detailed planning and various outstanding matters. The proposal is also subject to the approval of the Secretary of State for Department for Communities and Local Government.
Following a significant number of objections to various aspects of the proposal, not least by the GF Sports & Social Club, but also by the Banbury Civic Society, the Canal & River Trust, the Inland Waterways Association and the Banbury Canal Partnership, the plans have been radically revised.
Scottish Widows Investment Partnership announced that the follows changes have been proposed:
- GF Sports and Social Club remaining in its current location
- Several changes to the canal environment, such as the glass canopy being omitted
- New broader bridge over canal reoriented to serve the north of the canal and GF Social Club
- North end of the food store car park rearranged to accommodate existing footbridge to Spiceball Leisure Centre
- Existing canal bridge to be replaced with pedestrian bridge adjacent to Tom Rolt Road Bridge
Whilst the retention of GF Social Club is the most significant change, leaving a long section of the tow path unaffected and largely open in aspect, there are others. Perhaps the most significant for the boating community is the deletion of the canopy and the change to the bridges, there now being only one significant new bridge within the development, this now being both covered and wide enough to provide a small public open space.
Further updates will be made here as the application progresses through the planning office, so watch this space!
With regard to the proposed Castle Quay development, whilst welcoming the prospect of such substantial investment in Banbury, the Banbury Civic Society has a number of concerns. These are addressed in detail in the attachedconsultation response, as submitted to Scottish Widows via their consultants, Proteus. We attach this as part of our formal response to this outline planning application.
(The Canal and River Trust's response can also be seen here)
Disappointingly, the proposal as submitted has not addressed any of our concerns, nor those of many other consultees and members of the public, as the proposal as submitted is the same as that consulted on by Scottish Widows and their consultants. These concerns are not insuperable, but they are fundamental enough to make us believe that it would be wrong to approve the application in its current form.
Uses: The application seeks to build a cinema, hotel, supermarket, bars and restaurants on a site on the edge of the existing town centre. The adjacent historic centre also has a cinema, a hotel, grocers and convenience stores, bars and restaurants. There is an opportunity for the Spiceball site to be developed in a way that complements and grows the town’s existing offer, increases footfall and expands the town’s leisure facilities for its next period of growth. There is nevertheless a danger that the proposed duplication of existing facilities will simply drain the old town of its leisure economy as surely as CQ1 has drained it of its traditional retail economy. Whether the redeveloped Spiceball site has a symbiotic relationship with the rest of the town or whether it runs the risk of rending it redundant is key to the town planning and urban design issues that should determine whether the this particular Outline application should progress.
Sequential Test: Our most fundamental concern is that the proposal fails the sequential test, in that compared to sites such as Crown House, Bolton Road or Calthorpe Street, it presents an edge of centre, rather than town centre development. This is because of the acknowledged impermeability of the existing Castle Quay shopping centre. This could have been addressed by the application simply extending its red line to include the essential links to the site around and through the existing CQ1. By not incorporating such links, the proposed development is effectively land-locked behind CQ1 and only easily accessible from anywhere else by car. It is thus not a town-centre development.
Dislocation from rest of town: As alluded to above, for pedestrians the development is locked behind the existing CQ1 shopping centre, as is the Mill arts centre and Spiceball sports centre. Simple townscape improvements at either end of CQ1 and to the canalside environment where CQ1 famously turns it back on the canal could unlock this site. Instead, the canalside face of CQ1 is left unchanged, as is the appalling permeability through the bus station. The signage and townscape improvements needed to improve the Cornhill – Castle Street - Spiceball access are also not provided. This leaves the principal pedestrian access to CQ2 being through CQ1. Here access could be made more legible by improvements to the existing ‘night–time’ route through the centre, creating more of a ‘galleria’ in the Continental sense. This is not provided either. Without such clear, legible and pedestrian-friendly links, the development will remain a car-accessed supermarket and leisure complex annexed to a shopping centre, rather than being a revitalising addition to the town centre. As such, with more accessible and sustainable town-centre sites identified, and in one case consented, at Bolton Road, Calthorpe Street and Crown House, the proposal fails the sequential test.
Hotel: Whilst we are generally not averse to the large scale and massing of blocks of development, the proposed hotel is a major problem. Not only is it built on disabled parking spaces that become a market place on Canal Day, but it is simply too tall and too close to the canal, given its south westerly orientation. For a three-storey town, creating what will be Banbury’s tallest tower will always be a brave step. The location and narrow footplate of the chosen location south of the canal result in a wall of a building that will throw much of the canal into deep shade for much of the year. Boat owners are also concerned that the mass of the buildings and their closeness to the canal will cause a wind tunnel effect as experienced on the canal in Oxford. Given the recent consent for the conversion of Crown House to a new 60+ bed hotel, we are unconvinced by the need for the hotel on this site. If one accepts that the need exists, this is not the right site, or the right part of the site, to locate it.
Parking facilities: The dislocation and lack of pedestrian access, coupled with the additional facilities, can only lead to increased car usage to the area, as it will be most convenient to access the site from the north (including the M40) directly to the site's car parks. This increased usage will impact on the parking for the Spiceball leisure centre whose current overspill car park will be the favoured parking for the supermarket. As all the existing car parks are already well used, and there will be a single access/exit, there is clear potential for congestion. Further complications are 1. the delivery access/exit planned for the cinema and associated retail units appears very close to the small access/exit roundabout to the site and 2. the parking facilities for these units seem to be in a shared space with the actual loading/delivery access areas for the units.
The median figures from the D + A statement are not easy to interpret, but they appear to indicate a possible increase of 135 parking spaces over the site, which would appear to be insufficient to cope with the additional influx of visitors to a medium-sized supermarket, bars, restaurants, cinema and hotel, most of whom are likely to be car-based.
It could be assumed that the planned road and parking provision should be sufficient, if it were true that different facilities, and therefore different populations, would be using them at different times. However, supermarkets are often still very busy at 9pm: at the same time as the cinema, leisure centre and restaurants are at their busiest, together with the overnight parking required for the hotel. The relatively minor proposed uplift in parking provision might be adequate, were it not for the pedestrian routes from the town centre being either closed or inhospitable after 6pm or after dark. The travel emphasis will thus be almost wholly on car usage.
Lost opportunities: The Banbury Civic Society is disappointed that this proposal does nothing to remedy the problems of CQ1. These are problems of poor design, lack of an active frontage onto the canal and use of the canal frontage for bin storage, overshadowing of the canal and lack of permeability and connectivity. As noted by Cherwell's own Oxford Canal Conservation Area Appraisal (Consultation Draft), para 6.39-6.41:
'More recently, a very large retail redevelopment – Castle Quay - has taken place on the section of canal between Bridges 164 and 166 which occupies a large swathe of former canal-related land between the canal and the town centre. The large new carpark to the north has also isolated the canal from the former early-19th century Rope Works (Alcock's Yard) which stood by the original Castle Wharf a little further to the north-west. The new shopping centre is a tall steel-framed structure, built between the canal and the main town square... Most of the retail units face away from the canal... In the midst of this is a good museum and, more importantly, the remains of the stone-lined dry dock of Tooley’s boatyard... a scheduled ancient monument. It is one of the iconic sites on the canal system... There are no views of interest within this zone other than those generated by the boats using the canal.
A well thought through extension of Castle Quay should have been the opportunity for the applicant to address these issues through a compromise scheme that addresses land already under their control. The way the application red line assiduously avoids the built existing footprint of of CQ1 and fails to address connectivity through or around it is thus an enormous disappointment. We are also disappointed that, having been asked for our comments, we responded positively, pro-actively and in a timely fashion in writing and through two face-to-face meeting with the applicants planners, architects and PR consultants, yet not one of our fundamental concerns has been addressed by the application as submitted.
Conclusions: We thus reluctantly conclude that the proposals as submitted are an exercise in exclusion and denial: exclusion from the town centre and denial of the sad state of CQ1. If consented in its present form, this outline consent will mean that CQ2 is shackled to a set of parameters that will result in CQ2 suffering all the same problems as CQ1: lack of access town centre access, overshadowing, detachment and a general air of sadness at what it could have been. It will not benefit the historic town centre and will instead slowly drain what remaining life the town centre has into Scottish Widows hands, yielding by far the majority of the town-centre retail and leisure economy into the hands of a single pension fund. This is a very big ask. We would ask that the application be refused or withdrawn, pending a more comprehensive proposal being tabled that addresses these key issues.