The Farnham Society’s planning committee chairman, David Howell, reviews the state of the Brightwells development.
I’ve been hearing from various quarters that Farnham residents have expressed surprise and bewilderment at the increasing height and dominance of the Brightwells buildings adjoining public spaces, notably on Dogflud Way, East Street and above the Sainsbury’s South Street car park. I thought I would give you a summary of what the development brings.
The Society’s position
The Farnham Society opposed the proposals from inception. We were appalled at the size and scale of the scheme and objected strongly every time the terms of the Crest contract were altered in their favour. For example, the decision not to retain the Gostrey Centre on site. But the old Waverley administration continued regardless.
The residents expressed their thoughts about the use of the site through a survey in the Farnham Herald before the Development Brief was prepared in 2000, twenty years ago, but the Brief completely ignored their opinions. In 2016 the Society was involved in launching the campaign to seek a Judicial Review, questioning the viability of the scheme and predicting the lack of take-up of retail space, given current trends in the high street.
Support from both the membership and residents was magnificent and more sympathetic alternatives to the scheme were suggested, all to no avail. The Farnham Theatre Association fought and lost their battle to save the Redgrave Theatre.
But we are where we are, we still dislike the development intensely but want some good to come out of it for the people of Farnham.
You may not need reminding that Surrey County Council has invested in excess of £50 million in this development. We are paying for it. The current Waverley administration has reported that the borough council will probably never make any money out of it. They have a chance if all the 25 retail units are let as soon as they are available and remain let. To date the only interested parties are M&S Simply Food, Reel Cinemas, Ask Italian and Seasalt. The Society predicted this years ago. The Crest Nicholson brochure boasts 8 restaurants. Are they sustainable in the current climate?
I haven’t analysed the area of accommodation still available in the development, but my guess is 75% which equates to 72,000 square feet. To put that into perspective, the Argos building has a total area of 7,500 square feet, Water Lane Sainsbury’s 80,000 square feet.
So, where does one start? The largest building I think, which is D8 and then continue anti-clockwise around the site looking at the buildings visible from the road or public access space.
D8, Cinema and car park
This is the largest building within the development and will be visible to anyone, anywhere, in the unfortunate position of having a view of the development. Currently, the greatest impact is from Dogflud Way. The building dominates the view for those approaching Farnham town centre from the east.
The southern end of the east elevation illustrated below is finished with a green ‘living wall’ – an anachronism you may well think.
The building has a footprint larger than the sports centre and about 60% of Sainsbury’s Water Lane. Allowing for its four full floors, together with the lower ground floor car park, the building has approximately three times Sainsbury’s floor space. The capacity of the car park is recorded as 426 over ten levels.
“Access and egress from the car park are via a ramp from Dogflud Way. I saw overlay drawings several years ago and these showed the edge of the ramp within ten feet of the corner of the sports centre – the length of a classic mini.”
Photo illustrating progress at the beginning of September
There is a six-screen cinema in the building with a current provision of approximately 750 seats although I foresee the possibility of the actual number reducing to accommodate the luxury seats that Reel, the cinema operator, may decide to install. The building also houses no fewer than four retail units or shops most with additional space on the first floor. Ask Italian are currently taking unit RU5 which has first-floor space. There are a total of 33 flats within the building.
I have to say that I feel that the west elevation overlooking Brightwell House and Brightwell Gardens is a mess, see below. That’s my opinion. Some may disagree with me. Time will tell.
D15, Affordable Housing
This is a three-storey apartment block housing 15 flats, mainly with 2 bedrooms. The flats have been acquired by Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing (MTVH) as affordable housing. The building extends right up to the boundary and dominates the car park serving Chestnuts, East Gate and the Clock House.
“There is no amenity space for the flats. In my opinion, it turns what was a reasonably pleasant, open, car park area into a fishbowl.”
Elevation drawing and photo illustrating progress at the beginning of September
D6, retail shops and flats
The north elevation of this building sits facing East Street, adjacent to the entrance to the development and opposite the former Marlborough Head pub. Built over four floors it houses 11 retail units on the ground floor some of which have space on the first floor together with 42 flats with an even split between 1 and 2 bedrooms. There is no amenity space. Below a photograph taken earlier in September. The roof section of the building still has to be added so the building will increase in height a further storey. It already dominates the skyline, dwarfing the Marlborough Head.
D14 and D1, retail shops and flats
D14 includes the Marlborough Head pub and extends back to connect to D1 forming an L shape arrangement which in turn faces Cambridge Place opposite Funkey Monkey Soft Play. D14 houses four retail units on the ground floor all with potential access to first-floor space. Crest’s press releases show Seasalt having taken unit 12, the one adjoining the Marlborough Head. This stretch of the development is two-storey and, I have to admit, is in keeping with the retained pub structure in height.
Elevation drawing of D1 and D16 on East Street
D1 is three storeys in its entirety with the ground floor providing three shop units. The first and second floors house a total of 16 flats, with an equal split between one and two bedrooms, the latter on the south side having views over the new ‘town square’.
The wall finishes are a real mish-mash, brickwork, painted render, slate hanging and timber boarding. Sorry, but it isn’t pretty, see below.
D21, retail units
This two-storey building has shop windows on all unattached elevations at ground floor level being fully glazed on the east side overlooking the ‘town square’. The rear faces Cambridge Place.
“Planning application drawings indicate a square vented chimney feature on the zinc pitched roof. Probably one of the more attractive buildings on the development in my opinion although probably better suited as a pavilion or seafront located building. Five retail units are allocated to it.”
D20, M&S and flats
M&S Simply Food will occupy the whole of the ground floor of this building. There is a smaller, so-called, mezzanine area which sits above part of the M&S space to the south. From recollection, this was the space that the Gostrey Centre was going to occupy or was included in their space. The north, east and south sides of the buildings are three or four storeys high around a residents’ shared amenity space at first-floor level which looks west overlooking the Sainsbury’s upper car park deck, see below.
The building houses a total of 42 flats, a majority two bedroomed but with a couple of three bedroomed dwellings which extend up to the third floor. The four-storey parts of the west elevation totally dominate the skyline when you are in the car park. The building dwarfs the neighbouring Victoria Gardens, see below, the overlooking windows destroying its former feeling of calm and privacy.
The west elevation will have a couple of brick finished chimneys trying to add a sense of domestic scale. The planning application plan drawing shows four lovely mature trees in the amenity space, which are in fact not shown on the landscaped west elevation.
Photo illustrating the progress of the east elevation from the temporary bridge in September
D4B and D4C
As far as I can see these two buildings aren’t visible above the hoardings yet. Both are designated as purely residential. D4B houses a total of 39 flats, 14 one-bedroom, 18 two-bedroom and 7 three-bedroom. The four-storey building will tower above the 40 Degree building, and the sports centre glazed west elevation which provides light to the swimming pool. Several of the upper floor east facing flats have balconies, further compromising the youth club, see drawing elevation below. The building is finished with a mix of brickwork and painted render. Managing building maintenance will be an interesting exercise.
D4C is similarly a four-storey building housing 34 flats, 5 one-bedroom, 19 two-bedroom and 10 three-bedroom. The main feature of the west-facing elevation, see below, is a simplified Jacobean Dutch-style gable.
“I ask myself, what were they thinking?”
The last but one of the buildings, this sits away from the existing perimeter of the site, as yet not visible from outside the site. Four storey’s high, housing one restaurant space and 16 flats over the four floors including two flats on the ground floor. Am I alone in thinking that the west elevation of the building is totally out of place, with pink painted render, elevation drawing below, probably more at home in Italy? The building boasts another square vented chimney feature.
Brightwell House, designated building number D12
A Grade II listed building which the former Waverley administration tried to demolish. Smallest building on the site although it is being extended with an appalling two-storey extension to the north side, see east elevation below. The building is currently ‘tented’. I am told it is being re-rendered and refurbished to the highest of standards. We will see. It will be dwarfed by the buildings that surround it. I recall reading somewhere that it was seen as a centrepiece. In my experience, you don’t surround your most treasured article with vast over-dominant other things.
The Farnham Society
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Chair of the Planning Committee