Tesco West Bromwich
A covered shopping centre comprising a large retail anchor store, shops, restaurants and cafes, and leisure uses. Designed by Lyons + Sleeman + Hoare.
18 June 2009
Planning reference: DC/09/50896
We welcome the opportunity to review the revised application for this retail extension to the north of West Bromwich town centre. We are pleased that the design team has responded to comments made in our pre-application reviews and we support the consideration of a longer-term strategic plan for the site and the greatly improved link to Queen’s Square that will be realised in the second phase of development. We think that, overall, the design is an improvement on the 2005 consented scheme.
However, we are concerned by the level of detail of both architectural treatment and landscape design included in the phase one application, which we do not believe demonstrates a commitment to a high quality, robust and durable development in the detailed design proposals. We also have reservations relating to the environmental strategy, the quality of pedestrian routes to the development from north, east and west, and the lack of active frontages facing the existing town centre.
We welcome the improvement to the northern entrance of the existing Queen’s Square shopping mall that is proposed in phase 2, and the greater directness of route from the All Saints to the western entrance to the development, thanks to realignment of the Tesco store. However, the important pedestrian routes to the development from destinations to the north, east and west generally remain indirect and unattractive, passing through the surface car park in a way that prioritises the efficiency of the parking layout over the pedestrian experience. While the increased width proposed for a number of these routes is welcomed, it will not be enough to generate a real sense of place or pleasant pedestrian environment, particularly after dark.
The development is predominantly inward looking with few active frontages: Reform Street and the Cronehills Linkway are both lined for most of their lengths by surface car parking and service yards. We question the location of the Cronehills Linkway service yard on a key frontage so close to the Town Square and the presence of surface parking to its west. The retail kiosks, shop-mobility unit and entrance to the management suite improve the nature of the service yard frontage in comparison to the 2005 consented scheme, but we feel that this does not go far enough to generate a really active town centre street.
The treatment of the Town Square as a public open space, and connection between the southern mall and Town Square has improved in comparison to the 2005 consented scheme: the shared surface treatment and limited vehicular access through the square, the visual link to the square from inside the new retail development and the increased generosity of the space at its northern end are all welcomed. The Town Square does not yet feel like a coherent urban space, however. The juxtaposition of the curved geometry of the ramp and steps with the angular lines of the retail units is potentially awkward and the splayed form of the entrance to the new development has reduced the containment of the Town Square as a space separate from the entrance route to the new retail development. We suggest that the important visual link to the town centre should be maintained but greater containment of the square re-established.
New retail streets
We support the translucent ETFE covering proposed for the new retail streets and the removal of continuous cover over those streets that allows them to be naturally lit and ventilated. We think that this, combined with the improved visual connectivity to the Town Square from within the development, will help to provide a more successful relationship with the existing town centre in comparison to the consented scheme. We support the acknowledgement, by variation in form and architectural treatment, of the different orientations and connections into the townscape of the new retail streets.
We do not feel that the application provides an adequate level of detail of the design of the façade treatment or materials proposed and recommend that more information should be added to the application before it is determined, particularly for the areas around the major public routes and spaces: Cronehills Linkway, the Town Square and Reform Street. The materials proposed are generic, with no indication of quality or finish. The façade designs do not appear structurally convincing, do not include proposals for cleaning and maintenance and show no evidence of being sufficiently durable to maintain a high quality appearance over a number of years. Larger-scale (1:50), more detailed part elevation drawings with key details of, for example, how the buildings meet the ground, and the junctions at entrances and eaves, at 1:20/1:5, and a more definitive specification for proposed materials, are needed to demonstrate a commitment to architectural treatment of an appropriately high quality for a robust and durable town centre development.
We are particularly concerned by the quantity of metal panelling proposed: damaged metal panel finishes, for example, polyester powder coating, cannot be easily repaired and will quickly look shabby in this tough town centre environment. Maintenance and durability are, therefore, a real concern for this material, particularly where it is used at low level. We are less worried by the use of timber and brick, which we think will weather and age more gracefully. The planar glazing shown to the café units in the visualisations of the Town Square appears to be without any form of supporting structure and we think that the proposed construction of the new development onto this key public space needs to be much more thoroughly resolved. While we support the use of ETFE canopies to the new streets in principle, the drawings do not show in sufficient detail how the canopies will be supported or constructed, or cleaned and maintained. A heavy-handed structural solution could make substantial difference to the effect of the canopies on the environment of the new streets, which is not in accordance with the light-weight aspiration shown in the visualisations.
The application does not demonstrate that a high quality of landscape design is proposed across the surface car parks, through the malls, in the Town Square or along the street frontages. We recommend that a much more detailed and comprehensive landscape design proposal for both permanent and temporary landscaping should be included in the planning application. The design of the Town Square is particularly important and we think that the planning application should include construction details to show how the prominent change in level will be handled.
While we welcome the enhanced specification of the Tesco store, such a significant development in West Bromwich town centre should be an opportunity to set the standard for exemplary environmental performance for the development as a whole. There is no evidence in the planning application that this opportunity has been taken. We recommend that our Sustainable Cities website, Sustainable Places, might be a useful tool is examining appropriate environmental options.
The realignment of the Tesco store in relation to the 2005 consented scheme has created more regular potential perimeter sites and we are pleased that the longer-term development opportunities for the site have been considered and we welcome, in particular, the attempt to activate the edges of the site including Cronehills Linkway. Although this long-term masterplan does not form part of the current application, we urge the developer and local authority to continue to work together to consider how this sketch can evolve into a convincing and viable design proposal.
Although we remain concerned by the quality of the pedestrian environment around the development and the lack of an ambitious environmental strategy, we welcome the design team’s engagement with the comments raised in our pre-application reviews and the improvements to the design, over the 2005 consented scheme, that have resulted.
However, we do not believe that the level of detail of the architectural and landscape proposals is adequate for a detailed planning application; what is currently submitted does not demonstrate sufficient quality, robustness or durability. Ultimately the success of this development will be dependant on high quality detailed design and the choice of appropriate materials, and will be very sensitive to any reduction in quality. The local planning authority should be convinced that the development can be built to a high quality and we recommend that it should require submission of a greater level of detail prior to determination of the application. The CABE document Protecting Design Quality in Planning available from our website, www.cabe.org.uk, may be useful in this respect.
We support, in principle, the proposals for completing development of the site in accordance with the West Bromwich Framework. We think that a strategic decision needs to be taken by the local authority to champion the long-term masterplan and put in place a development agreement that safeguards the opportunities for further development on this site.