The Wynd (2)
Letchworth Garden City
Housing and retail space in Letchworth Garden City with children's play centre and public open space. Designed by Pentangle Design Group.
24 June 2008
Planning reference: 07/02428/1
As expressed in our previous letter (dated 06 December 07), we welcome the principle of developing a large retail offer inside the Wynd. We support the quantum of development, the mix of uses and the scale of the proposal within the block, but we have a number of concerns relating to design quality. Given the particular status of Letchworth as the first Garden City, it is disappointed that our comments on the highest architectural and urban quality of building projects in this location have not been addressed.
We are not convinced by the principles of the diagram. Subdividing the block has the potential to allow the creation of a clear system of access roads and spaces with a strong hierarchy of fronts and backs, active frontages and service yard. However, we do not think that the present proposal yet has this clarity. There are more access routes into the Wynd than necessary and of them, only few are well articulated. For example, the existing link through the Arcade is underused while the new main access from Ley's Avenue appears to be overemphasised. We think that the location of the existing entrance from Ley's Avenue works well as the supermarket and the parking inside the block will be a strong enough attractor without the need for a large pedestrian access. Enhancing the current situation would probably suffice without the need to demolish the existing buildings along Ley's Avenue; this would help preserve the special character of this street space. We also suggest that the location of the supermarket and its service yard are tested as there may be benefits in moving them to another location within the block. The supermarket, for example, does not need a street frontage on Station Road. The supermarket, the parking and the service yard could be organised in a more efficient way. While the southern part of the site has a strong urban feel, the proposal does not appear convincingly resolved at the northern end where it leads into an undefined open space bordering the parking. We suggest the site planning is reassessed.
The proposed parking is edged uncomfortably against the backs of the existing buildings on Station Road and Norton Way. A buffer zone may help to keep some distance. We suggest the area around the parking is landscaped; this would also help to reduce the impact of a large car park on the neighbouring homes.
The architectural language of the proposal lacks the quality we would expect to see in this important location. It would be unfortunate, given Letchworth's significance as a visionary place, if new buildings were too much attached to the past without creating their own contemporary language. The quality of Letchworth's original architecture should be an inspiration rather than a constraint; there are many examples where contemporary design responds to and respects the historic context that could be drawn upon. This seems particularly appropriate given the eclectic mix of Classical, neo-Georgian, Arts and Crafts and Art Deco styles that are to be found amongst Letchworth's original buildings. Overall, we recommend that the design approach should be calmed down; fewer, well chosen elements could replace the present mix of forms and materials. In particular, we are not convinced by the butterfly roofs around the central place and the towerlike building on the eastern side of the entrance into the Wynd from Ley's Avenue.
Ultimately, the success of the scheme will depend on the quality of the materials, detailing and finishes and the way they age. We suggest these are conditioned through the planning process.
We are surprised to see that no concern has been given to the landscaping of the open spaces in the Wynd bearing in mind Letchworth's character as a Garden City.