Friday, February 11, 2011

No Pooh sticks in the Millennium Town Park

I have given my overall support for the current planning application in respect of the Millennium Town Park especially since the revised North of Town Masterplan has deleted most of the planned buildings from the site.

I say, most of, because I think that given the relatively small size of the park and the large number of expected users, it is in my opinion wrong to waste any of its area with unnecessary buildings. Indeed, the original petition that led, after many years, to the creation of the Millennium Town Park, proscribed any building on the site. There is actually no need for the States to provide any more than an area for picnic tables on the site, given that there is an existing cafe at the junction of Gas Place and Oxford Road, another one across Bath Street and a third under development on the junction of Tunnel Street with Bath Street. The provision of public toilets can be justified, although these could have been provided by using the contours of the site so as not to lose any valuable space. As it stands, the toilet provision in the proposed cafe is woefully inadequate - far better to have achieved a higher number of public toilets at various locations around the park, introduced at semi-basement level with planting or other park features on top. The applicant is providing, at considerable expense to the public purse, a cafe facility which will take trade away from existing cafes. I would refer you to the park in front of Cardiff's art gallery, essentially a lawned space with many trees, fountains, public art and some planting; the cafe provision there is amply provided by a wooden kiosk. I repeat: not only is the proposed cafe building against the spirit of the agreement to create a park without buildings; it is a waste of valuable park space, and it is, in my view, an entirely unnecessary blot on this particular landscape.

An even stronger argument can be made against the proposed maintenance shed on the Tunnell Street side of the park. I have been provided with detailed arguments as to why TTS believes it is essential to take up yet more space from an area that has been described by the park designer as 'very tiny', but there is no doubt that the new park could be maintained without this extra building. Of course this might entail changes in working practices, but there is no doubt that it could be done. It is, after all, not certain that TTS will be able to afford to maintain the park in the face of spending cuts, and I would give, by way of example, the case of La Collette Gardens which the then Public Services Committee decided they could no longer afford to maintain as a formal park. The Parish of St Helier maintains its town parks without the necessity of sheds, and would not require a shed were the Parish to be requested to maintain the Millennium Town Park at some future date. The need to provide a pump housing for the water feature does not justify the presence of the maintenance shed.

I would recommend that the cafe and maintenance shed elements of the application are not approved and TTS is requested to revise its scheme to provide better public toilet facilities. Alternatively, the applicant could simply delete both structures from the plans and we could rely on the surrounding buildings to provide all the facilities involved. I have already drawn the attention of the parties involved in the scheme to the potential complementary uses of the Le Seelleur building adjacent to the park. Given that it is intended to provide, at the very least, traffic calming and safe crossing points along the length of Gas Place, given that this building is in States' ownership and given that it requires urgent refurbishment anyway, it would be a far better use of the funds set aside for the cafe and toilet block for these to be applied to the Le Seelleur building. Public toilets could be provided here as well as the gardeners mess room et cetera, which it is proposed to provide in the second building on the park.

If any further work is to be done by the park designers in respect of the above matters, it would be useful for the provision of water in the park to be reviewed. I did mention during the consultation the presence of former streams through the site and believe that it would have been a major enhancement of the park to have had a watercourse flowing through it, running perhaps from the water play area at the eastern end of the park down to Bath Street. I believe that the 'Health & Safety' concerns of a shallow stream could be overcome and that there are few activities children enjoy so much as playing 'Pooh sticks'.