Latest News | 6 February 2015

Dull Streets Are Real Harm to Heritage, Not Quality Flats

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Do you ever feel that the world might be getting just a little too weird? The work of writers such as Albert Camus and Franz Kafka, through to artists such as Banksy, all encapsulate scenarios that in English we might call Pythonesque.

In the 1950s, the French created a movement that they named the Theatre of the Absurd. Its plays are best described as consisting of dialogue full of wordplay, clichés and nonsense. Every now and again, like me, you must come across stuff that could be described as weird, absurd or nonsense? Stuff that, well, makes you think: is somebody having a laugh?

Next time you are in town, take a walk down Exeter Place. It might be described as a small back street that leads from somewhere to somewhere else. It starts and ends with two excellent pubs, The Tap and The Exeter Arms. On one side of the road, there is a block of GLC-style flats and, on the other, land that has stood empty for many years. It's not an expecially busy street, a few cars here and and even fewer pedestrians there. Piccadilly Circus, ain't it?

Now take a look down at the pavement beside the wasteland. I say pavement but it's more a thin layer of asphalt. There, beside the broken metal railing, collapsed stone column and overgrown shrubbery, you will see painted on the floor a pedestrian lane. The pedestrian lane is marked out with a solid white line that covers maybe 70% of the said “pavement” and there is a delightful, Simon Templar-style, stick-person painted at either end. Now, maybe I've stumbled across a work of covert Dada art in the heart of the city. Maybe it was sponsored by the two pubs to ensure safe passage for customers shuffling between the two. Or, maybe it's part of the Exeter Place Pedestrian Engagement Plan. Trust is, I don't really know. What I do know is that these things just don't materialise.

Have you ever tried to put up a sign or paint something on the highway? I suspect there are rules, ways and means, bylaws, processes and permissions. You don't just rock up with a bright idea, can of paint and a stencil. No, these things need designing, funding, planning, commissioning and then doing. Talking of which, the recent submission from the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Sit Conservation and Planning Panel (to give the full name) in response to a planning application for 28 apartments in Mansfield Road might be of interest. You can view the apartments online at the Derby City Council planning portal. I suggest you print out one of the attractive images for later use. Designed by award-winning (and local) companies Matthew Montague Architects and developers Wheeldon, the scheme is just what Derby needs – a bright, contemporary, high-quality building, bringing city scale and impact to a key site.

I'm a massive fan of the world heritage site but it seems it is not a fan of the proposed apartments. Its submission admits that Mansfield Road is not in the designated heritage site, nor is it in the buffer zone, which surrounds the site. Yet, it argues the scheme is “unconvincing” and would “harm” the outstanding “universal value” of the Silk Mill – essentially proposing all buildings be built of red brick. 

Can I suggest that, when you've finished your viewing of Exeter Place, you take the five-minute amble up to Mansfield Road? Once there, stand outside the Bridge Inn pub. Look one way and you will see the red-brick Stuart Street flats and, on the other, the equally poor flats in City Road.

Now, look at your print-out of the proposed scheme and decide where the harm really lies.

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