Friday, 21 February 2014

Church Farm caught in the middle…

I started writing this piece solely (and, all being well, concisely) about the revised plan to build a lesser number of homes on the land next to Church Farm Court. Although the original proposal for twenty homes is currently at appeal, a new application for planning permission, for nine houses, has very recently also been submitted.

I’m not so sure how cutting the number of “units” like this goes much – if any – of the way to meeting the original objections: and therefore I (who normally chooses each word carefully, when writing…) dashed off the following annoyance at the presumption that a compromise could be reached (or forced) in this way – dredging up from the back of my mind the reasons I remembered that both made sense to me and others, the first time around. Substitute the church for the manor, in fact, and many of the same reasons of non-sustainability for refusing this development can be taken from the village’s rejection of the Gladman development on Oxhill Road.

This will be the first development that most visitors to Tysoe will see: and it does not represent the current vernacular (it is actually extremely unimaginative); nor does it take into account – as it says it does – the way it will affect the first views of the church. It is also the first step in joining Middle Tysoe to Lower Tysoe; and whilst the original application for 20 houses is still in appeal, I do not understand how this new application can even be considered – apart from scale, surely most of the original reasons for refusal still exist?

Its effect on already-congested traffic in this area of Tysoe – especially as it is very close to the primary school – must surely be a major sticking-point? And yet another public footpath in Tysoe will be surrounded by houses, rather than countryside, as a result of this development….

I know that Tysoe must accept development: but surely, as a village, it deserves something more suitable, more imaginative – and more sustainable – than this?

I’m generally not one for compromise. As the thesaurus will tell you, you can “compromise your principles”; and compromise – as a verb – can be synonymous with “dishonour, discredit, shame”: you can be compromised. I am more of a binary, intransigent northerner.

Which brings me on to how this particular essay suddenly morphed a little, and expanded its remit – bringing in a new, improvised, middle-eight, almost… – whilst I was watching television, last night: specifically The Man who Fought the Planners: The Story of Ian Nairn.

Ian Nairn is one of those people whose name I vaguely knew; whose attitude to modern planning I thought I sort of understood. He certainly influenced many of my favourite architectural critics – Jonathan Glancey, Jonathan Meades, Owen Hatherley – and, therefore, many of his views have percolated through: helping me form my own attitudes to the built environment. Although born a southerner, he had always wanted to be northern (good man!); and, somehow, from beyond the grave, managed to get Newcastle (which he always pronounced correctly) listed as his place of birth on his death certificate. He certainly had the right sort of bluff attitude we’re supposed to be famous for.

I talked in my last post about what we would want to sit on the outskirts of Tysoe, if such developments were permitted; and how ordinariness would not do – which I strongly hint at, as well, in my above submission to Stratford-on-Avon District Council (SDC).

As English Heritage have pointed out: as you enter Tysoe – Middle Tysoe, to be particular – from the A422, the first built thing you see is “farmstead”. We therefore need something that will complement this, if we are to develop there (which I hope we do not…). But, again, all that is proposed stems from the unimaginative short-cuts afforded by technology: which produce quick and easy-to-build results that take no account of context or aesthetics. (And coating everything we build in ironstone simply isn’t the way forward… – unless you think Ronan Point, clad in ferruginous Hornton stone, would look just right in a field between Middle and Lower Tysoe.) As Nairn so pithily put it: “A view is a two-way responsibility.”

Do we need, therefore, to train special ‘rural’ architects? Most of those plonking plans on our village seem to have no clue how to design, other than for urban settings; and just about all of that is repetitive, tedious and unwelcoming – or pastiche. Nairn had a word for this sort of urban-grain sameness that is rapidly becoming the standard fare of the English parish: ‘Subtopia’.

Subtopia, in a nutshell, means making the same sort of mess of the whole of the countryside we’ve already made of the edges of our towns.

He also wrote that “The outstanding and appalling fact about modern British architecture is that it is just not good enough.” And, sadly, I don’t think this has improved much in the almost fifty years since he put pen to paper. Indeed, it may have gotten worse….

Yes – as I said in my statement on SDC’s planning portal – we need to evolve, and grow, as a village: but surely not so we compromise the beauty of the place; our principles on suitability and sustainability; or our heritage?

For Nairn, the essential quality of buildings really lay in how they shaped people’s lives, rather than in any innate, commonly-defined architectural value. He was interested in not just the beauty of buildings, but the beauty of the communities that lived in those buildings.

Tysoe is, to me, as a relative newcomer – which maybe affords me a slightly fresher, more objective view of the place – such a ‘beautiful’ community. However, as the gaps get filled in, we seem to be losing the distinction between the three populations – and identities – of Upper, Middle and Lower Tysoe; as well as our overall, unified sense of (the) place: blurring together as one Local Service Village, before compromises in planning then make us appear just like every other. Jonathan Glancey, in The Guardian, wrote that Nairn “so wanted everywhere to be different when everywhere was threatening to be the same”. So do I. So should we all.

I notice that SDC’s planning portal simply says “Tysoe”. (And you’ll notice that, in dashing off my angry response, I – sadly and stupidly – fell into the same Newspeak trap.) How important, though, is it to residents to maintain these separate identities? Is it sad that Upper and Middle Tysoe have merged – albeit for the provision of badly-needed (then) affordable housing – or that Upper and Lower Eatington are now simply now known as ‘Ettington’…?

Do you think that the architects who drew (a word that no longer connotes manual labour and craftsmanship; pencil shavings and drawing boards…) the plans for the land adjoining Church Farm Court even considered such questions, or the ideas behind them? They probably would have dismissed them as irrelevant to their brief – which, I would guess, has more to do with economics. Jonathan Glancey again: “Nairn truly detested the way we were selling (as we continue to) our landscape, our townscapes, for a mess of nothing worth looking at, much less living in or handing down to our children.”

It doesn’t matter to the architects – or the developer – that their proposed designs are not fit for purpose; are not suited to the local beauty; are the foundation stones of a bridge that will soon span two locales: finally, after centuries, uniting (but not in a positive way) our three villages of Over, Church and Temple Tysoe. It does not matter that they will blight our community, its identity and history. As long as a compromise can be reached, and economic gains made, the project will be deemed a success – by them, at least. As the old joke goes: it’s a question of mind over matter. They don’t mind. And we don’t matter.

The Outrage is that the whole land surface is becoming covered by the creeping mildew that already circumscribes all of our towns…. Subtopia is the annihilation of the site, the steamrollering of all individuality of place to one uniform and mediocre pattern.

No comments: