Congleton deserves the best

Congleton man Nino Manci writes some good sense in his letter this week (see end of this blog entry).

He went to see the plans for Congleton’s Bridestones II — now called The Mills — and was not impressed, saying it was “one of the worst schemes I have seen”, “a throwback to the worst of 1970s architecture” and a proposal that would “blight our town for years to come”.

Obviously, anyone from Congleton is automatically an expert on bad design, poor architecture and urban blight. We’ve had the chance to study the Bridestones for years.

As we reported the other week, in the 70s we were promised an all-new town centre, with good design, links between the various developments and a cohesive plan. What did we get? An architectural Godzilla that cut the town in two and hid the shopping centre’s joys from passing motorists.

 

 

It was at least a good geography lesson.

We’ve got the Berlin Wall, the monolithic slab of brick that hides the shops from passing trade and successfully separates the modern shops from the town’s medieval heritage.

We’ve got the Black Hole of Calcutta, the windswept, unloved cavity in the middle of the Bridestones, to where market traders were sentenced. It’s surprising that it was never used by Game of Thrones as a set — it had plenty of scenes of people working in bleak surroundings, wrapped in woollens to fend off the cold.

We’ve also got the catacombs — in more exotic lands these can be caves filled with skulls, in Congleton they’re merely the shop units no-one ever wanted, filled with nothing at all. They were never let and never will be — which hardly fills one with hope for the new centre.

Bridestones II did start off promisingly. There was a nice drawing that used the word “piazza” and had trees and even a 3D model that was loaned to the Chronicle.
It looked too good to be true — and it was.

There was no demand for the hotel that was planned to be included, so that was dropped, and now even Morrison’s — the flagship store whose move was to kick-start the new development — abandoned the idea, and has recently signed a new lease on its current store.

As the plans slowly reduced in scope, we expressed fears on these pages that we would end up with a white elephant; of course we ended up with nothing, as it was never built.
The new plans are hardly ones to inspire confidence.

The drawing we have consists mainly of boxes with the word “signage” on. (They could have made the effort to actually draw a sign).

Architecturally, it most reminds us of the old Fine Fare on Bridge Street, an ugly, functional 60s slab of concrete and glass. Even American big box stores have more character.

When Mr Manci questioned staff about the plans it seems there’s not even a drawing for the Mill Street frontage, which would explain the prefab concrete garage sections in the artist’s impression, but is not entirely heartening.

Still, the scheme is a long way off and the town will have a chance to comment.

More importantly: our councillors will have a chance to comment, and we expect them to stick up for the town.

Those who allowed the Bridestones to be built are now long forgotten but we promise this: if The Mills development is as ugly and divisive as the Bridestones, we will run a panel listing all the members of the Planning Committee and all the local councillors who allowed it to be built, for ever. We will print it every week, so everyone will know who allowed it to be brought into existence. They will not be forgotten.

Congleton deserves a nice shopping centre, with units that will not lie empty for 25 years, and we’d better get it.

 

 

***

 

Nino Manci’s letter read:

 

Dear Sir, — On Saturday I took the opportunity to view the new proposed mixed development by Scarborough that replaced its previous Bridestones II proposal.

Having seen the publicity handouts, I was hoping that on closer inspection there might be something of merit in this new application, but sadly it is hard to put into words just how bad this new proposed development is.

The staff on the display were all very pleasant and well trained in marketing, but it was clear that they knew nothing about urban design or building construction.

It seemed to be purely a marketing and sales exercise.

I pitied the staff as they made their best efforts to promote one of the worst schemes I have seen.

It is a throwback to what was the worst of 1970s architecture, similar to the concrete disaster of parts of Stockport town centre.

Scarborough has the audacity to call it a “flagship development”! It is a soulless box.

I questioned how it could possibly be called “The Mills” development as it had nothing to do with Congleton’s mill history at all.

The young woman looked genuinely surprised that I didn’t like the name and said that it had been “brainstormed” by their marketing team! “Brainstormed” indeed, I think that sums it up!

As the publicity states that Scarborough have great experience with projects like this, I asked all four of the staff on the stand to give me examples of successfully completed projects we could look at. After much thought they could not give me a single example! Surely we should be able to see the quality of construction that we are going to have to live with?

They had a computerised model to show everyone the proposed building, but when I questioned them, they realised that they had forgotten to design one of the main visual aspects and viewpoints, that being the side facing onto Mill Street.

Such fundamental mistakes at this stage give you little faith that Scarborough has really got its heart in delivering a successful and attractive project in the middle of Congleton.

It has already promised us one “visionary” scheme that never happened — now they are offering us a 1970s box.

When I asked what materials were to be used I was told that they had not decided these yet either. What is the point of putting on such a display if there isn’t even a palette of materials to consider?

And how, if this has not been thought through can this proposal go forward to the planning stage?

I also asked the Scarborough staff which key anchor stores and businesses had so far shown an interest in occupying this new development and was told that there were not any as yet. Another white elephant then?

There was no indication on the display stand as to what environmental measures they had put into the design of the development, or what eco methods of construction were being used. This is to totally unacceptable.

Congleton deserves better, much better than this. What is apparently on offer is from the cheapest bottom drawer of design.

We need Cheshire East to support Congleton for once and create an urban design scheme for the central zone of our town.

We cannot allow further poor quality schemes like The Bridestones and now this new Scarborough proposal to blight our town for years to come.

We are a growing town, there is opportunity for developers to create something special here in Congleton that we can all benefit from. — Yours faithfully,

 

NINO MANCI

Congleton.

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