The Winchester Deserves Better (WDB) campaign group was formed in July 2014 by Kim and Nicky Gottlieb to oppose the Henderson proposal for the five-acre Silver Hill site, which we regarded as highly damaging for the city by virtue of its scale, massing, design and range of uses. The City Council resolved to grant planning permission for the ‘Henderson scheme’ in December 2014.
However, in January 2015, Kim Gottlieb successfully pursued a Judicial Review against the Council’s decision, made in August 2014, to accept major changes to the scheme that Henderson’s predecessors, Thornfield Properties, had obtained planning permission for in February 2009. The ‘Thornfield scheme’ did, at least in theory, result from the Development Agreement the Council and Thornfield made in December 2004. Henderson acquired the Development Agreement in December 2010 after Thornfield entered administration a year earlier.
Following the Judicial Review and the halting of the 2014 Henderson scheme, in March 2015, the Council facilitated Henderson’s attempts to resuscitate the 2009 Thornfield scheme which both parties previously claimed was unviable. That scheme was also opposed by WDB and, after something of a tussle and a complex series of events, the 2004 Development Agreement between the Council and Henderson was eventually terminated in February 2016. This was many years after the ‘long stop’ date in the contract which the Council kept extending.
February 2016 also saw the publication of the Claer Lloyd-Jones report which the Council had commissioned to investigate why it had got itself into a position, where it lost a Judicial Review in connection with the most important regeneration project in the city. The report was entitled “A Perfect Storm” and, in essence, it cast blame on the management systems within the Council.
Notwithstanding its objection to the Henderson proposals, WDB has always firmly supported the regeneration of this site, which is the most transformational in the city and represents a unique opportunity to further the city’s economy and it’s social and cultural offerings.
We were therefore very encouraged when, in December 2016, the Council appointed JTP, planners and architects, to re-consider the future of the site. WDB became very active at the time and encouraged its supporters to attend the many consultations and to contribute to the process. They did so in great numbers and with great enthusiasm. The product of all this effort, by JTP, the Council and many residents, was the publication of a Supplementary Planning Document (“SPD”) which was formally adopted by the Council in June 2018.
It is notable that the SPD encompasses the broader site, including the Brooks Shopping Centre and the Middle Brook Street car park. The key findings of the SPD include; the limiting and graduation of heights of the buildings from west (the Brooks centre) down to the east (the St Johns alm houses); the parcelling of the overall site into several separate sites; a delivery process involving “multiple developers” and “multiple architects”; the opening up of the historic water courses and generous public realm.
The SPD was was not in itself a development scheme, but a series of well considered parameters which then needed to be fashioned into a number of schemes. In the view of WDB the time since June 2018 has been poorly spent, and the momentum behind the SPD and the enthusiasm of its supporters has been wasted. The current proposals from the Council, published in November 2020, do not, in our view, represent a meaningful or worthwhile next step in the process. To us, they indicate simply a desire by the Council to sell the site in the hope that someone else might deliver. This, we believe, is a misguided approach which will fail to secure any public benefits.