As a resident in Cornwall since 1938, and in practice as a Chartered Architect and later a Chartered Designer here since 1952, I have had the opportunity to see the Truro area grow and develop over many years. I am a former Chair of the City of Truro Chamber of Commerce and a founder member and present vice chairman of the Truro Civic Society.
Truro’s retail vacancy rate is one of the lowest in the country. The City’s retail centre now attracts rental values higher than Plymouth or Exeter, the primary attraction being the wide range of private retailers selling high quality merchandise. The retail centre of Truro must not be harmed by relatively close opposing retail developments.
The present favorable situation needs to be maintained and built on with care and vision for the benefit of all citizens and the County as a whole. I am seriously concerned that a proposed development scheme for Truro would not accomplish such objectives, but instead would endanger them.
I am referring to the proposed partnership development plan by Cornwall Council and the Duchy of Cornwall, the John Lewis Partnership/Waitrose with a separate organisation, The Taste of Cornwall. The provision of Park and Ride, residential development and other components, all on Duchy of Cornwall land to the northeast of Truro city centre. Refer, http://www.truroedc.co.uk/ In its public statements, the Duchy of Cornwall expresses confidence in the development’s location, the advantages its services would bring to citizens, and the quality of its urban design and architecture advice. I have to take issue with those assertions.
In entering into such a partnership plan, the Cornwall Council has ignored the recommendations of its consultants. The Council-commissioned consultants, GVA Grimley, were directed to prepare a comprehensive retail study for Cornwall which was published in November, 2010. The report identified the localities for potential retail expansion throughout Cornwall. In reviewing the Eastern Green site in Truro, the consultants referred to the Retail Study for Truro, (DTZ 2008) which suggested that “Any new district centre for the Truro area should be placed on the western side of the urban area.” This appear to have been conveniently forgotten.
Yet, at the same time, a partnership agreement between the Duchy and Cornwall Council was being prepared for the Eastern Green site with the objective of securing planning approval from Cornwall Council, one of the three partners for this very site!
I consider the proposals by the Duchy to be inappropriate and visually, environmentally and architecturally damaging to the important entrance to Truro from the northeast.
That such a proposal has been formulated and endorsed can be traced to the gradual elimination by the previous Cornwall County Council, from about 1973, of all in-house professional architectural staff and a team of highly qualified architects within the planning department. This has had the effect of Cornwall Council now relying almost entirely not on impartial professional advice, but on architects acting in this proposal for the applicant, the Duchy of Cornwall, which, I believe, would look very different if more impartial and wide-ranging expertise had been brought to bear.
After reviewing the Duchy proposal, there are comments and alternative approaches I would like to put forward:
1. The recycling centre should be located at Newham..
2. The Taste of Cornwall and The John Lewis Partnership, (Waitrose) stores would be more appropriately located within the bowl of the Truro retail town centre, maybe as part of the proposed development at Pydar Street.
That entity will shortly complete a £6 million agreement with the same Cornwall Council as a partner. Stanhope and LaSalle, the developer, has stated it bought the land with the hope of joining it with the Cornwall Council owned Carrick House site in order to create one new super retail complex. I am concerned that their development proposal might well be compromised by the Duchy proposal.
In their report, the Cornwall Council-commissioned consultants, GVA Grimley, state “that a very large increase in retail development in the Pydar Street area could be detrimental to the eastern parts of the bowl of the main city centre.
Overall, there are a number of factors which would suggest that the Pydar Street area should not be promoted for a very large increase in the amount of comparison floor space in Truro city centre. However, this area remains an important part of the overall expansion in the city centre retail floor space and should remain a key retail development site, as shown in the draft AAP”. The existing highway network. which would be very expensive (and patently unviable) to move, creates a barrier to traffic movement, which will constrain the ability to provide a seamless link into the existing core shopping area. In addition, provision of all of the identified need for additional floor space in this area would have a significant impact upon how the city centre operates.
An alternative site, also within the ownership of the Cornwall Council is the Moorfield car park, potentially the most central available retail site in the city, with an existing modern shopping access from Lemon Street through the high quality modern Lemon street Market and with an access to Victoria Square through one of the existing stores which could be relocated within the development. With imaginative engineering and architectural design, additional car parking could be provided below existing ground level, with the retail areas at ground floor and above, to levels two stories in height fronting onto Charles Street. The building to be set back with generous landscaping. This would be a far more imaginative retail solution than the Duchy has proposed.
These town centre locations in the bowl of Truro, would provide larger units and would be ideal for the location of The Taste of Cornwall and The John Lewis Partnership/Waitrose store. It is not generally realised that the area of the Waitrose store proposed for the Eastern Green site is relatively small and would not compare with the existing Tesco/ Sainsbury stores. Other suitable smaller properties may shortly be available to accommodate The Taste of Cornwall in the city centre. I regret the short term delay to establish Waitrose and the Taste of Cornwall, but there could be more suitable locations for these high quality retailers in the near future.
The redevelopment of Tesco by Tesco is under consideration. With careful preplanning, this redesign, with the encouragement of Cornwall Council should also provide a greatly improved riverside walk linked to Lemon Quay. It might also be possible with imaginative professional architectural and landscape advice, to open part of the former river to the frontage to Marks and Spencer.
3. The location of the Duchy proposal, on agricultural land of over 50 acres, up on a hill, isolated on the wrong side of the main road, and adjacent to a recycle centre, is impractical and unacceptable.
4.. The out-of-town proposals by Morrisons and Asda to the west should not be forgotten. Out of town proposals to the west are supported by GVA Grimley. These are in the pipeline, and would have a serious effect on the financial viability of the Taste of Cornwall and Waitrose development. Waitrose is a valuable part of the highly respected John Lewis Partnership, which normally has a clear and longstanding modern design programme of development.. A representative of Waitrose informed me at the recent public exhibition that the partnership with the Duchy and the Cornwall Council was the only way in which Waitrose could be open to the public within four years, in advance of the other impending larger scale retail proposals. A high price to pay for a relatively small store.
5. The Park and Ride proposal would involve the redesign of the road pattern within the centre of Truro by the introduction of a dedicated bus lane on Tregolls Road and a right turn on Boscawen Bridge into Quay Street, this is in my view impractical and will cause even further congestion in the city centre and must be abandoned.
6. I am not an expert in drainage matters but am reliably informed that the drainage provisions to serve the Eastern Green site are inadequate and could cause severe problems in the Tresillian area.
7. It is essential that the officers and members of the Cornwall Council act with impartiality to ensure any possible deference to the Duchy is clearly avoided, and that the inappropriate attitudes of some Councilors demonstrated at a recent committee meeting of the Council are not on display in future deliberations.
I am also concerned that impartial and high quality retail architectural design expertise is not available to the members, and must be sought from outside the county in London from a source such as the recently merged CABE and the Design Council now renamed, the Design Council Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment..
8. If the application is approved, it may be necessary to “call in”, a process that halts its implementation by referring it to the Secretary of State. He /she can direct the local planning authority to refer an application to him/her for a decision. An Inspector is then charged with conducting an inquiry and submitting a report and recommendations to the Secretary for determination. The basis of such a “‘call in” action would rest on the following two items listed in the regulations:
1) Development that could have significant effects beyond its immediate locality; and 2) Development that raises significant architectural and urban design issues.
My overriding objection to the proposed Duchy development is that instead of enhancing and consolidating the successful retail core of the City, it contributes to urban sprawl and contains disparate, poorly designed components in a wholly inappropriate style.
I fear that a planning application by the Duchy of Cornwall, will almost certainly be approved in spite of the adverse advice in respect of the location from the CC’s own private planning consultants. The well informed members of the Truro Civic Society at their meeting on 23rd of March unanimously voted against the proposal. I consider that now is the time for HRH Prince Charles to instruct the Duchy to cancel negotiations with the Cornwall Council. This is not a level playing field.
John Crowther OBE. Chartered Architect and Chartered Designer
Restronguet Point, Feock, Truro. TR3 6RB
The Editor, The West Briton,