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Caernarfon plan savaged as 'too diagrammatic'

Design chiefs have made a stinging attack on a mixed-use plan by the Willacy Horseman Partnership, calling it 'monolithic', 'unsatisfying' and 'entirely inappropriate'.

The Design Commission for Wales (DCFW) also slammed the designs for Victoria Dock, Caernarfon, which is a World Heritage Site, as 'too diagrammatic'.

However, the Chester-based architect shrugged off criticism that the scheme is 'architecturally unsatisfying and entirely inappropriate to the setting', insisting they had little choice in the design options.

The designs are for a housing, leisure, shopping, office and workshop development on the site of an old oil refinery. But they are 'monolithic and bear no relationship' to the 19th-century dock basin overlooked by Caernarfon Castle, the Menai Straits and Snowdonia, the commission said.

DCFW chairman Richard Parnaby added that the new design agency was left with little choice.

'We would lose any credibility if we said it was an example of good urban design. The commission is keen for the project to go ahead because it would help the economy. But this scheme would destroy the site for generations.'

The commission's report said the plan - for client WJ Developments - emphasised rather than masked the bulk of the building. 'There is no evidence the designers have made serious analysis of the urban form and architectural character of the exceptionally fine and important historical setting.'

And facade drawings also came under attack.

The review said the images suggested 'a very uncomfortable juxtaposition of a repetitive and undistinguished glazed retail façade at the lower levels with a generic neo-vernacular domestic styling applied to the upper levels.'

But Mark Willacy, the architect's practice partner, remained philosophical. 'We take the criticisms on the chin, but all we can do is satisfy the client, ' he said.

'It's the old problem of having a site that isn't commercially viable unless you cram everything on to it. We weren't allowed to go above three floors and it was a question of decorating a box.'

The commission stepped in after Gwynedd County Council hinted it would accept the proposals. The Welsh Assembly has now called in the planning application.

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