English Heritage has gone in with all guns blazing over hgp Greentree Allchurch Evans' plans for the historic Gunwharf site in Portsmouth, warning that it could become a 'failure on a national scale'.
Bill Startin, head of eh's south-east team, conservation, has fired off a five-page letter containing detailed criticisms of the 12ha scheme to the chief planning officer at Portsmouth City Council, Paul Newbold. And eh told the aj it may urge the government to call the scheme in for public inquiry if the design problems remain unresolved after it meets the city's planners next week.
Chief of Startin's concerns about the £100 million housing, retail and leisure scheme for the site is the area around the so-called 'Vulcan' building, 'a handsome and disciplined work of architecture laid out and built to generous standards' that 'deserves respect' - which Startin feels it is not being given. 'The architects have been consistently reluctant to acknowledge its qualities,' he writes in his letter. 'Vulcan, if not used, could become the hollow heart of Gunwharf.'
Following similarly fiery criticism from the Royal Fine Art Commission last month, in which Lord St John of Fawsley called for an inquiry, dubbing the entire scheme 'lamentable' and 'totally lacking in a sense of place', eh is disappointed at not being involved in the design, layout and landscaping of the 'showcase' scheme for the city.
Startin also attacks the proposed perimeter blocks for their bulk and dominance, and for 'the chaos of their design at the rear'. He is also unhappy that the Berkeley Group-backed scheme favours demolishing many existing structures rather than retaining them with a new use.
Elsewhere, eh attacks the design of the 310 homes and the 'ill-defined' landscape design by Hyland Edgar Driver and warns the architect to retain a 'listable' wall currently attached to Nelson Gate.
The scheme includes a similarly criticised 150m-high, £29 million tower by the same architect, part-funded by £9 million of Millennium money, at its centre, as an element of the £86 million 'Renaissance of Portsmouth' landmark Millennium project.
Several planning applications for the Gunwharf Quays proposal go to the city's planning committee later this month for detailed permission. The mod chose Berkeley as its preferred developer 18 months ago, but Berkeley will only buy the site if it wins detailed planning permission. The scheme also includes 18,300m2 of retail with 85 shops, 18,300m2 more leisure space and 9000m2 of bars, cafes and restaurants.