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Ticket to ride

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Sustrans, in conjunction with The Architects' Journal, is inviting architects to add to the National Cycle Network at St Margaret's Loop, a derelict railway cutting in East Grinstead. Austin Williams explains the competition's brief

Sustrans, the national sustainable cycling organisation, is holding an architectural competition to design a new pedestrian and cycleway through a 1km-long disused railway cutting - currently an unused semi-urban woodland area in the centre of East Grinstead, West Sussex.

The competition, organised in partnership with East Grinstead Town Council and supported by The Architects' Journal, invites architectural submissions that should include outline design concepts to enhance the area, to determine the route of the new public pathway and to provide indicative illustration of how the scheme might be developed. The competition aims to show that such a site can be brought back into public use.

Here we outline the basic proposition of the scheme, together with indicative layouts, costings, etc. However, full details of the project (a project pack including briefing notes, levels, plans, services, preferred budget, timescale, contact details and rules) is available from the organiser.

The competition prize money has been donated by East Grinstead Town Council and Sustrans.

The scheme St Margaret's Loop is a derelict railway line of about 1,000m, which formerly joined the high-level (east-west) and the low-level (north-south) railway lines at East Grinstead Station. It is currently overgrown and almost inaccessible, although functions as a large expanse of greenery in a commuter belt and is prized as something of a 'green lung'.

The majority of the site is owned by Railway Paths and a lesser portion owned by the council. Although some remains in other ownership, it should be assumed for the purposes of this competition that these parties are favourable to the outline proposal.

The scheme should deal with wildlife issues, safety concerns (tree removal where necessary), buildability, access, transport implications and broader contextual issues. For example, the route of the cycle path could link the existing popular cycleway Worth Way in the south of the site with the north-east edge, although alternative routes and access points can be considered. Consideration for pony/horse-riding as well as walking and cycling may add value, although is not essential.

Bridge repairs have been identified and your submission may benefit from the opinion of an engineer.

Entry path After obtaining a brief from the organiser, carrying out a site visit (the site is accessible to the public) and making all necessary enquiries of the council regarding its regional and local plans for the area, entry submissions should include:

lCVs for the main team members, from different disciplines, including the proposed project architect;

la team statement of a maximum of 450 words that outlines how and why the team, or individual, has a particular combination of skills to carry out such a commission. The statement should also outline how you/your team would approach the competition in broad terms; and lthe names of three clients who could act as referees.

Submissions should be:

ltwo pages of A3 drawings showing scheme proposals; and lthree pages of A4 written substantiation - to include an outline statement of feasibility, including basic costs and benefit, including the viability of the concept. Written documentation should identify provisionally the extent of structural repairs, monies to be raised and costs apportioned, your approach to the project (with reasons), and an undated programme of works. This is a minimum requirement.

Entrants will be expected to have undertaken a site visit.

The brief in brief A recent study carried out by Sustrans and the local authority estimates the cost of bringing the cutting back into the public domain as a shared-use cycle and pedestrian path - together with remediation works - at £579,000. A detailed breakdown of these costs is available with the competition details. The main problem - given that Sustrans is a charity (see box, page 18) - is that funding of this magnitude is simply not available. Therefore, to get the funding needed to carry out the cycle/pedestrian path, the council and Sustrans acknowledge that some form of enabling development is essential - to raise funds by more 'commercial'means in order to fund the cycleway and other essential husbandry, landscaping and making safe the existing land, etc.

No remit has been placed on what this enabling works shall comprise, or where it shall be situated, and therefore all scheme proposals are subject to the normal planning submissions. However, we assume that competition entries judged favourably by the local authority members on the judging panel ought to stand planning applicants in good stead. However, don't quote me on that, because in order to ensure that winners and commended entries are not chosen solely for their ability to satisfy the planning officer's world view, planners have not, as yet, been accepted on to the judging panel. Likewise, the mayor.

Sustrans has given some thought to the available options in consultation with the local authority, although these are cited here as indicative and should not be taken to mean that these approaches have been endorsed in any way.

For example, a viable scheme to fund the development and provide sufficient surplus funds to finance the construction of the path and remediation works might include building housing on a portion of the land, although the site has only limited access.

Consideration might be given to rafted development - filling the cut and levelling the site to provide a more workable solution. By raising the level of the site, maybe your proposal will help relieve traffic congestion at the bottleneck along the main road bisecting the site (at high level) and result in planning gain. Maybe building an eco-tower at the most accessible corner will sterilise little land, but raise enough revenue to capitalise the remainder of the works needed. Perhaps, a tree-top path should be constructed at minimal expense, negating the need for any other development at all.

The prizes Two prizes of £5,000 and £2,000 are available. The organiser is keen to insist that submissions do not necessarily have to tackle the scheme by addressing the evident need for economic viability, and should take into consideration the fact that imaginative design and creative solutions are also desirable. So to reassure entrants, the prize money will not be awarded to a 'pragmatic scheme'winner and an 'imaginative scheme' winner respectively, but rather will be determined, in the eyes of the judges, by the merits of the submissions, taking all documentation together.

In theory, a scheme showing the site developed into a commercially practical underwater theme park, with a core cycle route through the middle, could win. A sensible proposal for a tarmac path with some two-bed brick mock-Tudor houses that will be commercially viable may be marked down. I guess entrants should use their judgement.

It is intended that the project will be built.

The chosen architect (who may not be the overall winner of this competition stage in the proceedings, although it is likely that they will be) may then be appointed to carry the scheme forward - either as a selective tender programme of works, a novation within a design-build package or as developer.Other options will be considered.

Eligibility Normal eligibility rules apply and the competition is open to registered and chartered architects. At the end of the competition, winners and maybe others may be asked to submit some presentational A1 drawings to set up an exhibition for local residents and prospective user groups to view the schemes.

Submission method For the brief pack, all enquiries and submissions, contact the organiser by post at St Margaret's Loop Competition, Sustrans, National Cycle Network Centre, 2 Cathedral Square, College Green, Bristol BS1 5DD, or email davidy@sustrans. org. uk.

As usual, the decision of the judging panel will be final and no correspondence will be entered into. The organiser reserves the right to change the timetable or cancel the competition at any stage, and will not accept liability for any costs incurred.

Please note that this article is a description of the competition in brief and may contain discrepancies with the finalised competition requirements. Applicants must comply with Sustrans' requirements in full and not take this article, in whole or in part, as representing the competition brief.While no one from, nor family members of, the organiser or judging panel is eligible to take part, we understand that members of Sustrans are welcome to participate.

All information will be handled by Sustrans. Please do not ring East Grinstead Town Council or The Architects' Journal.

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