Urban Design consultee comments: smoke & mirrors to hide ugly truth

As part of the series of comments by Buckinghamshire Council officers, there was a consultee comment regarding Urban Design & Landscape.

The officer agrees with much of the detail and conclusions set out by the Chilterns Conservation Board in their objection. The location for the proposed film studio is right next to the Chilterns AONB and currently being assessed for inclusion into an expanded AONB. On the other side of the Thames, the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Local Plan “seeks to conserve and enhance the special character and visual amenity of the River Thames” (policy QP4). In conclusion: “on account of the function, scale and character of the proposed development”* it will cause significant harm and does not satisfy local plan policies.

Aside from these policy incompatibilities, the officer also highlights that the planning application deliberately tries to obfuscate the impact on the landscape:

“Photomontage View 3 demonstrates the significant harm to views from the Chilterns AONB broadly north / northeast of the site. (…) Photomontage View 9 also demonstrates a major incursion of commercial development into an otherwise intact rural landscape as seen from the Chilterns AONB overlooking the Thames Valley.”

“Photomontage View 8 would help illustrate this but is unhelpfully presented as a very wide angle panorama, which reduces detail and the perception of scale; there is no reason why this could not have been presented in the same manner as others in the set, (…)”

And the obfuscation is highlighted further down in more explicit terms:

“There is a variable approach to the horizontal angle of view and framing of photomontages which confuse and distort the perception of scale and impact of the proposed development. (…) Accompanied by the relatively low resolution of the images in the submitted PDF files, these do not fairly represent the proposed development and how it would be seen in the field.”

Equally, the “improvements” to the footpath between the A404 and Little Marlow are questioned:

“[The planning documents] and supporting photomontages demonstrate a profound change to the environment of this footpath where it passes through the site. There will be a loss of openness and views from the footpath, with a change of character from open rural landscape to a much more enclosed urban landscape. ‘Improvements’ to this right of way include surfacing and lighting that are likely to improve accessibility but ultimately diminish any sense of its existing rural character. (…) Such change to the user’s experience of the existing landscape is considered a major harmful effect. **The applicant suggests this is part of a positive contribution to the RUR4 outdoor recreation objective of a Country Park, but is in fact the opposite. ** “

Turning to landscape design, whereby the planning application tries to “blend in”:

“The principle of screening with planting to supposedly reduce visual harm is a universal approach by almost all developers and is not unique to this development. It is also a frequently harmful approach, as it overlooks the important contribution made to visual amenity by the open undeveloped landscape and views to other features or locations. Creating ‘green walls’ around development, and ‘green tunnels’ on routes through development are both harmful to visual amenity where the existing landscape is open and attractive.”

Also, the “green walls” on the warehouses are considered inadequate:

“The applicant proposes green walls to some of the taller buildings. I am not satisfied with the approach proposed – wires and climbing plants are not sufficiently substantial and do not qualify as a ‘green wall’ in the conventional sense. Of the five climbing plants proposed, only one (deciduous) plant is likely to achieve over 12 metres of height, and none will have any immediate impact.

What about the public space? Well, the officer is quite clear on that:

“The proposed ‘public art opportunity’ is intrusive and unwelcome. If nothing else, public art should be in a public or publically accessible space, which this is not. It appears to serve as no more than an advertisement/icon for the proposed development and serves no public interest.

“(…) I do not agree with the design approach for the Hub building. The [document] describes this as a building that will ‘engage the public’, but the design language says otherwise. “

In summary: Dido Property Limited’s planning application for the film studio will be a terrible eyesore that destroys the rural character of the area, the views from all angles and they try to hide with “green walls” that won’t work and photomontages that deliberately change the perception.