Published: 20th August 2015
Property developers St. Modwen has submitted a Planning Application to build up to 375 residential units and a foodstore on the site of Wolverton Works, the oldest continuously open standard gauge railway works in the world. The Application reads:
Demolition of all existing structures (except part of the lifting shop building and the brick wall on Stratford Road which are partially demolished) and development to create a new employment floorspace (use classes B1/B2/B8), up to 375 residential units (Use class C3), a new foodstore (use class A1), a new community facility (use class D1 or D2) new hard and soft landscaping, open space and public realm, amended site vehicular access including alterations to junctions and pavements
The current operators of the Works is Knorr-Bremse who lease the Works from St. Modwen and they plan to include a new purpose built railway Works up to 30,000sqm for their tenant to use. St. Modwen say that the Application will regenerate Wolverton Works which will support hundreds of current and future rail-related jobs for the town in the £100m regeneration scheme.
The Knorr-Bremse operation will continue at Wolverton but half of the existing Work’s envelope will be turned over to residential and retail use, complemented by a heritage centre and extensive landscaping.
A total of around 90 documents have been submitted to the Planning Authorities detailing the remaining Works’ buildings how the proposals will take place. If Consent is granted then work could start in 2016 initially with the new retail and commercial buildings followed by housing and the heritage centre.
The application has been given the reference number 15/02030/OUT in the Milton Keynes Council planning portal and responses made by email to firstname.lastname@example.org ; or in writing to Planning Department, Milton Keynes Council, Civic Offices, 1 Saxon Gate East, Milton Keynes, MK9 3EJ
The Planning Application says that the loss of existing buildings, already far beyond their expected economic lifespan, or derelict or beyond the scope of viable repairs would not represent a loss in historic or railway history terms. The report cites other railway workshops around the UK such as York, Derby and Crewe as being more important - ignoring the fact that Wolverton predated all other Works.
The original proposals did not include a Heritage Centre but after local pressure was brought to bear, St Modwen agreed to provide a limited heritage facility and the plans show this as a very small section of the Lifting Shop.
For a project of this size and such historical importance, the only public consultation was a nine hour display of just eight display panels in a local Church Hall on 4th December 2014. This was supported by a bespoke website which was only visited by 396 visitors.
One respondent to the exhibition was worried that the proposed Heritage Centre would clash with or threaten the already established Milton Keynes Museum. This was repeated on July 20 on Social media made on behalf of Milton Keynes Museum saying that their proposed Transport Hall is being converted into a dedicated Wolverton Gallery which will tell the important Wolverton story as the world's first Railway Town. So a separate heritage centre at Wolverton would just be duplication, and confuse visitors. The Museum is working to secure a multi-million pound Heritage Lottery award at the moment.
St. Modwen says that it is committed to creating a development which respects the site’s railway heritage. A specialist consultancy CGMS consulting, carried out a heritage review of the whole site for St. Modwen to support the demolition plans. There is no mention of Wolverton’s Locomotive Superintendent James McConnell or his famous ‘Bloomer’ locomotives or indeed of The Royal Train which has been based at Wolverton for over 170 years. The consultants suggest that the only parts of The Works worth preserving are the traversers and potentially a section of the Lifting Shop for use as a Community Heritage Centre.
The Royal Train is housed in a 25 year old shed, itself within a secure compound, and is known to be subject to a 125 year lease granted at Privatisation guaranteeing access to the West Coast Main Line via the line running through the Works which will be maintained although somewhat truncated. How the Application will fare is difficult to assess because the whole Works and surrounding railway built houses forms a Conservation Area.
This is not seen as an issue for the developers who will re-use the bricks for the new buildings and St Modwen’s plans say “it is considered that the harm caused to the Conservation Area will be less than substantial.”
They also say in the application that “there is no justification to seek the retention of all of the railway-related buildings at the Site.” This St Modwen says is because the buildings to be demolished date from late Victorian times and many are already derelict being unused for 30 years or so.
Given the age of the threatened buildings, the developers claim that the buildings at Wolverton are not considered architecturally rare, or of particular aesthetic interest when compared to other railway works in England; notably Crewe, Derby, Swindon and York. The consultants say that “From our findings, it is considered that all of the railway-related buildings at the Site have little architectural importance or considered to be of enough interest as to warrant listing at a national level.
The railway-related buildings on the Site are relatively poor in terms of their aesthetic interest, and hold only a communal interest as part of the larger area that comprised the railway industry of Wolverton. Therefore, the removal of identified railway-related buildings on the Site would not be considered to cause material harm to the overall Wolverton Conservation Area as the communal interest of the town’s railway heritage has already been safeguarded by the conversion and preservation of the Wolverton Park development.
The Works is enclosed by a high, brick perimeter wall wand the developers consider that this element of the Site makes a noticeable contribution to the Conservation Area representing a physical barrier between the site’s railway maintenance operations and the residential and commercial areas of the town.
This wall is also under threat as the developers will be removing sections of it to allow access to the proposed housing development the justification being that as railway work will be discontinued behind much of it, removal of certain sections of this boundary wall is considered acceptable in heritage terms.
But they do suggest that relocating historic machinery and plant found within the Boiler House could help to better reveal the Site’s heritage significance is appropriate.
There has been no mention of a final chance for the public to visit The Works before demolition and many have been asking for such an opportunity to pay homage to such a historic railway location. An open weekend was planned in Summer 2010 but Railcare became embroiled in financial difficulties due to problems with a Class 465 renovation contract and their Finance Director unilaterally cancelled the weekend. Railcare lasted for another three years before entering Administration which is when Knorr-Bremse took over.
The deadline for comments is September 4th but comments can be lodged up to November 5th when the Planners will be making a decision about the Application.