Published: 24th July 2016
Just under a year ago, property developers St Modwen announced that they had applied for outline planning permission to demolish Wolverton Works, a year after floating the idea locally. Wolverton Works is the longest continuously open standard gauge railway Works in the World opening in 1838. The whole of the existing Works lies within a Conservation area but is not listed despite surrounding former Works’ buildings and structures being rated up to Grade 2* in importance.
While the outline application seems to be foundering and has been subject to revision, a detailed application was made in February this year by St Modwen to build a Lidl supermarket on some of the Works’ ground. This application has now been changed after St Modwen were clearly advised that their plans were totally out of context with the history of the location and within the Conservation area. For example, any householder who wishes to even change a window has to apply for Planning permission which is why wholesale redevelopment is so contentious.
The property developers announced that they had agreed Terms with Lidl to operate the foodstore before planning consent had been granted. Four months later in June 2016, St. Modwen re-submitted parts of the planning application to reflect changes to the design of the foodstore which now start to consider the heritage value of the area, but do not in any way shape or form reflect the Conservation area’s attributes.
Wolverton Works is bounded on its southern side by a mile long three metre high brick wall, a local landmark for over a century. The original submission proposed the demolition of this wall down to a height of 1 metre along the frontage of the foodstore site but has been revised to retain more of its height. The wall will graduate in height, from the existing height at either ends of the site frontage down to 1.1 metres in the centre of the site, and with a section removed for pedestrian access. St Modwen says that this, plus a few minor alterations “seek to respect the current character of the Conservation Area whilst also creating good sight lines between the foodstore and town centre.”
The proposed Lidl roof has been redesigned in an attempt to reflect the character of the Conservation Area and will have a steep gable pitched roof with an adjacent mono-pitch to echo the adjacent visible steeper gables and to link in with a huge Tesco immediately next to the proposed Lidl site. The only images provided by St Modwen on their website are a montage and captioned as illustrative and computer generated and are not guaranteed to be replicated in reality.
Alterations to building materials and visual design of the building in an attempt to reflect the local architecture have also been suggested. The landscaping proposals for the Lidl area have also been modified and will incorporate existing but disused rail lines within the paving. The revised plans are set to be decided on in August by Milton Keynes Council.
What remains materially unchanged is the road access to the proposed shop. It is along a narrow unadopted road leading off the main thoroughfare in Wolverton. The proposal will increase traffic and HGVs servicing the store. The local Council and residents are totally against the plan but Council Highways planners are not opposed to the extra traffic despite expressing reservations about it. The mixture of cyclists, pedestrians, cars buses and lorries is acceptable to them.
The MK Council Conservation And Archaeology Manager Simon Peart responded to the application by writing:
The significance of the Site has been recognised by its inclusion in Wolverton Conservation Area, a designated heritage asset. It contains railway sheds and other historic elements that are positive contributors to the character or appearance of the Conservation Area. Beyond that designation, this chapter has shown that the Site is significant for the following reasons.
• Communal value: as the reason for the historic development of Wolverton, the town’s most important employer and a major part of its local identity.
• Historical value: as the oldest continuously operated railway works in the world, and as a site that exemplifies the large scale, architectural standardisation and associated workers settlements of the consolidation and completion periods of the English railway network in general, and as the Carriage Works of the London & North Western Railway in particular.
• Aesthetic value: its historic railway sheds are substantial structures that, although almost all are to a standardised and functional design, exist together with the spaces between them to create a consistent and impressive historic character.
• Evidential value: as an operational railway works, with historic buildings that are generally instructive of their continued use, underlined by specific historical uses where associated machinery and infrastructure survives. • Setting: for its visual, spatial and historic relationship with the wider town, most notably the contemporary residential settlement and the listed railway buildings that now form part of the Wolverton Park development.
• Comparative assessment: as one of the three major English carriage works at the 1923 grouping, as one of the two that survives close to its extent in 1923, and as the only one that does so in close proximity to surviving listed early railway works building
The Conservation officer’s report concludes that the application should be rejected. The Council planner has recommended it be approved while Wolverton and Greenleys Council is against the plans and local social media feedback is also not in favour of the application. Here are some quotes posted on facebook:
-I'm not onboard for yet another supermarket. I can't believe that there is a need/demand, unless St Modwen can provide the data to support as evidence?
-I'd much rather in my opinion keep it how it is rather than have another chain of supermarket!
-Just looked at the plans, - oh dear! What a pathetic effort at "redevelopment". This is the Agora all over again -just fob Wolverton off with any old thing. We do not need another "much loved" (?) supermarket brand so close up to the others -absolutely ridiculous.
-All very vague.
-Do we really need another supermarket?
-Seeing as we already have Tescos, Asda, farm food and all the independent stores in Wolverton we don’t need another one.
The application can be found at:
https://publicaccess2.milton-keynes.gov.uk/online-applications using the planning reference code 16/00360/FUL .