King Alfred preferred developer decision tomorrow: a look at the candidates

12.1.16…..At noon on Wednesday – tomorrow – the agenda is expected to be uploaded to the council website, viewable within its Calendar of Meetings area, for the Policy & Resources meeting scheduled for Thursday, 21st January.  Unless the dreaded “to follow” words are shown for the King Alfred item, the report should be included in the pack; and it will tell us the recommended choice for decision next Thursday (rubber stamped endorsement more like).
Will it be the French firm of Bouygues using (local)architect Nick Lomax  or the (local youth grant-support charity) Starr Trust/ Crest Nicholson (major housebuilders) partnership?  What is the background each brings to the council’s contest?

Bouygues

Let’s start with the French bid.  It is often casually stated in the press and by the public that Nick Lomax designed the Jubilee Library, which is wrong.  Sadly the planning documents and other paperwork are not online, just a decision notice.  If you look at the Bennetts Associates website you see the Jubilee Library among their projects and credit is given as Bennetts Associates in Association with LCE.  LCE’s website says LCE in collaboration with Bennetts Associates.  Each claims the primary position with the other subsidiary behind them!  This was probably influential in deliberations and in a private conversation about architecture one of the 3 councillors on the Project Team expressed surprise about Bennetts involvement with the Jubilee Library.  So a bit of clarification seems in order.
To try to strand this out, an email query was sent to Katharine Pearce, Project Manager for the Jubilee, who is still a Major Projects Manager at BHCC.  She kindly replied with useful feedback.  She said:
“Many thanks for your email.  I was indeed the Project Manager for the Jubilee Library and the wider residual land development comprising the retail, housing and office blocks, as well as the old Music Library.
Having quickly reviewed the documentation at the time, to see how the two architects were represented, I can report that all the information forthcoming from Bennetts Associates and LCE was represented as “Bennetts Associates Architects in association with Lomax Cassidy Edwards”.
Bennetts Associates were lead architect responsible for the main design and overseeing of the library building and LCE took on the lead role for the wider residual land development.  I think it would be fair to say that both practices assisted one another on aspects of the others work, and hence the “in association with……”  It was a genuine partnership.   However, at the point the building contract was let, Bennetts Associates were novated across to act as the Project Architects for the main building, but LCE were not novated.   A company called Larrick Development took on the wider land development post planning and used their own architects/contractors for the build phase.   I do agree that it would be disingenuous for LCE to represent themselves as the architects for the Library itself without reference to their lead partner in the project.  They were however instrumental in the project and deserve to be credited with seeing the project get realised and the masterplanning and design concepts for the wider residual development as well.   I am certain, they would have had input to the library, although I could not say to what degree as this remained a matter between LCE and Bennetts at the time.” 
A further exchange provided a further observation: I think a sight of the Wikipedia website should give anyone else interested sufficient comfort of the Bennett’s role.  Precious little text (nothing at all….) about the amount of council input that went into it at every stage, but that’s how it goes!”
Wikipedia is written by the public (or vested interests) and amendments get edited in and out by whoever puts entries there so cannot be taken as the last word if one is wise.  Propaganda control is exercised there.  But it is clear from the chronology from Katharine Pearce that Bennetts came first (“novated”) and LCE were added to the brew.  The Jubilee Library cannot be attributed to Nick Lomax.  It robs Bennetts Associates to do so.
Residents were recently able to view the LCE proposal for redevelopment of the Texaco Station on the Kingsway, adjacent to King Alfred.  Not offensive was the general view.  Not right either.  ‘Pedestrian 1960’s council housing’ perhaps best reflects the general view, with too many sharp verticals in need of variation or rounding off to fit into an area of roundness, such as the St. Aubyns Gardens swing into the Kingsway on either side, the Albion Pub with its dome, etc.
On the same day, the proposals from Nick Lomax for MATSIM were viewable at another exhibition.  Lots of the same kind of verticals in various planes of a busy, blocky design over 15 floors to contain 200 flats, shops, offices, airborne greenery, etc.  Incidentally the entirely shelved designs for MATSIM a few years ago still feature on the LCE website.  They never even became a planning application. The current proposal is for a very small chunk of the original area – between the bus station that is not now leaving and the back of one ten-storey block of flats from the Clarendon & Ellen Estate that occupies the length of Clarendon Road.  It seems not to be on the LCE website…unless just not spotted.
So who are Bouygues?  French.  Said in recent months chatter to have been favoured by our new CEO, Geoff Raw. Their website has a list of development from a nearly invisible home page link.  Anodyne.  Dull website.

Crest Nicholson/Starr Trust

The grant-making Starr Trust is in it for a permanent role.  That is the main difference.  Bouygues are in/out developers, as are Crest Nicholson. The Starr Trust  is a Hove-based Charitable Grant-making Trust run mainly by Hove-based Insurance Company owner (and lyricist) Rob Starr with his opera-singer brother-in-law, Darren Abrahams.  It seeks out young people in need of financial support for a variety of activities they pursue.  It’s fairy godmother stuff, supporting worthwhile youth development!  They are looking for a permanent on-site involvement which would aim to raise supporting revenue for the Starr Trust.  An arts angle provided initial motivation (which could sit very, very easily within as well as widen the King Alfred offer itself).  Gossip has it this has been chiselled away quite a bit – maybe entirely.  And it would not be called The Lyrics is the word on the street (not from Starr and co).  On the charity’s website there is a chaste static page about “The Lyrics” with no information about the proposal.  Not allowed.
Who are Crest Nicholson?  Same as Bouygues.  Big.  But emphasis is on being housebuilders. With a dull, anodyne corporate website.
Everyone has maintained the Council’s paranoid radio silence on this project.  The world has been entirely shut out with zero public access to any information or consultation.  The original planning brief remains in situ from 2004/5 and it is to be feared that all we can look forward to is tinkering with the details of whatever proposal is chosen.  The fact is, the Karis/Frank Gehry collossus got planning consent and presents an absolute precedent we are trapped by.  It was put there by the last Labour Administration in March 2007.  Expect a monster development – whoever wins the redevelopment contract with BHCC.  We attend events now…and the agenda report with the news…
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