Adam Bird


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Sunday, 20 February 2011

Regeneration, not a Grave End


Gravesend is currently in the beginnings of a major transformation. Both the 'civic quarter' and 'transport quarter' are being redeveloped as part of a multi-million pound regeneration scheme, which will eventually see a new one-way traffic system, a new bus terminus, a vastly improved train station and much improved pedestrian areas and access routes. However, if Gravesham Council had their way, the redevelopment wouldn't stop there.

Last year, plans for Gravesend's 'heritage quarter' were rejected. These plans, put together by developer Edinburgh House included new housing, a new public square, a children's play area and enhancement of the river to include better walkways and garden areas. Also included in the grand masterplan was a controversial 32 storey residential block, which proved to be the cause of much upset and discussion amongst local residents.

As long time readers of this blog will know, I was quite forthright in my condemnation of the planned Ebbsfleet Landmark, going as far as appearing on the BBC's Politics Show to make my feelings known. The plans however were permitted, but work is yet to begin on actually building the 50m horse that was eventually chosen as the winning design.

Why then, would I take such a staunch stance over one project, but take the opposite view on something else? Particularly when I'm now having opposing views to the people who were supporting me against the Ebbsfleet Landmark?

A stones throw from my house sits a pub, The Old Prince of Orange, which until earlier this week I learnt was actually, the second pub on it's current site. The original (below) was knocked down and replaced in 1933.

The Old Prince of Orange (Original)

In it's place a new pub was built:

The Old Prince of Orange (Feb 2011)

What would a coach driver in the 1850's have said if you'd have told him that his regular watering hole, which he had stopped off on his way back from Rochester each day for the past twelve years would be knocked down 80 years from now, and that a new, bigger, more modern building would be built over the top of it and would last for another 80 years and possibly many more?

Would he have complained? Would he have written a letter to the land owner and said that modern people should leave well alone and that his pub had been around since 1633? That the new plans were a disgrace and were not considerate to the towns history, that we need to keep an old, decrepit, falling down building for the sake of keeping the town's character?

Or would he have been proud, that his pub was going to be rebuilt, that it would last another 300 years, would have another 300 years worth of stories, lives and laughter's under it's all modern new roof?

I discovered the Gravesend Yesturyear [sic] Facebook group, which contains a fascinating collection of photographs from down the years, including the one I have used above. Many of the photograph's show the town centre, a vibrant, busy, economic centre where local people used to work, shop and play.

But times change, societies change and as horrible as reality is, town centres no longer serve that purpose any more. Bluewater, Lakeside, Hemstead Valley and other out of town, purpose built shopping centres were the death knoll for small towns like Gravesend. Dartford, Strood, Chatham and Gillingham, all places modernly labelled, quite openly as “shit holes”. The first opportunity Gravesham Borough council get to regenerate and rebuild the town centre into something more modern, more suitable for twenty-first century living people start complaining, protesting and campaigning "save our town". Sorry chaps, but the town has long been lost anyway. The Gravesend of our youth is not the Gravesend of now.

I have my own memories going into town on a Saturday afternoon, pick'n'mix from Woolies and off to the cinema to see a film with friends from school, all unsupervised. Parents knew where we were and quite happy to leave us to our own devices and I'm only 30, fairly young in the grand scheme of things. People older than I, will have those memories and a lot more besides.

But whilst nostalgia is a wonderful thing, we shouldn't let it cloud our judgement. There is nothing I would like more than to see the Gravesend cinema rebuilt back to it's former glory, but it's unlikely to happen (the cinema itself is no longer there, all that's left is it's boarded up fa├žade). Would rebuilding it serve the best interests of the town, or to satisfy my own dreams of days gone by?

Yes, the 32 storey residential block was perhaps a step too far, but the rest of the scheme, all things considered was an opportunity for our town to take a step forward, instead of looking two steps back. Gravesend used to once serve a purpose, but like many a town, it's fallen under a dark cloud. Immigration and anti-social behaviour, graffiti, spitting, foul language, will still be there no matter what the town looks like. But if the town is allowed to fall further into disrepair and we continue to allow it to be neglected, it will only ever get worse.

Anything of historical importance, the library, the pier are already being fondly restored. People moan about sight-lines and preserving the views, but really?! What views? Ours? Of Tilbury, of a power station and the ships that sail into Tilbury docks? Or those of said sailor's looking over to us? What would you rather look at? A collection of architecturally contrasting 1990's riverside apartments with a backdrop of a 1970's shopping centre and an intriguing church building which speaks of an older historical significance?

Or would you rather see a fresh, revitalised town, that looks 'just built', a new town, planned for a new generation, with dotted elements of history, the church, the pier, the odd pub or two. A town that evolves with time and pays careful consideration to what came before it. I know what town I'd prefer.


knstaxis said...

Id just like to say, how i enjoyed reading your blog and although you basicaly say , its time to rengenerate the town, it is and it isnt..we say yes to making it a much pleasant nicer place to visit , shop and live , but no becoming what the council really want, and that is a town full of flats that will generate council tax for them and become a commuter town.
regeneration of shops new and old in the town is what we need to rebuild our town..
other towns have markets in there main roads to try and bring in more shoppers from other towns .
The new one way system they are currently building in this town is also a white elephant...more buisnesses will fail because you will not be able to drive near and drop elderly or disabled family members off outside the doors....
Im all for regeneration. but not the way that the council and the owners of the st georges centre and the thamesgate centre ( E/borough Hse want...

Adam Bird said...

@knstaxis, thank you very much for the comment. Really glad that you enjoyed the post.

I think that if you asked everyone who currently lives in Gravesend now the question "does the town centre need to be regenerated?" almost every single person would say or even shout "YES!".

Ask everyone how they would go about it, they would all suggest different things.

The important part is, that the council are, to their credit trying to do something, albeit as you say for monetary gain.

Do we need to build more shops and places for business? No, not really. Not when people would prefer to visit Bluewater just up the road.

In my opinion, we just need to tidy and smarten the place up, just like Maidstone with the Fremlin Walk development and Canterbury which is carefully marrying history with contemporary business/living needs.

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