I’ve just got back from a quick visit to the Weymouth peninsula development consultation at the council offices on Commercial Road. I had a long conversation with Martin Hamilton the director in charge of the development which was very helpful. I think this can be great for Weymouth’s future but we are at a critical stage.
Martin told me the buildings had not been designed yet (and he wasn’t holding a torch for the ones in the artists impression that has been widely distributed) – so there is hope! This news means that, potentially, there is a gig going for the creative design of these buildings. I mentioned The Cloud on Auckland harbourside to Martin and seeing as he said he’d be looking to see what I write, this is The Cloud Martin (image by Nick-D (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons).
It was designed as a social hub for the rugby world cup and contains flexible space that can used in multitudes of ways. It was meant to be temporary, a bit like The Dome in London at the turn of the millennium but people liked it so much it has stayed. You can get a 360 degree virtual tour.
So, these leisure spaces that Martin says will be flexible to allow for changes of tenant/use over time (“Leisure is a fashion industry now” – M. Hamilton) will be very important to the future of the peninsula development and the town.
There is a building on the plan called the Harbour/Education building. When asked if it would be just for harbour/fishing related education Martin said “It would be crazy if it wasn’t in use 24/7”. By that I understood him to mean that it is envisaged that it would be used by lots of different groups. Which we at #Weyforward really support and have been advocating for years for this development but facilities will need to be comfortable, connected (to the internet), friendly and affordable.
I asked about areas for open air concerts and market space/pop up shops and Martin said space down the quayside with the harbour could be used for markets/pop-ups but he didn’t seem keen on a dedicated space for markets. I suggested the “flexible space” in the leisure unit might be good for it at times but he didn’t seem to like that suggestion.
I didn’t see a playground either…parents with kids playing create convivial public spaces. And not much green space…why can’t the car park have a grass roof, so a park on top?!
We agreed that those who don’t want hotels on the basis that we already have lots of guest houses and hotels are missing the point that if there are facilities that attract conferences then the conference hotels on site will often require overspill and then guest houses will get business, more business, and most probably at times when they don’t have existing summer trade.
Asked about the sustainability features of the development, I mentioned solar and that Weymouth is the third sunniest place in the UK, he said “I expect that to be integral to any design in this day and age” – good, and then agreed with me that if renewables and sustainability were not at the core of this development it would be a missed opportunity.
But he didn’t think it was wise to have places locals could hangout without spending money and seemed to want every centimetre of space to be earning income. I pointed out that in winter it could be a ghost town if the locals didn’t have repeated reasons to go there and found it comfy. He wasn’t convinced. Yes, of course, a development needs to be be financially viable but that doesn’t mean every speck of floor needs to be sold. Some spaces will command higher prices if there is a good regular crowd using public space nearby.
I asked if the flexible leisure units would have short lets for touring and one-off events and he wanted them to be longer term leases. I guess his “leisure is fashion” and my focus on temporary events and the desire not to have unpaid for space is one of those unknowns and hopefully there will be a balance. But if you only have long term, capital intensive leisure operations using the space you will be missing out on one of the creative stepping stones to sustaining and growing a viable local business from scratch with little investment, a process that, when stimulated, has been proven to transform struggling local economies. And shouldn’t this development really be all about the local economy, how we, the residents of Weymouth & Portland will learn, live and work in the digital and automated age, not only about some leisure and hospitality leases. It needs to be a place we locals use to improve ourselves by employing ourselves when we have an idea that gets traction.
So, the key to this space entering the hearts of locals and visitors alike will be if people find it attractive, interesting, useful, like to hangout there…and maybe even…essential. By that I mean that it should provide them with opportunities to earn and grow not just spend. Making everything a rent paying operation could be a bit simplistic and, to be honest, a bit 20th century. It will need its own sense of “place” to survive and prosper.
My gut feeling is, as I have said many times to anyone involved who will listen, that there needs to be a seriously good creative focus to this project in terms of the use of space, both commercial and public so that they help and support each other, and also that the flexible spaces that are built should be highly attractive, even distinctive and space should be available to all comers so that any group, society or company that wants to hire some space for an event, however small, should be able to do so. It needs to be eclectic, surprising, social and comfortable. Those are tricky things to get right if you haven’t bought into the idea that good design more than pays for itself in the long term. I really hope that we get some buildings and spaces that we can all fall in love with and make the focus of our social and working lives. It needs to be real and it needs to be part of the community, a destination where people meet, work, eat, drink, relax, educate each other, get entertained and have fun. For the size of it and its location all of those things should be achievable. But the alchemy required to make the whole greater than the sum, again, that sense of place, is where we as a community need to demand that quality creative design is employed now so that this thing really hangs together and is as good as it can possibly be.
If you agree with my view do please share this and tell others to share it with the council. I think we, the community of Weymouth & Portland have a chance to make this something we will love to visit all the time, because that, surely, will be the key to its success. But we will need to combine all of our persuasive elements to encourage the appropriate and timely use of quality creative expertise to fashion it. Time is of the essence, which is great because we all want this happen. So let’s get together and make it happen. We, the people, are Weymouth & Portland.
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