Archived on 6/5/2022

Bell Green Gasometers – A Compromise

30 Apr '18

I draft this compromise proposal with the intent that I will have diligently avoided any criticism of any party’s expressed views or actions. If in reading it you you feel I have failed – please bring it to my attention.

Equally – as you read It and reach an early view that the proposal is as outrageous as the original Kier proposal – please read it to the end and weigh up what I have drafted fully – and consider it in the round.

Some will dislike – if not hate - it, others will say “so what” - and I hope others may say there is merit in it. And just perhaps – some may be converted to its efficacies. Most of all – it is to be hoped that an acceptable compromise can be reached.

It is proposed that either one or two bays of the existing gasometers be salvaged, restored and painted. It is further proposed that the refurbished bay or bays be re-erected on a location on site that should be selected by others with a better aesthetic sense than mine.

The proposal is intended to present an emblematic and iconic representation of the gasholders whilst freeing the site of constraints that prevent the construction of affordable housing at a cost that is acceptable. There is precedent – there is a significant and large piece of artwork present in Phase 3.

Theoretically, that is it – you could stop reading here – however the details and rationale appear below.

The Backgound

The ongoing debate about the historic importance of the Bell Green Gasometers and the conflicted views about their visual amenity – both positive and negative – could drag on interminably and without resolution.

Alternatively – SGN’s demolition agent might soon submit a full blown and complete construction stage Method Statement that will prove to be competent and the demolition will proceed.

It must be noted that Emma Talbot, Head of Planning, stated prior approval IS REQUIRED and NOT GIVEN for the proposed development and that the Council has considered the method of demolition has been determined to be UNACCEPTABLE by virtue of insufficient information She does not invoke the Local Listing – and this may be indicative of the council’s delineated position that the Local Listing carries no weight.

The modified demolition would open up the site and free it from the significant constriction presented by the existence of the gasometers. As converse as it seems, a constraint free housing development – with affordable housing at its core - could be built at reasonable cost.

Alternatively and equally the Council may find funding and provide funding in perpetuity to SGN or a new developer to maintain the gasholders. Thereby the constraints on housing development would remain and drive up unit construction costs.

Having worked with English Heritage (now reformed as Historic England) for a few years, I know that when proposals to Nationally List a property or structure or site are considered, great weight is given by the organisation as to how the proposed listing is to be curated or presented in terms of historic accuracy.

For those of us who lived next to the gasometers, the cycle of the raising and lowering of the bells was their dominant feature so we would be more often than not be presented by a raised grey/sky blue set of bells with a rust belt stain. The idealistic and stylised photography we now see frequently are of the ribs only. The times this view was presented in their operational life was very short in duration. I have reviewed many collections of historic and contemporary pictures and it is only in recent months that pictures of the ribs begin to appear. The historic collections - so far – have virtually no pictures of the gasworks site and none at all of the gasometers. I have found a couple of technical documents attached to planning applications for previous phases at the wider site with one or two pictures. But so far – no more.

The Compromise Proposal

  1. Let the demolition proposal be modified to salvage at least one bay complete, that is two standard/columns/stanchions and sets of trellis girders or two bays complete, that is three standard/columns/stanchions and sets of trellis girders.

  2. Let the modified demolition proposal and site remediation work proceed unhindered.

  3. Let these salvaged materials be fully restored and then treated with a paint system that will minimise maintenance and future re-paint cycles. (Even the Forth Rail Bridge does not now need doing again for 25 years and no longer needs constant repainting.)

  4. Let the restored salvaged material be re-erected on site on a location selected by others with a better aesthetic sense than mine and and help to create an emblematic and iconic representation of the site’s history juxtapositioned with the Livesey Hall.

  5. Let some of the rejected Kier’s proposal be adopted in any new development: restore off-street parking for patrons of the Livesey Hall; restore the traffic management SCOOT proposals; add increase parking restrictions on the Livesey Hall side of Perry Hill to reduce tailbacks thereon; most difficult of all – ask our council to track down where the circa £2m of s106 monies are – and are they still available for works to widen the Southend Lane Bridge. (This could be the hardest task of all to achieve)

The Benefits

  1. A compromise that a majority of our community can support.

  2. A site made ready for a development of affordable housing at unit construction costs that are realistic achieved by avoiding the constraint of having to build around or in the gasometers themselves.

  3. A compromise that creates an emblematic and iconic representation of the site’s history.

  4. A site made available to alleviate the pressure on the Council to meet housing development targets.

  5. A site made available for the improvement of green space issues referred to in the reasons for rejection of the Kier planning application.

  6. A site made available that can have a range of flexible facilties and amenities incorporated within a housing development (play areas, gardens and the like) .

Not a great picture – but you get the idea - just imagine the structure without the lean…