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Castle Street, ex Aviva

The Salisbury Journal has seen a lot of negative comments about the McCarthy & Stone proposals for retirement flats in Castle Street and Endless Street, but the Civic Society has welcomed them, though with some caveats.

Its Development Committee was shown two versions of the scheme, in visits by the architect late last year and early this year. The first version attempted to look like a traditional Georgian street scene, but failed to be in any way convincing because there were, for instance, no doors. These are inward looking flats, all accessed from an entrance in Endless Street.

Furthermore, new Georgian-style developments in Salisbury usually fall lamentably short of original examples, because of a lack of commitment to quality of materials and detailing. The Civic Society’s response to what it first saw of the scheme was to encourage the architects to take a more contemporary approach.

Despite alarmist comments in the paper about prisons and workhouses, the core of the second version, which has now received planning permission, is actually a fairly conventional and familiar terrace-type treatment, but with quite a lot of trouble taken to avoid a bland neo-Georgian feel, and make it potentially something more interesting. There are some neat bits of brick detailing, and downpipes recessed into channels down the brickwork, rather than just planted on the surface as an afterthought, both of which should certainly enhance the effect. Published depictions of the scheme generally fail to fully convey the thought which has gone into these aspects of it.

Unlike the first version, there are now communal areas along Castle Street, with larger shop-type windows, to create buildings which have some visual interaction with the street, rather than just turning their backs on it. In addition to the Civic Society, and the council’s own specialists, Historic England (formerly English Heritage) have broadly welcomed the scheme, with caveats about the choice of bricks being critical to final success.

This point, and the question of whether the architect’s intentions will be fully incorporated into the scheme when it starts to be built, under the usual commercial pressures, is the reason why the Society’s welcome comes with some caveats. As soon as permission was given, we asked McCarthy & Stone whether the architect would be retained right through to the end of the build process. It is far from uncommon for an architect only to be involved up to the point where approval comes from the planners, with execution then in other hands. McCarthy & Stone told us that the architect would indeed continue to be involved, which is a hopeful sign.

Whether the current emphasis on retirement housing in Salisbury is a healthy one in the long term is another question, but at least this example, if carried out with real commitment, should make a refreshing contemporary change from the more usual lame ‘traditional’ approach, which if anything devalues our genuine historic buildings.

11.10.2017