Sunday, October 21, 2007

Whitstable Harbour

From The Whitstable Times 27/09/2007:

I’m from Birmingham originally. Not a DFL, a DFB. Down From Birmingham.

When I was a youngster we used to go out to a piece of woodland just outside the city called Chelmsley Wood. Later the area was developed and a large council estate put there (1).

At one point it was the largest council estate in Britain.

It looks like Lucerne Drive (2) but is almost as big as Canterbury, if you can imagine that. Lucerne Drive with Elephantitus.

It was designed and built in the 60s.

It has a town centre with shops and car parks, and a number of pubs. The pubs, of course, have no soul, being all the same, without history or atmosphere, and just being kind of plonked down anywhere as an afterthought.

As the years went by the pubs became increasingly decrepit and nasty. You wouldn’t want to go into a Chelmsley Wood pub without an armed guard. I think that Baghdad is probably safer than a Chelmsley Wood pub on a Saturday night.

The reason I am telling you all of this is that I’m looking at a drawing of a Chelmsley Wood pub right now on the internet. It’s called The Oyster Catcher and is Shepherd Neame’s proposed development plan for Whitstable Harbour (above).

OK, I’m probably exaggerating here. I’m sure that The Oyster Catcher will be sensitively designed and built to take into account the ambience of its surroundings. That is, like every new building in Whitstable these last few years, it will be slapped all over with Kent weatherboarding.

But the question still remains: who on earth thinks that Whitstable is in need of another pub? Whitstable has some of the best pubs in the world. Pubs with real character and real atmosphere, not crude mock-ups plastered with weatherboarding to give them that “authentic” Kent look.

I didn’t manage to get to see the development proposals for Whitstable Harbour when they were on display in the Horsebridge. Fortunately they are still available on the Canterbury City Council website.

So I’m looking at the various options now. Shepherd Neame’s attempt to recapture the spirit of a 60s council estate in the shape of a pub is actually the least objectionable of the proposals.

One of them looks like a spaceship, and another one looks like a circus (3).

I like these architectural drawings. They are exercises in creative fantasy. The design that looks like a spaceship also looks like it about to take off into the wild tumultuous skies.

However I’m puzzled as to why the council thinks the harbour needs developing. I don’t know about you, but I actually like the buildings that are already there.

Crude but functional, you might say, and entirely appropriate for the environment, this being a working harbour. Perhaps a larger version of the very successful market would be more in keeping?

That’s what attracted me to Whitstable in the first place. It is a real living town, not a theme-park parody of itself like Canterbury.

Let’s keep it that way!


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