Keith Rossiter: Hoe, Hoe, Hoe – why Plymouth will have the last laugh
A REGULAR and justified complaint from Herald readers is the state of the Hoe foreshore. It is – as everyone says – the jewel in Plymouth's crown and shouldn't be neglected.
The city council would argue, I'm sure, that it has no cash for anything more than tinkering. But sometimes imagination can pick up the slack.
You can't, as the saying goes, make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but fortunately Plymouth's Waterfront is a lot more attractive than any porcine auditory appendage.
A study last year by a team from Plymouth University's School of Architecture looked at how the Waterfront could be developed – and most of it came at very little cost except in terms of imagination.
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Architecture lecturer Simon Bradbury, who led the project, points out there are a lot of vacant buildings and under-used land along the Waterfront, stretching from Royal William Yard in the west to the Barbican Leisure Park in the east, most owned by a handful of organisations.
English Cities Fund is making some slow progress at Millbay, and Sutton Harbour Holdings has announced a major investment that will continue the development of their section of the Waterfront.
"We should start to see all this vacant land and buildings as an asset not a blight and it should be something that can be done relatively quickly. There is no reason to wait around," Simon says.
The old buildings on the Hoe and the arches on Commercial Wharf are ripe for small-scale enterprise.
And, echoing the 2003 "Vision" of Barcelona architect David Mackay, Simon adds: "Connections are critical" – links that allow people to move easily between one area and another.
Robust and sustainable connections – like the now legendary but still phantasmagorical Mackay Boulevard linking Millbay and the city centre – don't come cheap.
But connections can be in the mind as much as underfoot. Mud and miles never kept rock fans away from Glastonbury.
The penny-pinching that killed off this year's Barbican Jazz and Blues Festival was short-sighted. The festival pulled in audiences and performers from a wide area.
We love to compare ourselves unfavourably to cities like Bristol and London. It's true that they have a lot going on – just as Plymouth is a busier place than, say, Modbury. But they also have a lot of dereliction.
A project highlighted in Simon Bradbury's study could apply to Plymouth city centre's growing number of empty shops. A rundown indoor market in Brixton in London was brought back to life when local business start-ups were offered shops rent-free for three months. The market has become Brixton's culinary and cultural hub.
If the Co-op and the council really wants to be co-operative it could use its empty Derrys department store in a similar way.
There is no monopoly on good ideas. When I visited the Hay literary festival last year I was struck by how local people had got in on the act, setting up temporary stalls selling everything from art to artichokes. There must be similar opportunities for pop-up coffee shops in Plymouth's suburbs, at the very least.
PEOPLE (not just in Plymouth) like to complain that "they" – meaning Government/councils/big business – do as they please without caring or consulting.
It's often difficult to disagree. Grand strategies are drawn up by experts in darkened rooms and then put out to "consultation". Draft strategies become final strategies with barely a tweak.
The emerging Plymouth Plan seems to have turned that on its head. The city council's planners are asking the public what they think first, and then drawing up the strategy.
It's a pity that so far there are only 86 responses to a series of 15 questions on the Plymouth Plan consultation page (Google 'Plymouth Plan what's the future').
CITY architect Ian Potts, writing in The Herald's sister paper the Western Morning News, argues that Plymouth is well placed to become a national hub for green energy.
Sooner or later some region will seize the opportunity provided by soaring energy costs, and it would be a shame if we wind up in a decade regretting that we had not moved as quickly as, say, Glasgow.
Last week the council started to market its proposals to develop a major new community in Derriford and Seaton. A new shopping centre and 3,000 houses will be built, along with all the usual community facilities. It will amount to a small town within Plymouth's borders.
The outcome I dread most is that we will get nothing more than another dormitory suburb like Honicknowle or Ernesettle.
The council has the opportunity to demand quality and imagination from developers.
Going along with Mr Potts's argument, the land should be made attractive to eco-builders who could turn it into a true community and a beacon of low-energy highly desirable development.
We may have a housing shortage, but we already have too many bog standard inefficient homes.