Issue 60 — July 2006
The wall of Jericho
Residents are incensed by British Waterways’ prison-camp construction
Jericho residents were shocked when early on the morning of May 31st British Waterways (BW) abruptly evicted the people running the DIY Castle Mill boatyard. A squad of police and bailiffs forced the boaters out, while builders erected a strikingly nasty ten-foot-high ‘prison camp’ fence armed with razor wire. And all this in the midst of fruitful negotiations with the boaters who said they would leave peacefully when they had written assurances of an alternative boatyard site.
The eviction was evidently linked to an imminent sale of the land. After they and Bellway Homes had lost their appeal to the Planning Inspectorate, BW again offered the site for sale – but this time the developer would have to take the risk of not getting planning permission. Now their ‘preferred developer’ is Spring Residential – a new subsidiary of Castlemore Holdings which until now has specialized in shopping malls. Spring appear to be an improvement on Bellway. They have, for example, now agreed with the Community Association that if the development goes ahead they will offer sufficient land to enable us to build a new Community Centre. Andrew Wilkins of Spring says: “I don’t want to adopt a heads-down approach. I will be in dialogue with the people of Jericho.” Unfortunately, they are using the same architects who came up with Bellway’s dull, massive and unpopular design. Wilkins says they will give the architects a new brief but that “design is a subjective thing. It will not be possible to please everyone”.
Apart from the design, the other outstanding issue is the boatyard. This has become a national cause celèbre, emblematic of BW’s indifference to their canal heritage. Similar issues have cropped up elsewhere, but have come to a head in Jericho – thanks to a well organized community of residents and boaters and the support of international figures such as Philip Pullman (see his article in this issue). Virtually all the national press and TV channels have come to Jericho.
BW have yet to provide an alternative that satisfies the boaters. One possibility would be to have some form of minor repair operation on the site with the ‘heavy metal’ work being done elsewhere. This can only be delivered by BW. Spring say that they will require “assurances and guarantees” from BW that the alternatives will be in place.
Another element has been introduced into the mix with proposals from a group led by Peter Strong of St. Bernards Road. He has high ambitions for the site. Rather than packing it with mediocre housing he envisages a much more imaginative solution that builds on the Church’s associations with Venice, and Jericho’s with John Ruskin – and could make the site a new attraction for visitors, especially when linked by a canal promenade to a new basin in Hythe Bridge Street. Initial proposals include, for example, a canal inlet that would link with the Community Centre.
BW say that they are too late, since they missed the closed tendering process – to which BW had invited only ‘favoured developers’. But BW could run into legal problems if they sell the site to Spring for less than they could have got elsewhere. Strong says his proposals have attracted widespread support and is talking with the City Council with a view to seeking outline planning permission. Who will pay? “The main thing”, he says, “is to get the ideas across. The funds will come”.
Meanwhile the new ‘wall of Jericho’ has provoked a storm of protest – and yet more press and TV coverage. Residents of St. Barnabas Street, led by Pat Schlueter, organized a meeting in the Church on June 22 attended by around 80 angry residents and boaters. Many argued that it was time to go back to square one and challenge BWs right to develop what ultimately is publicly owned land.
BW are seeking retrospective three-year planning permission for the fence – to be considered at the Area Committee meeting on July 11. A fresh planning application for the site itself, however, is still many months away.