Contamination fears for Birchall Garden Suburb site

The Society has long been critical of the plan to build up to 2,550 homes on the proposed Birchall Garden Suburb site. Well over 1,000 of those homes are destined for the edge of the former Holwell Hyde/Cole Green landfill tip. The waste site operated from 1920 to 1990 according to the Environment Agency, who also state that every category of waste (as defined by the EA) is recorded as being present.

Our previous paper on the subject “What Lies Beneath” is available on this website and here, in October last year we again outlined our concerns about the development in a letter to WHBC which is available here.

Recent developments however have prompted us to issue a comprehensive Press Release on the matter. The Society is very concerned about what appears to be a very flawed process whereby an extremely important document, highly critical of the previous land contamination surveys initiated by the land owner, were kept out of the public domain until we made a specific Freedom of Information request. This also meant that the Planning Inspector currently examining the feasibility of this site was unaware of this comprehensive critique at his hearing on the 30th January.

Please read our new Press Release for further details. We believe this raises several serious concerns, including the fact that potentially dangerous levels of ground gas have been allowed to vent to the air unchecked, in the area behind Thistle Grove.

DOWNLOAD OUR PRESS RELEASE HERE

May 13th 2018.

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Shredded Wheat planning application

The main planning application for the redevelopment of the Shredded Wheat site can be found HERE.

The Society has now submitted it’s own responses into the consultation, they can be downloaded by clicking on the following link: WGC Society SW Response 620180171MAJ

Of the many documents  submitted for this application those below are informative and give a good overview of the proposed plans:

6-2018-0171-MAJ_planning_Delivering the Wheat Quarter [Final]

6-2018-0171-MAJ_planning_ES Vol 1 Main Text – Former Shredded Wheat Factory, WGC(1)

6-2018-0171-MAJ_planning_20180111 Welwyn Garden City TA_RF_V2 (text only)(1)

6-2018-0171-MAJ_planning_P0-010_P2 – Site Phasing Plan

6-2018-0171-MAJ_planning_2018 02 06_Shredded Wheat Affordable Housing Statement [FINAL]

The WHBC states the consultation period for this runs until the 29th March.  Submissions can still be after that date however. We would urge residents to have a look at the key documents at least, and submit their own comments about the Plutus Estates proposals. The scale and density of this proposal is unlike anything else we have in the Garden City. The development would remain largely in private hands with the estate being managed by a separate entity unconnected to the Borough or County Councils.

Aeriel view from planning documents

The developers document  “Delivering the Wheat Quarter” contains the following summary:

“Creation of a mixed-use quarter comprising the erection of up to 1,340 residential dwellings including 414 (31%) affordable dwellings(Use Class C3); 114 extra care homes (Use Class C2); the erection of a civic building comprising 494 sq.m of health (Use Class D1), 494 sq.m of community use (Use Class D1), 1,232 sq.m of office (Use Class B1) and 646 sq.m of retail (Class A1/A2/A3/A4/A5); alterations, additions and change of use of Grade II Listed Building and retained Silos to provide 5,096 sq.m of flexible business floorspace (Use Class B1), 265 sq.m Combined Heat and Power (Sui Generis), 2,494 sq.m International Art Centre (Use Class D1),1,226 sq.m Gymnasium (Use Class D2), 1,576 sq.m of restaurant/coffee shop/bar (Use Class A1/A3/A4/A5), Creche/Day Nursery of 644 sq.m as well as a Network Rail TOC Building of 364 sq.m; plus associated car parking, access, landscaping, public art and other supporting infrastructure.”

View from the ground level taken from the developer’s application

The Society committee is attempting to review this large collection of documents, we plan to submit comments into the application consultation when we have managed to do so. We are concerned that there is a lot to do in a short space of time.

 

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Sherrardswood Park Walks for 2018

The Sherrardswood Park Wood Wardens Society have been in touch with us to raise awareness of their forthcoming programme of walks for 2018, please see the details below. They say “We ask for a donation of £3.00 per adult (under 15’s free). Walks start from the Pentley Park entrance, near Templewood School, unless advised otherwise. Dogs should be on leads at all times please. Remember to wear suitable. For enquiries and pre-booking telephone 01707 892172.” They also have a contact form on their website here.

You can find our more about the Society on their website here: http://sherrardsparkwoodwardens.org.uk/

The schedule of walks is below, the WGC Society is happy to support this longstanding local Society.

SUNDAY 25th MARCH 2018, 2.00pm. ”BEFORE SHERRARDSPARK WOOD – THE ROCKS BENEATH THE TREES”

An Introduction to the Geology of Sherrardspark Wood. With Nikki Edwards, Wood Warden.

SATURDAY 21st APRIL 2018, 8.00am. ”SPRING BIRD WALK”

With Geoff Ralph, Wood Warden. Bring binoculars, keep dogs on lead and under full control at all times.

SATURDAY 28th APRIL 2018, 2.00pm. – ”COWSLIPS AND BLUEBELLS” With Neale Holmes-Smith, Environmentalist and Wood Warden.

SUNDAY 6th MAY 2018. ”WOODLAND PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BEGINNERS & IMPROVERS” With David Foster, Photographer. Limited numbers. Please pre-book for start details.

SUNDAY 3rd JUNE 2018. – ”YOU CAN’T SEE THE WOOD FOR THE TREES” An art walk, some drawing experience necessary, with Chris Phillips, Artist and Teacher.

Limited numbers. Please pre-book for start details.

SUNDAY 24th JUNE 2018 11.00am. – ”FORAGING IN THE WOOD FOR FOOD AND MEDICINE”

With Mary Barton, Medical Herbalist and Health Coach.

SATURDAY 7th JULY 2018. – ”FLOWERS & BUTTERFLIES OF THE MEADOW”

Bring a picnic and learn to recognise some common meadow flowers & butterflies. With Neale Holmes-Smith, Environmentalist & Wood Warden. Limited numbers. Please pre-book for start details.

SATURDAY 21st July 2018, 2.00pm. – ”SUMMER BUG WALK”

With Dan Asaw. Bring a hand lens and clear plastic pot if possible.

SATURDAY 11th AUGUST 2018, 2.00pm. – ”DO YOU KNOW YOUR WOODLAND TREES?”

With Neale Holmes-Smith, Environmentalist and Wood Warden.

SATURDAY 20th OCTOBER 2018. – ”Fungal Foray” With Chris James, Landscape & Ecology Officer, Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council.’ Limited Numbers. Please pre-book.


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Shredded Wheat Demolition

In recent weeks we’ve watched  areas of the former Shredded Wheat factory site be razed and cleared. This week they’ve begun nibbling away at the silos, surely one of the most iconic and certainly one of the oldest structures in the town. Judging from the comments on social media many residents are unhappy about it, a lot of memories are tied to that site. To mark the event, here are a few pictures and notes about the site and its history.

SW Silos demolition 180118 1280 closeup

Shredded Wheat Factory Silos being demolished on the 18th January 2018.

The new owners, Plutus Estates, are demolishing only the sections of the site that were given demolition consent, as part of the outline planning consent that was previously granted to Spenhill (Tesco) by WHBC in 2015. Plutus Estates will soon submit an entirely new planning application for their own proposals, this is expected to be significantly different to the Spenhill plan that was approved. The silos were/are grade 2 listed according to Heritage England, you can find their listing entry here: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1101084

The 2015 planning consent stated the following:

“Part demolition, repair, restoration, extension and conversion of the former Shredded Wheat factory complex to include demolition of all buildings and structures except the original 1920’s silos, production hall, grain store and boiler house. Refurbishment and change of use of the retained listed buildings to provide2 Class C3 residential units, a Class C1 boutique/budget hotel, Class B1(a) offices, a Class A4 pub/bar, a Class D1 crèche and a Class D2 gym/dance/exercise studio.”

It is unknown whether the boutique, gym, etc will be part of the new planning application, but the above does allow for the demolition of the newer silos and some of the newer buildings on the site. The original silos will remain however. The below picture shows which these are, based on what we’ve been told by the new developer.

 

Shredded Wheat silos

How these silos will be separated in coming weeks will be interesting to see, presumably it is an engineering challenge that can be overcome.

The original set of silos were built not long after the main building was completed in 1926. The second set, now being demolished, were completed in the late 1930’s.
Cereal production ceased in January 2008, after 73 years. The factory is of course synonymous with town, for a while one of the nations favourite breakfast cereals was branded ‘Welgar” Shredded Wheat.

The second set of silos under construction in the 1930’s.

The 20th Century Society put forward the building as one of their top 100 buildings of the last 100 years. It is described thus:

“My choice is Louis de Soissons’ 1926 complex for Nabisco, the Shredded Wheat factory.  The ranked silos and spreading sheds alongside the railway track in Welwyn Garden City have always fascinated me, glimpsed almost kinetically from the train windows.  American companies, drawn by innovation, were quicker off the mark to move into Ebenezer Howard’s radical ‘cities’ (another example being Spirella at Letchworth, built 1912-20). Here, long before I’d learned that le Corbusier had published the grain stores of the American Midwest prairies as the epitome of modern form following function, was an anglicised version, a cathedral in a leafy Beaux-Arts planned town.”  – Gillian Darley. Original article available here.

 

The factory can even be seen on the box!

Nabisco (National Biscuit Company) was founded in the USA in about 1898. It expanded into the UK in the 1920’s. Nabisco was sold to Kraft foods in early 90’s, soon after Cereal Partners was formed as a joint venture between Nestlé and General Mills.  They ran the factory which by that time also produced Shreddies and Bran Flakes. Who can forget the malty wholesome smell of baking that often drifted across the town centre! Cereal Partners moved cereal production to Staverton in Wiltshire in 2008, where it remains today. However their head office, marketing, sales and finance are still in the town, opposite the factory site in fact. Spenhill, the development arm of Tesco, then bought the vacant site from Cereal Partners for something in excess of £20 million, or so it is rumoured.

Interesting Shredded Wheat trivia: The factory ovens were 100ft long and each biscuit weighs 22.5 grams, could you eat three?

 

 

Early promotional poster

The Society looks forward to scrutinising the planning application soon to be submitted by the new owners. This site has the potential to once again be a landmark development for our town, a visual, economic and social asset…rather than the unkempt decaying eyesore we’ve had to endure for the last decade.

 

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Happy New Year

Only two years until the centenary of our town!

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Recent school visit

The Society is happy to visit schools and local groups to talk about what we aim to achieve as a local civic group, and of course discuss the town, past, present and future as part of the discourse. Two of our committee volunteers, Steve and Elahe recently visited about 50 Sixth Formers at Sir Frederic Osborne school and were pleased to talk to them for about an hour.  Young people tend to be the best activists, we emphasised the Society’s passion, zeal and activities in engaging with the local community, the Borough Council, and others. Their reaction was encouraging. They agreed that, if they stopped and thought about it, they appreciated the town’s benefits, including its high environmental quality, and would not like that to be compromised.

The Society would like to thank Lorraine Koupis for inviting us to visit to the school. As a Society we are always happy to speak to local schools and groups, if you know a local group who may be interested in a speaker visit please email us wgcsociety@live.com.

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Let it snow…

A flurry of snow overnight this weekend engulfed our town in white on Sunday. Many people were out enjoying the views, and having fun, although the town centre was very quiet for a pre-Christmas weekend. Probably due to heavy congestion on the roads as a result of the downfall. Below is a photo of Howardsgate on Sunday afternoon:

We took this snap of one creative local family standing proudly beside their snowman in Howardsgate. They were happy for us to share a photograph of their handy work here on the site.Howardsgate, Welwyn Garden City

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Plans for the Shredded Wheat site

 

A poster still on the wall inside the factory.

The new site owners recently held an exhibition of their  draft plans and vision for the site in the Howard Centre, in advance of a new planning application for the site in the near future. Society members attended the event to find out more. The Society was also given a detailed tour of the factory site by the developers ZM Land and Capital and Marengo Communications. Several committee members attended and found it very informative. The developers are clearly passionate and well informed about the factory site, they clearly want to create a new destination attraction for the town.

Shredded Wheat site

Site entrance on Hydeway

Inside the factory it was also very clear that it’s in a very poor state of repair. Apparently there has already been a huge amount of work done, including removing all the pigeon poo, in order to make it safe to enter. It appeared that the previous owner Tesco/Spenhill had done very little to maintain the interior while they owned it. The Society is following developments closely and will evaluate the new proposals when they are made public. The developers have a new website outlining their plans, it be found here:

http://thewheatquarter.co.uk

We are told there will be an onsite exhibition of their plans in the factory building early in the new year. Meanwhile the demolition of the unlisted parts of the site that have demolition consent is now underway. We understand that this will include half of the silos that were a later addition and are in a more dilapidated state of repair than the original silos.

The Society decide and refine its position on the new plans as more detail emerges. We are sure all residents we will want to see the current dilapidation halted, and the eyesore status that the site has taken on ended. The ambitious plans for the factory site are encouraging, but there are questions about the plans for the rest of the site, such as the density of housing and the flats only, no houses approach. The railway bridge is to be refurbished but not replaced, and how will parking and traffic flows be accommodated in the new design. Will the plans fit in the WHBC’s Masterplan for the site which was produced before Spenhill acquired the site? These matters and many others should be addressed in detail within the developers application. This is obviously a landmark development for the town and we want it to be appropriate for the own and a successful endeavour. The original Tesco/Spenhill development plans were not appropriate and failed as a result. Their modified plan, without a large store, did gain consent. That included 850 homes,  but with few affordable/social housing dwellings.  The Society will keep a close eye on matters as things progress in coming months. The new developers do seem to be in listening mode and are keen to engage with local residents and groups, that is welcomed.

Below are a few pictures we took during our recent tour of the site:

Newer Production Hall (Will be demolished)

 

Original Production Hall (Will be kept)

The pipework underneath silo 1.

 

Sign on silo wall entrance

 

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“Planned Town” a film about WGC from 1949

We just wanted to point visitors with an interest in our town’s history to this wonderful eleven minutes of nostalgia from the East Anglian Film Archive. It has been available for some time, but now has a properly synchronised soundtrack which is believed to be a narration by no less than Louis De Soissons, the town’s chief architect.

You can find this cinematic gem from a bygone era here: http://www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/2503

At a time of rationing,  bomb sites and austerity, not long after the war had ended, how attractive the town must have appeared to those watching the film in London, or other cities similarly blighted by  war and still recovering.

 

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Heritage Fair stall last Saturday

Thank you to all those who stopped by our stall at the Heritage Fair on Saturday to share their thoughts about the town and find out more about what we do.

Welwyn Garden City Heritage Fair photo

Mayor Lynne Sparks visiting our stall, alongside Steve, Elahe and Will from the Society.

We were delighted to hear from so many who shared our passion for our Garden City. We had a number of new members join on the day which was great. Congratulations to the Fair’s organisers and the other groups attending. The event demonstrated that many people are passionate and interested in the history of Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield.  The event space in the Howard Centre worked very well with a constant stream of people visiting the various stalls throughout the day.

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