The Society is clear that the poster booths in Howardsgate should never have been sold. This has proved to be a disaster as the entrepreneur who bought them subsequently went bankrupt; and the land on which they are located has now reverted to the Crown Estate. This complicates any proposal about their future.
However, these structures were designed by Louis de Soissons and represent something that is different about the town centre and the Society believes they should be retained for this purpose. The Society is supported in this regard by the Chamber of Commerce.
After some nagging, the Council did finally ask the Society what should be done with these poster booths that have graced the town centre since the fifties.
The Society concluded that there was no point in looking at these structures from a commercial viewpoint as, in its opinion, there was no appreciable commercial return that could be had from these structures other than scrap metal. So we suggested to the Council that this avenue should not be pursued any further. We also said that these structures had no sale value other than a nominal one as we suspected that their removal cost, and restoration of the pavement, would exceed their scrap value.
We suggested to the Council that their use should be altered so that their servicing, in terms of loading the four faces with material from time to time, is eliminated as this is extremely costly. True, it might have been possible to find some hard working individual in the community who might have been willing to do this for community use but frankly, after the first flush of enthusiasm, we felt this too would soon expire.
So we proposed that the four faces be removed and replaced in such a way that the form and bulk of the poster booths remains the same. We see the altered four faces then replaced with four separate “interpretation” boards highlighting the following:
- A town map highlighting Parkway and Howardsgate as well as the town centre; and
- A statement about the town in terms of its importance in terms of architectural and urban design; and
- A statement about Ebenezer Howard and Louis de Soissons that link into the history of the town; and
- Some statement that explains the brief history of the place and what this town is about.
If the structures are to remain exactly where they are, then there is a case for having up to eight different faces to these structures and the Society indicated that it would be happy to talk to the Council about these. However, we suggested that one could be usefully moved towards a location between the Howard Centre and John Lewis – future planning of this area permitting – and we think that the best spot would be between the Natwest and Nationwide buildings.
The outcome that we then see is one where structures designed by Louis de Soissons are not just retained but used to shout about the place – something we think is lacking in the town centre.
The Society has discussed the matter with the Louis de Soissons Partnership and they agree that it would be a disaster if these structures were lost to the town. Indeed, the Society thinks that many would regard their loss as an act of vandalism.