Tag Archives: South Drive Harwell

Heritage to be Razed, Local Opposition Airbrushed

The following formed part of my objection to the planned demolition of South Drive. It was received by the council on 25th February:

“There is nowhere in the county quite like South Drive: a 1936 colonial-style Air Ministry development of mellow red brick, garden bays and sash windows,retaining its original road-layout and situated on chalk downland in an area of outstanding natural beauty. South Drive houses are among the oldest surviving parts of this former airbase.

No.8 South Drive, Sir John Cockroft s former residence, should be considered historically important in relation to the development of the site. The bomber station’s first CO decreed that the station should take the name of whichever parish his house was situated in: thus it was that RAF Harwell is what the UKAEA inherited in 1946, rather than RAF Chilton.” 

I was not the only North Drive objector to raise the soviet hammerheritage value of South Drive as a reason to not destroy it.  Yet here is the planning officer’s summary of our neighbourhood objections:

“3.3 Representations from local residents
– A total of 13 representations had been received at the time of writing this report, of which 11 object and 2 consider that there is not enough information submitted. The objections made are on the grounds of the following concerns:

•Loss of landscape setting and open character of the site
•Increased traffic generation and appropriate parking
provision
•Adverse impact on wildlife, particularly bats
•Impact of construction on routes to the site
•Loss of privacy and of existing residential amenity

So when,  in Section 6.20, Heritage Assets, we are told:
” The proposal has no heritage assets within the site or within the surrounding area. The submission has not identified any heritage asset that is identifiable in the local area that would be subject to any adverse impact from this proposal.

… it is as if no-one had any other view.

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Feb 2013: Objections to the South Drive re-development proposal

This post may be updated if and when  appropriate. If you have info that you think will be of general interest then please add your comment.

Feb 16 2013_0658_edited-1Thanks to Holly Spence for forwarding the following example letters of objection. These are downloadable from the links below.

New Harwell Doc

Objection to South Drive HS

I might add that the largest South Drive house, Sir John Cockroft’s former residence, can be considered historically important in relation to the development of the site. The bomber station’s first CO decreed that the airbase should take the name of whichever parish his house was situated in: thus it was that RAF Harwell is what the UKAEA inherited in 1946, rather than RAF Chilton. (Source: Nick Hance, 2006, Harwell: The Enigma Revealed)

For the full horrors of what’s being planned for our area, the list of documents relating to Goodman’s application is on the VWHDC site here. This is also the page to access the comment facility for your objections. So I think I’d better give it a bigger link. Here then is a nice big red objection-button, linking straight to the form:

NO THANK YOU, I DON’T WANT TO SEE THOSE LOVELY SOUTH DRIVE HOUSES DEMOLISHED AND, NO, I DON’T WANT GOODMAN PLC TO PLONK A SMALL TOWN WHERE THE TREE-LINED AVENUES USED TO BE.

Get ’em rolling in. Deadline for objections is 27th Feb.

Update! 19/2/13

Natural England object:

“Natural England objects to this proposal, as we consider that the scale of the proposal is likely to adversely affect the purpose for which the North Wessex Downs AONB has been designated.
The level of housing provision within an AONB should be directly related to the need for housing in that area. This application shows no justification for the need for 120 houses at Harwell.”

Vale and South Oxon Countryside Officer’s initial statement:

“Following my initial review of the submitted information I have contacted RPS the Ecological consultancy who prepared the ecological reports to request
further information regarding the extent and distribution of White Helleborine
across the application site. The site has been found to support a nationally
important population of this endangered plant and it is therefore important to
fully understand the impacts of the proposals before determining the planning
application.”

Meanwhile,  Thames Valley Police acceptance appears to be available on receipt of a  new car.

“Having undertaken a qualitative examination of the scheme and the impact of the policing the Local Police Area Commander has requested a contribution of £21,259. The contribution represents a pooled contribution towards the provision of a new marked PCSO vehicle to serve the site and surrounding area.”

Would the proposed development not be served by site police then? Like wot we are…?

November 2012

A glossy sheet of A5 has been plopped through our letterboxes this evening. In four short paragraphs we learn that Goodman are due to make a planning application for “approximately 125” houses on a site identified only as “South Drive”. The application will be made in December, with an exhibition for we likely-objectors on Tuesday 13th November in the cricket pavilion [4PM-8PM].

Immediate thoughts:

Are we expected to breathe a collective sigh of relief that the figure “400” has been replaced by “approximately 125”? Many of us were suspicious of the 400 figure when it was reported – an extremely high density of housing to try plonking on a relatively small and mostly never-developed area in an AONB. And/or is the 125 houses just Phase 1 of something even bigger?

Perhaps they’ve rightly considered the legal problems of access from our private estate roads…

What do you think? Reply below.

UKAEA Harwell Housing: a short history

Don’t Mention The War

With the country preparing for war against an expansionist-minded Germany, the estates were constructed in 1936 by builder John Laing on behalf of the Air Ministry, as part of the nascent RAF Harwell. The simple modern 2-bed terraced and 3-bed semi-detached North Drive houses were designated as married quarters for the ratings, whilst the elegantly proportioned Colonial style detached houses on tree-lined South Drive, with their garden bays and sash windows, were reserved for officers.

RAF Harwell became operational as a bomber station in 1937 and, in the early years of the war, Wellington bombers of No. 38 Group took off from here for bombing raids over Bremen, Essen and Cologne. In 1944 the base was reallocated to No. 30 Group, whose Albemarles towed the Horsa gliders that would drop the first wave of troops from 6th Airborne Division onto the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. Our houses served as some of these men’s final billets for the few days before departure on the night of June 5th, as documented in Nick Hance’s excellent book Harwell: The Enigma Revealed, which also relates eyewitness testimony from one of the many Luftwaffe bombing raids on the airfield.

With the Luftwaffe finally swatted in 1945 and, following RAF Harwell’s brief post-war period as Transport Command,  the land was transferred to the Ministry of Supply and, under their auspice, the UKAEA was formed on 1st January 1946. The RAF housing stock was inherited and, augmented by the construction of 200 prefabricated bungalows on the south and west sides of the site, followed by 12 new houses on Severn Road and an additional terrace of 4 houses on South Drive, were let to employees of the new facility. UKAEA also built estates in Wantage and Abingdon so as to avoid the creation of a new town at Harwell and ran their own distinctive fleet of blue buses, providing a subsidised commuter service from neighbouring areas.

Prefabria

AIROH B2 Aluminium Bungalow. Image: National Museum of Wales

The Aldfield and Chilton prefabs were Type B2 Aluminium Bungalows designed by the Aircraft Industries Research Organisation for Housing [AIROH]; itself charged with turning surplus aircraft manufacturing capacity over to address the urgent national housing shortage, as identified by the Housing Act of October 1944. The bungalows weighed nine tons each and were brought to the site by lorry in four pre-assembled sections, which were then lowered onto their concrete base by crane. A gang of German PoWs assisted with the on-site assembly.

The National Museum of Wales at St. Fagans have restored one of the few remaining AIROH B2s, relocated from Cardiff. They have a page of interior photographs here.

The last prefabs on Chilton Field were demolished in the mid 1980s and, since demolition, the land has been unused. On the western Aldfield estate, several concrete prefab bases are still extant, along with the occasional period artefact buried in the undergrowth.

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Flogging the Family Silver

By the end of the 1980s, UKAEA no longer needed a housing-stock of its own to attract employees from afar so the North Drive and Severn Road houses, along with the UKAEA houses in Wantage and Abingdon, were sold to sitting tenants and a housing association. The South Drive houses were retained but tenancies were not renewed when their occupants moved on; the houses being boarded-up one by one as they fell empty. The estate roads of North Drive and their small enclosed areas of grassland were transferred to the North Drive Management Company, of which every property-owner here is a shareholder and liable to pay an annual maintenance charge for upkeep of these common areas.

Today

The high value given to atomic research in the post-war years is reflected in the landscaped environment that was created in order to make this an attractive place to live and work. Woodland areas provide safe outdoor play opportunities for children and there is a traffic-free route to the shops on Curie Avenue. The whole site testifies to the optimism of the period and is a rare example of utopian thinking that somehow remains in harmony with its setting. Reminders of the old airbase include what looks like a sentry point where the AEA western footpath crosses the Icknield Way and many North Drive houses retain the sheds that were made from surplus Anderson Shelters.

Sir John Laing’s North Drive houses, though modest, were well-built and had an advanced specification for the 1930s, featuring cavity walls, internal coal-storage, first floor bathrooms and large windows providing plenty of natural light. A mystery feature is the first-floor connecting aperture between houses. In my house, the area between the fireplace and the inner wall in the smaller bedroom is a plasterboard partition the size of a doorway: this meets my neighbour’s first-floor landing. I can find no evidence of there ever having been connecting doors between the houses; most likely is that the houses were built with this option of internal connectivity, but that it was never used. *

Boarded-up houses on South Drive. These fine houses, still owned by UKAEA, have been left untenanted for years.

Today, in 2011, only three of the ten Colonial style houses on South Drive remain occupied. The rest, including No.8 South Drive, the former home of Harwell’s first director, Sir John Cockroft, stand boarded, empty and decaying. We would like to see these buildings restored to use; with some or all possibly being converted to flats. But, if UKAEA and their developer partner Goodman have their way, then these high-quality houses will be demolished.

Update! 29/1/12

* Thanks to a commenter here who tells me that these connections did see some use, I finally worked out that they were designed-in for flexibility: the adjoining houses could be adapted easily to  3 -bed/1 bed  pairs. This makes sense with the layout and within the context of a wartime airbase, where tenancies would have been short-term.

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