Old Railway Quarter – Swindon

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Design review helped a challenging scheme win consent.  Thomas Homes sought a residential development on part of the historic Railway Works involving the rescue of the Chain Test House (listed II*). The collaboration of housebuilder, local planning authority and South West Design Review Panel led to a successful regeneration scheme.

The Site and Scheme Outline - The site of 1.96 hectares was the last major land parcel of the Railway Works Conservation Area to be regenerated. The site included the former Chain Test House buildings (grade II*) that were then on the Heritage at Risk Register that noted ‘poor’ condition and that future reuse would be ‘problematic’.

This scheme involved conversion of the Chain Test House buildings for new homes and the restoration, for public display, of the testing pit and machinery where chains used to be tested for strength. The scheme also included new build development, landscaped open space and car parking.

The Review Process - The Old Railway Quarter was brought to the Panel by Thomas Homes who were anxious about achieving planning permission on a challenging conservation site where four developers had failed to get schemes off the ground. The review process had two stages. The first by a multi-disciplinary panel of five (three from SWDRP; two from CABE) was preceded by a site visit. The second, two months later, reviewed the changes made consequent to the first review.

The Panel’s Recommendations - The Panel was supportive of the scheme in principle and keen to see it go ahead. They asked for a gap to give the main listed building breathing space and for the architecture of the new not to defer to the listed buildings but to have a strength and quality sparked by the old. They also made suggestions to increase the value of the proposed public square and to improve the parking areas.

Design Development - The design team engaged thoughtfully in the process and took up all the Panel’s points. The main listed building was given greater clarity while the courtyard gained a more legible public route across it and greater containment provided by the merging of three buildings into a single horseshoe building. The raw parking became a pedestrian-friendly boulevard with two distinct areas.

The redevelopment is an exemplar of heritage-led regeneration.  It has won a Best High Volume New Housing Development (2015) and Best Renovation award (2016).

 “Design Review made significant improvements to our proposals.”

Chris Brotherton director - Thomas Homes

“The South West Design Review Panel has been instrumental in shaping the final scheme.”

Swindon Borough Council

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