Archive for January, 2011

Walking the Line, by Miranda Winram, Project Director

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

I ran out of time in my blog entry the other day, so I couldn’t jabber on to you about the Planning Inspector’s verdict on the Welcome Building design itself.

The Welcome Building design has been a tricky one to get right. Setting aside any considerations of cost, there were originally two schools of thought. The first that it should be a building that stood out and shouted ‘come and find out about the Arboretum’, the second was that anything we built should be very much subservient to the landscape it is to sit in. I know that the various Friends I’ve spoken to over the last year veer between the two views themselves – and I know that to some people in both camps we’re never going to be able to get the balance right.

We took the opportunity of the appeal period to put up a temporary exhibition on the hazel hurdles near the outdoor café to check what our visitors thought of the design – if we’d got it wrong we wanted you to tell us. We provided feedback cards and we were really encouraged that there was almost unanimous support for the proposed design. The most frequent comment was relief that we weren’t going to ‘spoil’ the arboretum with a massive and obtrusive design.

The Planning Inspector showed a real grasp of this design challenge for the Arboretum and described it better than I can: ‘such a building has to walk a fine line between deference and empathy with context whilst establishing a visual presence commensurate with its purpose.’ His verdict is that ‘the sum of the building’s attributes constitute a simple, even self effacing building, intelligently designed to use the local topography to its advantage, engage and empathise with the existing landscape features of the site whilst fulfilling its role as both a focus and a prelude for visitors entering the arboretum. In incorporating these elements the proposed building achieves the difficult task of walking the line, delivering a well mannered building with the desired visual presence whilst avoiding material harm to the designated heritage asset and its setting.’

We’re delighted that an impartial observer feels that way – it’s what the capital works team have tried so hard to achieve. I know that to some people – dare I say it? – the building isn’t inspiring – to those people I’d ask you to wait until it’s a living breathing building, serving its purpose and looking like to was always mean to be in that location. We’re confident that we’re walking the right side of the line the Inspector describes.

The best thing about the Inspector’s verdict? We can really get cracking with the fundraising now – funders like to see that what they’re contributing to has planning permission, and that’s a problem that we can now put in the past.

Champagne, Caviar and Fois Gras… by Miranda Winram, Project Director

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

If champagne, caviar and fois gras was on the Maples menu last Friday, the Project team would have been over there tucking in. We heard our appeal result from the Planning Inspectorate, and it was positive.

It’s possible, for those who aren’t quite such Project anoraks, that not everyone has been having sleepless nights over the refusal of the Welcome Building planning permission. I certainly have, so Blackie (my cat) will now be able to sleep a little more comfortably now that I’m not tossing and turning.

Pleasingly, but also frustratingly, the Inspector’s decision makes it really clear that the Council should not have refused our application in the first place. The Inspector expounds in detail as to the failings of the Council’s process in weighing the benefits against what the officers perceived as disadvantages; he criticises the Council for not substantiating officer opinion with reference to either national or local policy, and he is critical of the use of a ‘pejorative analogy’ in the council’s assessment of the proposals. Very positively, the Inspectors findings mean that we are allowed to claim costs back from the Council as he thought it was unreasonable that we had been put to this expense in the first place. This is good news for FOWA members, it means that some of the time and cost that your membership fees have been paying for will be recouped, and can instead go to other aspects of the development.

Off to do the various emails I need to communicate the news to Trustees, patrons and the like!!

(The decision notices for the decision, and the costs decision – an even better read!, are available to read in full as downloads from the Planning appeal section of the Westonbirt Project section of this website.)

Great Experience by James Matthews, placement student from Bournemouth University

Friday, January 14th, 2011

Over the past two weeks I have been volunteering here at Westonbirt Arboretum as part of my Applied Geography course at Bournemouth University. My aim was to gain experience in a particular field of work that could potentially be one of many career paths after I graduate.

Chris Meakin has been in charge of organising where my time has been spent during these past two weeks, as well as my previous four weeks last August. What has been great, is that I have been able to experience aspects of day to day work in many areas of the arboretum.

On Mondays and Thursdays I have had the pleasure of working with Hazel Willmott and her team of enthusiastic volunteers. We have tackled tasks including the cutting back of overhanging Hazel from pathways, cutting back the epicormic growth from Lime Avenue and clearing areas of sea buckthorn and bramble. The latter two not being particular favourites of mine or the other volunteers. However, an eleven o’clock tea break not only provides a much earned rest but often a chance to gobble down some delicious home-made cake, of which the biggest piece seems to find its way to me. They’re either being far too kind, or there is some kind of ulterior motive going on. My suspicions are usually confirmed, when just before we start back, I’m shown a particular branch, (usually on the large side) that coincidentally needs sawing down. 

Tuesday and Friday mornings I have been able to work alongside one of Sally Day’s volunteers, Graham Dennis. Graham usually helps with the labelling of trees and plants throughout the arboretum, which I was able to assist in during the summer. However, the weather has meant these last two weeks have seen us both counting seeds and taking rhododendron cuttings for Penny Jones, the one woman propagation team.

In amongst these regular tasks, I have also spent a couple of days with the Tree Team, helping with caging and planting. Furthermore, I have assisted a school field trip to the arboretum, numerous family activities, as well as creating a childrens winter activity, based on the winter buds of our native trees.

Together, my experiences here at Westonbirt Arboretum have provided me with great insight into how the arboretum runs and how the different areas of work inter-link. I can now appreciate the time and effort that goes into propagating, planting, and managing just a single plant. I can also take away some basic conservation management skills, an improvement in my species identification, certain propagation methods, and knowledge on current problems such as bio-security within the arboretum and the methods to stop the Sudden Oak Death disease spreading across Westonbirt.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here, and I would greatly urge those who are considering volunteering in similar environments in the future, to enquire at Westonbirt Arboretum, as it is a great opportunity and experience.