St John’s Winchester’s Charity Response [25.09.20]
As an ancient but active charity based in the heart of Winchester, providing housing and care for elderly people in need, St John’s Winchester believes it has an important contribution to make to the development of a new Vision for the City.
St John’s believes that Winchester City and the City Centre “punch below their weight.” They need to make better use of what they have. They need to be rebranded and marketed much more successfully to attract more businesses and visitors, to generate a prosperous economy that reflects the outstanding heritage assets but with new development of a design quality that respects the City’s unique character.
The vision should express a comprehensive commitment to addressing climate change, whilst creating a much larger central pedestrian area, beautifully landscaped with an exciting programme of daily events. There is potential to increase the cultural and arts framework with more museums, galleries and performance buildings to complement those existing. The objective is to make the City Centre and City one of the most attractive in Europe: an enviable destination for residents, visitors and workers. Future plans, policies and programmes should attract and sustain business and development investment that enhances the historic and environmental core, and emphasises more how the City is a great place for people of all ages, cultures and income levels to live enriched lives.
Economic prosperity can be achieved with a wider variety of jobs, especially for the young. St John’s Winchester intends to contribute to the achievement of these objectives as a principal City Centre landlord and an experienced provider of care and dementia services, facilities, almshouses and other affordable accommodation, primarily for older people; our primary customers.
St John’s Winchester is a registered charity and has been in existence for over 900 years – it is part of the historic fabric of the City. Our vision is for the older people of Winchester to “Live Well”, and we are looking to expand our services and accommodation provision despite the challenging times.
The charity holds a unique position as owner of many retail and office properties in and around the High Street. At the same time, it provides almshouses for over 100 local people and nurtures a supportive community, which enables independent living for older people in historic Winchester.
Our St John’s Moorside Home for those living with dementia has a very strong reputation for great care, and our St John’s Hand in Hand service (operating across the Winchester district) has to date supported over 300 people outside our own older people’s community since its inception in late 2018.
Over time, the generous citizens of Winchester have gifted us property and land which we have applied to shelter people and raise funds for our charitable purposes for many centuries.
We benefit from a property portfolio, including Winchester High Street retail and commercial properties and investments. The recent decline in High Street retail (mainly due to the growth of online alternative shopping, and now COVID-19), are serious threats to the income for our charitable activities. We are also faced with a complex planning environment for the type of affordable housing and dementia accommodation we wish to develop.
Vision – The Case for Change
The vibrancy of our High Street is under threat from reduced returns because of homeworking, the consequences of COVID-19, and the growth of internet shopping. The City Centre suffers from traffic congestion and pollution, and its competitive position as a resident, visitor, and worker centre is being challenged.
“Place” investment in pedestrianisation and public spaces can help attract people to our City Centre. The existing cultural facilities might be better accessed and promoted, and there is a perceived need for new arts, music and museum facilities that would improve the reputation of the City in comparison with other competitors. The visitor attraction messages could be more cohesive. The City Centre is not yet recognised as a centre of eco/sustainable development and the listed building, archaeological, and conservation area characteristics do not always attract development investment in a form that secures community support.
Vision – The Potential
In order to create an attractive environment for investment and development that both suits and realises the potential of the City Centre to enhance its resident, visitor, and worker credentials, the following is required:
- 1. A positive and informed planning and regulatory regime which may require evolution at the national as well as local (city and county) levels. It is not yet clear whether the Government’s current proposals for the planning system will achieve this in a satisfactory manner or whether proposals for a unitary authority or Mayor are appropriate. Any changes require the consideration of a wider range of City Centre uses than currently exist and a framework for more affordable housing – especially for the young and elderly. Winchester needs to be perceived as an attractive and low risk area for development, investment, and effective management of climate change. High quality, beautiful (and profitable) design needs to become the expectation and outcome for the local and wider community. The management of planning responsibilities is much improved but the important function of conservation and archaeological oversight needs to be delivered in a manner that ensures high quality standards are maintained, but where matters are resolved in a sensitive, effective and speedy manner. Imaginative new City Centre uses (such as an office campus, media and young persons’ hubs), attractive housing – both affordable and exclusive – specialist and internet hub retail, and arts and cultural attractions, are required.
- 2. The removal of vehicular traffic (perhaps with a first phase encouraging electric and hybrid vehicles), together with an increase in pedestrian areas with associated landscaping and event management, will enhance Winchester City Centre. It needs to enhance its reputation for attracting sustainable development and consolidate its position as one of the most attractive places in the country.
- 3. Public and private landlords and land/property owners need to co-operate to deliver a co-ordinated, imaginative and innovative approach to regeneration and development in partnership with government at all levels. This may require new delivery arrangements, especially regarding affordable housing and “place creation” . It needs to be phased so that experience is acquired and applied, and appropriate changes are made as enhancement progresses.
- 4. A community and authority owned vision and strategy, which secures the optimum support from all sectors of society, and realises the extraordinary potential and expertise available in the City is achievable. The variety and diversity of the communities within the city are a strong feature. There is considerable potential to bring the various views together in a constructive manner, emphasising cross generational living and whole community co-operation as evidenced by St John’s Winchester over the last 900 years. The recent increase in small local community activity in response to COVID-19 is a demonstration of the potential for community engagement throughout the city, which needs to be captured and applied to future governance.
- 5. There may be scope for a high-level stakeholder group to support the regeneration strategy, a “Place Board” to support local council leadership. As a first priority, cohesive marketing of the attractions in the city and of a planning authority that encourages the special types of development (that support and enhance the heritage and diverse communities of the City), could feature. Engaging existing and attracting new business would also be a high priority.
Vision – The Role of St John’s Winchester and its Future
However, the Charity needs access to more land for almshouses and dementia accommodation as part of mixed-use developments. It needs a flexible planning regime to allow new income generating uses in the City Centre, in its listed buildings, and in new development, whilst sustaining existing retail and office tenants. We have already lobbied MHCLG on flexible use class consideration in city centres, and sought the reduction of VAT on listed building alterations from the current City Minister, the MP for Salisbury.
The Charity has promoted a discussion to consider use class change, both for affordable housing for older people and in the High Street, but without undermining the retail and office content. This flexibility and commitment to quality is especially required in new development proposals where an increase in retail use except specialist uses, is perhaps unlikely. For land in public ownership a capital receipt is essential, but a mixture of profitable and non-profitable development is eminently achievable if sensitively and imaginatively designed and developed.
St John’s Winchester has played and wishes to continue to play a part in providing great places, especially for older people in financial or other need.
The Charity is keen to continue to work as a “charitable” developer with other senior stakeholders, Property, Housing, and Planning Departments in the City Council, the NHS and Social Services Department in the County Council, and as a landlord to support place-making initiatives, to sustain and create an attractive investment and care environment to support its charitable work. We plan to create more places that allow older people to “live well.”
We offer these views on the Vision for Winchester as a charity, investor/developer and active and long-standing member of the Winchester Community.