Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Northampton's Gas Holders

Northampton is to be the location of a new 'enterprise zone'. Whilst I am really in favour of this kind of fantastic investment into a neglected part of Northampton town centre, I am concerned that the relaxed planning will lead to the demolition historic buildings and structure. Specifically, it is the landmark gas holders, especially the more ornate cast iron one located along Towcester Road. 

Such a beautiful structure, which has stood for around a century is a wonderful reminder of the town's proud industrial past. Northampton has a terrible record of preserving such important structures in favour of banal housing and offices. There remain proposals to demolish the former power station near Beckett's Park, and no doubt the brick gas works office adjacent to the Carlsberg Roundabout. What the town would be losing is not just 'a few worthless old buildings', but a key part of its industrial landscape. The concentration of such buildings stands to remind us of the once self-sufficient nature of power generation. Now, they may seem obsolete and grim, but consider the great loss the town suffered with the demolition of the historic streets of Spring Boroughs in the 1930s and 1960s. The Express Lift Tower is not just a redundant industrial building, but an icon for the town. 

These gas holders could easily be converted into useful buildings, or retained as sculptures in a fantastic public landscape. The Emscher Park in the Ruhr Valley of Germany uses derelict industrial buildings as the basis for an evocative and sustainable park. A very similar gas holder to the Northampton ones has been converted into flats in Dublin, a far more beautiful and creative solution than the majority of recently built flats in Northampton.

Yes, Northampton needs investment especially in the central areas, but we must not allow this investment to be at the expense of our heritage.

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