Update on Maindee Triangle at Livingstone Place

Since the summer of 2017 architects and artists KHBT have been working on design proposals for the triangle-shaped land at the junction of Chepstow Road and Livingstone Place. In July they made a first visit and then came again the present initial proposals to the New Paths Gathering in August. Since then views and ideas have been sought; there have been changes to the design and we now have more detailed proposals and a hand-made scale model in the library [see below].

Karsten with Triangle model September 2017

This blog explains the process that we have gone through: the inspiration; the constraints and what has changed in the design proposals. We actively invite people to comment on the designs to get a stronger idea of what is possible.

Some background

The public toilets and outdoor seating have been on this area of land some time. We found this photo [below] in the Maindee Newport Past & Present group on Facebook. Judging by the cars - and the way people are dressed - it is probably some time in the 1970s.


Triangle in the past


What we found interesting about this image is that the structure of the site is basically the same as it is today, apart from the benches and the fountain having been removed. The trees have also grown a great deal  - the one in the foreground is now nearly twice the height of a house.

If we were to turn around 180 degrees then we would see the toilet block. The building today probably looks much the same as it would have done then. However, since March 2017 the toilets have been listed on Newport City Council's website as being temporarily closed.

It would seem that both the present and future for this site are uncertain. For this reason Maindee Unlimited, the charity who look after Maindee Library and run the Arts Council of Wales' Ideas:People:Places [IPP] programme in Newport, have been looking at proposals to improve this land.  


Developing some designs with KHBT

In 2016 Maindee Unlimited [MU] put forward a proposal to demolish the present toilet block to create a larger open space. MU would replace the toilet with a smaller structure roughly where the circular planter is now. A planning application was submitted and granted in March 2016. We were supported to do this work with development funding from the Big Lottery Fund under the Commmunity Asset Transfer scheme. However, the Big Lottery Fund rejected the final proposal in autumn 2016 as they were not convinced that the facility would make enough money; and they were also wary about funding public toilets. All parties would had to think again about what was possible. 

In the summer of 2017 MU looked again at what could be done with the site. MU allocated £50,000 from the Arts Council of Wales' IPP fund and appointed architects KHBT to create some design proposals. KHBT had worked with many different communities across the UK as well as in Germany where they had studied architecture and implemented their first public space projects.


Proposals from August 2017 

At our New Paths Gathering Karsten and Bernd presented what they called the Tryngle: from which we were invited to have a go and develop something more. Referring back to the past, such as the image at the top of this blog post, Karsten stressed the archaeological approach to excavate the story of the site and to value its components. The image below shows their detailed survey of the site.


Triangle existing model


Through the August New Paths Gathering we discussed the background story, such as how the circular-shaped fountain had been filled in [from people's memory it was probably in the 1980s] to become a circular-shaped planting area. KHBT asked if we could we reuse this circular structure to create a podium for performance? There were also some ideas for something digital which would appeal to younger people.

Could we use some of the other areas to plant fruit and vegetables, much as the Incredible Edible group have done on the Chepstow Road car park and also on other sites on this street? Some images were shown of a street scene in Frankfurt where KHBT had worked with people to create planter boxes with different fruit and vegetables.

The New Paths audience were particularly keen to stress that the proposals needed to have community ownership behind them. Caroline Williams, who leads on Maindee Library's gardening projects, suggested that maintenance should be simple, maybe use of lavender and roses. She also cited the Olympic Park in London as a good example of something contemporary.

In terms of the actual toilet block building the architects proposed a new roof garden area on the top of the building [see below]. They would reduce the number of toilets to 2 or 3 and have the rest of the building as a storage and perhaps a space for a little outdoor library and cafe. The collective group asked whether a small charity such as MU should take on this building. As such this question is very hard to answer and is something we pursue over the coming months.


Tryngle components


It was acknowledged that the site had suffered from what people these days generally call anti-social behaviour; probably one of the main reasons why the benches and fountains had vanished in the past and - most people would expect - part of the reason why the toilets are closed now. The group discussed the option of having some more robust vandal-resistant modern designs for the toilet facilities. 

We had a rich discussion and designs have since been shared on our Maindee Library Instagram and Facebook on August 17th and also printed out to be displayed in the library. 


September 2017: how the designs have evolved

On Friday 15th September Karsten from KHBT came along to the library with the scale model [pictured at the top of this blog post]. Karsten and the project team had a chance to meet Mervyn Priest, who is the sergeant from Gwent Police who represents Maindee Station next door.
Introducing the design, Karsten stated a need to retain the main elements of what exists already so people could see the evolution of the site. In terms of the circular planter at the front KHBT were now proposing a structure approximately 5m high [see model below], which would act as a community notice board on one side and a climbing wall on the other - with a plastic soft crumb base below. There could be a swing nearby and plently of space for growing fruit and vegetables.
Triangle with climbing wall
In terms of the building itself, he said that the budget did not allow sufficient money to change much. As a minimum the toilets would be improved. However, KHBT have removed the roof garden proposal on the top and suggested that the building could be simplified inside. Some ideas were proposed for it to service the space between the building and the shops on Chepstow Road; maybe an outdoor cafe or space to read books in the summer. Karsten proposed an outside bench below the existing street lamp - and maybe some form of lamp shade on top.

What are the practicalities? 

To make this happen we have to explore the relationship with the landowners at Newport City Council. MU would need to consider: (1) a community asset transfer for this land similarly to that which has been agreed for the library; and (2) the practicalities of who could keep the toilets open to the public. MU will also need to look at wheher we need to submit another planning application for some of the design proposals.
Meeting Mervyn Priest from Gwent Police
In terms of the response from Gwent Police, Mervyn [pictured above centre] felt that the scheme was fantastic. He said that MU would need to check on basics like whether equipment could get vandalised. Moreover he stressed that the key is to work with the neighbours on Livingstone Place and make sure that the area is used. Although the old image in the Maindee Past and Present group shows many people on the site, Sergeant Priest asked how much people access outdoor street space in 2017?
In terms of the business case for the site, it is clear that MU would still find it hard to answer the main reason why the Big Lottery rejected the funding proposal from 2016. Like the library, we would have to start small, build slowly and not assume that anybody would provide the funding for the day-to-day running costs. It is for this reason that we are being open and honest about the project.
Later in the afternoon we had a follow-up meeting with representatives from local businesses and the community who use the library. People were supportive of the ideas. They liked the design amendments to have a bit more open space, the curved wall for community notices and the climbing wall. On the other hand there were some doubts about the practilaties of the lamp shade.
If you have any further questions please come to the library or email John on info@maindee.org

Related Links

The Maindee Newport Past & Present group on Facebook

Big Lottery Fund Wales Commmunity Asset Transfer 

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