Monkton Park: Public Planting in the News

Public planting seldom makes the news, but an almighty row has broken out in the local paper over the recent changes to the entrance to Monkton Park. I believe most of it's political point scoring ahead of the local elections - the two main councillors involved are hardly doing themselves any favours as they sound like children who have thrown their toys out of the pram - but I'd hardly call the work so far the expected 'stunning' result as quoted by one of them in the newspaper recently. I'm rather stunned in fact, though to be fair the work isn't complete yet.

This entrance leads from Chippenham's main shopping street into a parkland landscape of river walks, trees and large open spaces. It was tired and run down, so the council earmarked (a reported) £65,000 to improve it. I imagine the brief given to potential contractors went something like:
  • Stabilise the river bank area
  • Screen the adjacent Emery Gate Shopping Centre so the parkland feel to the landscape is extended further towards the High Street
  • Prevent further erosion to the grassed areas at the boundary between the tarmac entrance and the parkland pathway

If this was the brief, then it has been fulfilled as you can see in the picture - click to enlarge if needed. I suspect much work has been carried out below the waterline to stabilise the bank (this might be where most of the money was spent?) and the bank itself has been covered in a fine mesh which will probably discourage people from coming down to the waterline (and thus churning up the bank) to feed the ducks and swans. I'm totally mystified why ivy has been planted through the mesh - I know this is often suggested as a disguise solution for people with steep banks in their gardens - but I feel it doesn't fit with the context here, especially as the river floods from time to time. I admit I don't have an alternative to suggest - offers anyone?

The side boundary by the shopping centre now sports a nascent hedge of mainly beech plus some hazel and holly and a few trees (possibly hawthorn - it's hard to tell before they're in leaf) to add some height. The hedge also continues to the tarmac*/pathway boundary providing a barrier and encouraging wandering feet to keep to the path. I know I should be grateful native species have been used and that dreadful red mulch isn't there this time around, but I feel rather short changed. As the area's been mulched over (except where it's floated off down the river - see picture), it seems the planting aspect of the work could be complete. Where's the wow factor for one of our main public spaces? In a month's time we'll be welcoming thousands of visitors to the annual Folk Festival. Monkton Park is the focus for a number of the activities as well as housing one of the camp sites. So those thousands of visitors will see these changes. Will it say Welcome to our town we're rather proud of it to them? I don't think so, I suspect most of them will just laugh.

And then I see The Bicycle Garden's marvellous guest post from the landscape architect who redesigned the hell strip (boundary between car park and road) at the campus where she works and I just want to weep. So, I'm off to the council offices to ask some questions.

* = Why use tarmac? Why not take the opportunity to use a more absorbent paving material like everyone else is being encouraged to do, especially as the river floods from time to time?


  1. Agree with you on all points and have a couple more questions, why have they taken away the picnic benches? They used to be a good place to go and sit with a sandwich and coffee. Does anybody know if the tarmac is temporary as the sign suggests? Why the odd fencing off of this area, when the trees etc grow it will be an odd little space. That's all for now :o)

  2. Hi Dave - I'm hoping to put in links to the actual newspaper articles if and when they appear, so you can see what's actually been said. At the moment there's just the first letter and I feel it would be a bit unbalanced to just include that ;)

    It all started with a letter from a councillor (called Is That It?)which focused mainly on the finish of the bankside mesh plus the state of the tarmac, though the planting side of things was also mentioned. When I went to look, it was obvious that the tarmac part of the work was incomplete - hence why I think there's some political point scoring going on.

    There was a very terse response on the letters page, both from the ex-leader of the now defunct North Wilts District Council AND the contractor involved plus a big article in the main part of the paper. They both confirmed the tarmac work will be completed once the planned street furniture (being made specially) is installed. I wonder if this will include some waterside picnic benches? When you look at the tarmac at the moment, there does appear to be lots of places where things will be fixed into the ground.

    It's a pity the people involved didn't use the paper to outline their vision for the finished work instead of making some extremely sarcastic remarks. A picture of the final design would have been much better and put them in a much better light.

    As far as the fencing is concerned, I think they went with that for screening Emery Gate Shopping Centre and once that solution was in place, they then extended it to the entrance part so that it would look the same. But I agree, it does look rather odd and hardly forms a welcoming entrance to the park itself. I'll add that to my list of questions :)

    I'll do a follow up article once I have some answers from my visit and/or after the work's been completed.

  3. Oh dear!
    This has some similarity with the lack of vision shown in a 'redesign'of one of Chesterfield's previously lovely but run down parks. It's now neither run down not lovely! Perhaps both towns used the same architect - pity it wasn't the architect from 'The Bicycle Garden's' post. He did a brilliant job!

  4. Is that the kind of mesh that decomposes after the pants grow in?

    Sorry to hear that it has erupted into a political row; I do wish politicians were actually useful...Aren't they supposed to be leaders, or something?

  5. Nutty Gnome - didn't he just. Can we "borrow" Jason for a bit please Susan?

    Susan - that's a good question - I'll add it to the list :) As for politicians being leaders, these local ones aren't showing anything like that at all :(

  6. PS I've discovered the Landscape Design Trust's website which is dedicated to public open spaces and has a rich seam re public planting which I'm ploughing through at the moment.

    As I suspected, issues re budgets, vandalism, ongoing maintenance etc. doesn't mean we should settle for uninspired open spaces. As a starter for 10, you might like to have a look at this article by Noel Kingsbury which shows just what can be done.

  7. But VP, you seem to have missed the colour of that notice . . . isn't it a lovely, rich red? And the elegant silver crates on wheels? They seem to be constructed according to an interesting collapsible design. Oh, and the angle of the embankment.

    And there's another thing too . . . the malleable aspect to the landscape . . . tarmac melts so interestingly in the summer . . . and the way weeds find a way to grow up through it and make cracks . . . a token to the power of nature.

    I'm wondering if the 'Street Furniture' will include bollards. Bollards seem very popular with councils. (Such a lovely word too - 'Bollards' - good for a festival.)

    Seriously, though, a dignified, plain and safe entrance can be a very important feature for a park. If you find you and the road have fallen into the river on your way to the grass - well it takes some of the pleasure out of the day. And maybe an outburst of green and pleasantness after a less interesting approach adds to its enjoyment.

    ? ? ? ?


  8. Esther - the red sign will go as soon as the work is completed and I'm sure there'll be plenty of bollards in its place! And I still think we need something less plain just to entice people further in and to have something good to look at when passing by on the high street.


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