Extract from ' A New, Even Better, Abertawe: Rebuilding Swansea 1941-1961' by Dinah Evans

Page 1

Chapter Five

Beginning Swansea’s planning process

Neither high falutin’ nor Utopian

Borough Engineer, J.R. Heath, 9 October 1943.

In 1941, Lord Reith had advised local authorities to be bold when planning the reconstruction of their towns and cities. The same year, the Interdepartmental Committee of Officials on Reconstruction directed local authorities to begin preparing outline plans for the reconstruction, as well as advising how this should be achieved. 1 By 1943, planning control had been rolled out across the country.2 Appreciating the demands placed on Swansea’s Council by central government is fundamental to understanding how it responded to the directive to prepare development plans that would regenerate Swansea’s war-damaged areas, plans that should embrace those planning ideals that had become fashionable both before and during the war.3 See J. Hasegawa, Replanning the blitzed city centre: a comparative study of Bristol, Coventry and Southampton 1945-1950 (Buckingham, 1992) and P.J. Larkham and K.D. Lilley, Planning the City of Tomorrow: British Reconstruction Planning, 1939 -1952 - An Annotated Bibliography (Pickering, 2001). See also The National Archives, Kew, London (TNA), HLG 86/8 for details of the advice. 2 J.B. Cullingworth and V. Nadin , Town & Country Planning in Britain (11 th edition, London, 1994), p.9. 3 These included the better use of land, coherent structural layouts, engagement with landscape architecture as well as dealing with the increased flow of road traffic in towns and cities. See G.E. Cherry, Town Planning in Britain since 1900 (Oxford, 1996), pp.39 – 42 and J. R. Gold, The experience of modernism: Modern Architects and the future city 1928 -1953 (Abingdon, 2013), pp. 19-23. See also R.Tubbs, Living in Cities (Harmondsworth, 1



A new, even better, Abertawe: Rebuilding Swansea 1941 -1961 Also significant is the conduct of key officers within the Council, accused by the Ministry of Town and Country Planning of a lack of collegiality, even as the Borough Engineer, Heath, produced a draft plan for the town centre in the certain knowledge that he was rapidly approaching retirement. In keeping with planning tradition, overall responsibility for the reconstruction of Swansea’s bomb -damaged town centre fell to its Borough Engineer, Heath, whose rationale, he explained, was ‘to plan for business not pleasure…as if there had been no blitz…neither high falutin’ nor Utopian…a sort of London in South -west Wales’.4 Nevertheless the popular narrative of Swansea’s plans for post-war reconstruction speaks less of building a new commercial centre, focussing instead on Heath’s proposed processional, a scheme that on paper looked impressive, but one that was destined to fail as its creation would have necessitated the destruction of more properties than had been lost during the blitz. 5 The boulevard was to be a processional running from the Guildhall, in the undamaged west of the town centre, to the middle of the blitzed area. Rebuilding the town’s shattered shopping and commercial centre involved more than replacing bombed and damaged buildings. Civic pride had long been central to the ethos of the town, a pride that had been enthusiastically encouraged by the Council, its officers and members over the years. Now, in Swansea as in

other towns and cities facing reconstruction, it also became the language of the developer.6 And yet the Council’s attempts to manage the reconstruction of the town in such a way as to give it dignity and style brought ministerial censure down on its head. A government report of 1943 claimed that: ‘It is known that during 1942 the City Engineer, the City Architect and Planning Officer each prepared a personal experimental reconstruction plan’.7 It was a report that implied rivalry and disunity within the Council, a discord that was construed as boding ill for the future of the reconstruction process in Swansea. 8 Yet there was no procedural or ethical 1942); R.Tubbs, The Englishman Builds (Harmondsworth, 1945) and B. J. Collins, Development Plans Explained (London, 1951). 4 For full details see reports in So uth Wales Evening Post, 7 October 1943. Some historians consider planners of the time to be idealists, ‘utopians unwilling to engage with reality.’ For more detail see N. Tiratsoo, J. Hasegawa, T. Mason and T. Matsumara, Urban Reconstruction in Britain and Japan 1945-1955 : Dreams, Plans and Realities(Luton, 2002) and M. Hollow, ‘Utopian urges: visions for reconstruction in Britain, 1940-1950’, Planning Perspectives, 1 October 2012, Vol.27 (4) pp. 569-585. 5 J.R. Alban, ‘Picture essay: The Second World War’ in R. A. Griffiths (ed.), The City of Swansea, Challenges and Change (Swansea, 1990), p. 133. See also W.C. Rogers, ‘The Guildhall and Local Government in Swansea, 1934-74’ in J.R. Alban ed. The Guildhall Swansea (Swansea,1984) p.21. 6 P. Shapely, ‘Civic pride and redevelopment in the post -war British city’, Urban History, Vol.39. Iss 2 (May 2012) pp. 310 -328. 7 Government report, Swansea C.B., TNA, HLG 71/12. Although Swansea did not have city status at this time it was frequently referred to as such. 8 The relationship between officers in all blitzed cities was not always sanguine, which fact was well known to government and might have resulted in sweeping assumptions being made. For example, consider Sheffield where

Beginning Swansea’s planning process reason why any of the Council officials, referred to in the report or otherwise, should not have explored, or suggested, possibilities for the reconstruction of Swansea. Indeed, far from being a serendipitous whimsy on the part of the Borough Engineer, three variations of a processional, or boulevard, from the Guildhall into the town centre were produced for discussion by Council officials and members at the time, reflecting an appetite within the Council for an imposing

scheme that would boost the town’s civic image.

Anti-clockwise from top: Images 8a, 8b, 8c: Proposed Boulevard linking the Guildhall and the centre of town, c.1943

the rivalry between its technical officers was infamous; see A. Lewis, ‘Planning through conflict: competing approaches in the preparation of Sheffield's post-war reconstruction plan’, Planning Perspectives, 1 January 2013, Vol. 28 (1) pp 27 - 49.



A new, even better, Abertawe: Rebuilding Swansea 1941 -1961 The three plans that survive (images 8a, 8b and 8c above) are impressive. Image 8a above shows a plan of a processional that was to begin at the Guildhall and then travel up around a large, ornate rotunda9 (roundabout) towards the ruined St Mary’s C hurch in the middle of the blitzed area. 1 0 An examination of the enlarged image of plan 8a in the centre pages will show that the processional was to cut across the existing road formations to ensure a direct route

towards St Mary’s Church. St Helen’s Road, which traditionally had taken the traffic from the Guildhall area to the centre of town , would disappear to be replaced by a new road that would run almost parallel with the proposed processional.11 This new road was planned to loop around the Guildhall before terminating at the Castle. Mansel Street was also to be reorganised in order

to ensure that it terminated near High Street railway station. The overall concept of a processional continues in image 8b , which can also be seen in an enlarged format in the centre pages. In image 8b, the road travels from the front of the Guildhall to be intersected by a rotunda at the junction with Brynymor Road , near to St Helen’s Hospital. This rotunda mirrors a similar rotunda at the intersection with William Street and thus eschews the large, ornate rotunda shown half way along the length of the processional shown in 8a. In the scheme shown in image 8b, St Helen’s Road would have survived, albeit in a very minor capacity, running parallel to the new processional until its intersection at the William Street rotunda. At this point the processional ends and the roadway is divided into two separate streets that run from the rotunda. There are marked similarities between the processionals shown in images 8b and 8c. The latter (which can be seen in an enlarged format in image 9) mirrors some of the key elements of image 8b ; however, in the scheme shown in image 8c, the processional continues past the William Street rotunda swerving around a large building before continuing up to a further rotunda, complete with a discrete monument. From the three recognisable landmarks on plan 8c, the Guildhall, the Hospital at St Helen’s and St Mary’s Church , the processional would appear to terminate in the area between the top of present-day Oxford Street and the top of the Kingsway. Heath’s successor, Bennett, would in 1944 use this last image, 8c, to illustrate his vision of the reconstruction to the South Wales District Institution of

Municipal and County Engineers. 1 2


At this time, the term ‘rotunda’ was used to denote a larger type of roundabout, more grand in scale. This appears to confirm Larkham’s doubts over the ‘sensitivity’ of plans ‘to the context of areas and groups of buildings’. P. Larkham, ‘The place of urban conservation in the UK reconstruction plans of 1942-1952’, Planning Perspectives, vol.18 Iss. 3 (2003), pp. 295 -324. 11 The processional is shown as image i in the centre pages. 12 23 September 1944 . 10

Beginning Swansea’s planning process Although none of the plans discussed above came to fruition, the concept of a grand thoroughfare remained very much alive and continued to play a key role in the thinking surrounding Swansea’s planned future. Ultimately though, the nearest that the town came to embracing a processional was realised in the eventual construction of a dual-carriageway that ran from the roundabout at the end of St Helen’s Road (near the YMCA) towards an additional roundabout some a quarter of a mile further ahead. This short length of road was duly named the Kingsway (see image 2). The Borough Engineer’s original plan had envisioned a long, elegant boulevard running from the Guildhall in the west into the centre of town and, although the Kingsway was described by the Ministry as Swansea’s ‘show-piece’ development,13 it fulfilled few of Heath’s aspirations, or those of the other planners.

The Ministry’s Regional Planning Office continued to flex its might. Even as it identif ied Swansea as ‘one of the best and most active planning authorities in South Wales’, it dismissed two of the plans it had seen for ‘lacking in boldness and imagination’ and the third for being

‘over-ambitious’ and firmly advised Council officers to pool their ideas and undertake a survey of the area to be reconstructed, before proceeding any further.14 Yet, following the blitz, the

Council had made enquiries about the feasibility of passing a resolution that would allow it to prepare a scheme for dealing with the damage the blitz had caused, only for the Ministry to advise postponing any such resolution and to await the provisions of the Town and Country

Planning Act 1943. 1 5 As a result the Council moved away from taking immediate, positive, steps to rehabilitate the town and instead focussed on addressing the immediate issues that had been raised by the bombing, the destruction of many food shops, the dangerous state of many of the buildings, the damage to the sewerage system as well as to gas and electricity provision.1 6 The Regional Planning Officer’s rather contentious assertion of rivalry and disunity in the Council in 1943 was called into question some years later when, in January 1951, D.I. Saunders, the Borough Surveyor, appeared to refute talk of schisms within the Council. He explained that ‘the preparation of the plan [was] primarily the duty of the Planning Officer who [was] either a Civil Engineer or an Architect. In my authority the Engineer, Architect and Estate Surveyor have all had their ideas incorporated in the Development Plan’.17 Whether he was 13

Memorandum, Earley to Janes, 4 November 1950, TNA, HLG 71/1285. Notes on the Seven Cities’ provided for the meeting of the Advisory Panel on the Redevelopment of City Centres, 1 June 1943. TNA, HLG 88 /9; Advisory Panel meeting Swansea, 14 September 1943, TNA, HLG 88/9. 15 The Town and Country Planning (Interim Development) Act 1943 introduced a system of interim development control across the whole country, thus enabling local authorities to control the development and use of land in their areas. See also Government report, Swansea C.B ., TNA, HLG 71/12. 16 For more detail of the impact of the bombing see J.R. Alban, The Three Nights’ Blitz (Swansea, 1994). 14 ‘Short


D. I. Saunders, address to Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, ‘The Reconstruction of ‘Blitzed Cities’, 18

January 1951, West Glamorgan Archive Service, Swansea (WGAS), D/D Z 371/9.



A new, even better, Abertawe: Rebuilding Swansea 1941 -1961 referring to a later plan than that of 1943 is unclear, nevertheless, what is certain is that an inspection of the local press, for the month of October 1943, appears to corroborate his view. The front pages of successive editions of the South Wales Evening Post (as well as the Herald of Wales) at this time printed illustrations of the detailed plans and drawings of the intended reconstruction. The works were shown as being the product of more than one official but there was no suggestion that the authors of these plans were in competition with each other.18 On 26 October 1943, a meeting of the key players in Swansea’s reconstruction process was held to discuss the plan that had been drawn up in September. Present were the Council’s Borough Engineer, its Architect, the Estate Agent and Valuer as well as the Council’s Town Planning Officer together with three representatives from the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. 1 9 The meeting was intended to discuss the plan drawn up by Borough Engineer,

Heath, in September 1943. The proposed shopping area was identified, the final location of the Market was assigned to land behind the gasworks and there was considerable emphasis on the layout of the roads, the construction of new roads, as well as the widths of existing roads. It had been decided not to widen Wind Street as it was not intended to be used for through traffic, however a new, modern coast road was envisioned.20 The importance of ensuring the smooth transport of traffic into and through the town centre was reflected in the illustrations that accompanied the plan (see images in the centre pages). Some of the drawings reveal a road system reminiscent of the American grid system while others show wide thoroughfares laid out in regular straight lines converging in the town centre. The emphasis was clear: traffic in and through the rebuilt town centre was to be free-flowing and reinforces the belief that Council

Engineers tended to focus more on traffic flow than on the experience of the pedestrian.21 Despite Heath’s claim to the contrary, many of the drawings and paintings that were published showed a utopian view of the ‘new’ Swansea. Redolent of civic ambition, it was to be a town a world away from the crowded streets that had grown organically over the centuries. 18 ‘Another

Swansea feature of the perspectives prepared by the Borough Architect of the proposed reconstruction of the town after the war. The first of these views of the proposed new town planned by the Borough Engineer, Mr Heath appeared in yesterday’s Evening Post’. South Wales Evening Post, 9 October 1943. See also Herald of Wales, 9 October 1943. 19 Present from the Council were Mr Hodgkinson (representing the Borough Engineer), Mr Morgan, the Borough Architect, Mr Saunders, the Borough Estate Agent and Valuer, Mr Hunter, the Town Planning Officer together with Messrs Dodd, Stewart and Jones from the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. 20 ‘ Reconstruction of City Centre and Development Generally’, report of meeting held at Sw ansea on 26 October 1943, TNA, HLG 71/12. A meeting was later held at the Ministry of Town and Country Planning on 17 November 1943, between Mr Newcomen of the Ministry of Transport and Messrs Dodd, Jones and Stewart of the Ministry who foresaw no appreciable problems with the road layout as envisioned. See also South Wales Evening Post, 6 October 1943. 21 For greater detail see A. Lewis, ‘Planning through conflict: competing approaches in the preparation of Sheffield's post-war reconstruction plan’, Plannin g Perspectives, 1 January 2013, Vol. 28 (1) pp 27 - 49.

Beginning Swansea’s planning process These were images to whet the appetite of the inhabitants of the town for the Swansea of tomorrow. Reproduced in the local press, the illustrations showcased a modern town centre with spacious, well laid -out streets edged with uncluttered, streamlined structures, all ideally placed to service the demands of a dynamic, new town centre. Where old buildings, such as the Royal Institution or the Exchange Building, remained standing, they were to be included in future plans, even if the contrast in design between the old and new was startling (see image ii in centre pages). Yet, no matter how pleasing on the eye, considerable artistic licence was taken with the perspectives of some of the paintings. This is particularly noticeable when looking at the vista looking north through the shopping centre (image iii centre pages). The width of the area available for development between the seashore and the hills behind Mansel Street and Alexandra Road was limited, yet this image implies otherwise, showing wide, straight roads, intersected by the similarly wide and straight roads of Oxford Street, St Helen’s Road and Walter Road, bordered by large, modern, three storey buildings. Not all of the areas under consideration had been decimated by the Blitz, the image of Dillwyn Square down towards the sea (image iv centre pages) shows a spacious square, flanked by substantial, clean -lined

buildings, furnished with fountains and complete with a statue on horseback. Unfortunately, it was a scheme that would have necessitated the demolition of many properties that had survived the bombing and the scheme was unfulfilled . The view to the east from the tower of the Guildhall towards the Dillwyn rotunda (image vi centre pages) shows large, impressive buildings facing the Guildhall and a dual carriageway, a processional, leading away towards to a roundabout, or rotunda, outside the General and Eye Hospital and beyond. Sadly, this scheme too would have necessitated the demolition of many buildings, particularly on the sea-ward

side of St Helen’s Road. This series of illustrations plainly reflect the scale of the ambition of Council officials for

its rebuilt town. Roads are wide and, at junctions with other major streets, large roundabouts are planned to keep the flow of traffic moving smoothly. This is particularly clear from the last painting ( image vii centre pages) that looks southwards out to sea from above the Bridge Street rotunda. Many of the roads from outlying areas in the north and west would enter the town past

this rotunda and the style and layout of the buildings surrounding it reflect the dignity that epitomise many of the other images. Heath’s report also predicted the dismantling of the two railway lines that ran along the sea shore, the London, Midland and Scottish Railway that terminated at Victoria Station, as well as the electric train service to Mumbles. It also anticipated that the Victorian prison , built on Oystermouth Road a century or so earlier, would eventually be abandoned by the Government


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