Station Gardens Looking For Heritage Fringe Benefits
Local resident Steve Gough on the perils of not being posh enough for paving
Station Gardens has a traditional ring and if you had sauntered down our quiet, leafy footpath in Chiswick a few short months ago you might be forgiven for thinking you back in a piece of picturesque old England, predating CCTV cameras, satellite dishes, and dog-poo bins.
But this road, local councillors have told us, is not ‘heritage', but (probably because of its historical connection with social housing) ‘heritage fringe'. And so in the early summer of 2013, armed with an 800-million pound borough improvement grant, local planners were about to spring a surprise.
Actually it was a double blow. First the lights. Instead of the welcoming yellow glow of the sodium lamp, came suddenly one day those ghostly bunches of white LED, wrapping the street in an eerie twilight. ‘More like a Gulag' said one disheartened resident, staring up at one of these new hi-tech lamps which for some strange reason had been situated right in the heart of our one and only hornbeam tree. Spectral leaves now dance each night on my bedroom wall. Gulag or Hammer film set? It's hard to tell.
Then the second of our eager, local planner's dreams. A slick of inky smooth tarmac arrived one morning instead of our lovely pavement stones. Days before, when the workman had begun removing some of the uneven old paving some of us had innocently supposed they were about to be carefully levelled and refurbished. But no. The paving stones, alas, all gone. Instead that dour, modernist ruler, erasing character, undermining garden creativity and doorstep idiosyncrasy wherever it went. Victory of dead symmetry over life and character and, yes, ‘heritage'. Were the high entrance gates and watchtowers of Gulag W43SR about to be erected along the road? The team of Polish workman (cut-price Public-Private partnership) were sadly unable to answer our questions – and their halting Slavic improvisations only adding to the gloom.
Station Gardens before the changes
Station Gardens now
A week later and the full story of the Council's cheap-but-expensive, economic-but-wasteful mad Sorcerer's Apprentice project could be told. Inexpertly laid tarmac would create treacherous puddles of black ice as soon as winter came. A bizarre mistake in the levels meant that when the tarmac slick arrived at each and every garden path a gap of a couple of inches was revealed. No problem! Pale cement wedges began to spring up and down the street like so many badly fitting false teeth in a monster's jaw. Wedges that would be all gone by the spring we thought with grim satisfaction – for they were already cracking under the strain of the weekly wheely bin.
Finally, and with cheerful indignity, the contractor had filled in all the cracks between our interestingly asymmetric grass verges and new asphalt mathematics with mounds of builders' waste. Amongst the mounds could be glimpsed those lovely little iron boxes, cable TV connections which had been wrenched from their hidden homes in the walkway to be nestled in amongst our new heritage-fringe shrubbery rubble.
Ah yes, Station Gardens is not ‘heritage' but ‘heritage fringe'. Just around the corner Hounslow Council's workmen are presently carefully refurnishing the paving stones and redressing the grass verges. Of course. Cavendish Road. Here, designer frontages look out over tennis courts and cricket pitches - and there is not a council house facade in sight. Now that is true heritage.