Penglais Campus – a continuing embarrassment

I googled the Penglais Campus today and found a link to its Investing in the Future  campaign of refurbishment.  The first line reads “Penglais Campus has benefitted from extensive refurbishment over the last year. Keep checking this section for more developments in the near future.”  But when I clicked on it this is all I found.Embarrassing is indeed a good word for what has been done to the campus in the last two years!

People are still reeling from the conversion of the main entrance from this:

The Hugh Owen building, Penglais Campus, Aberystwyth with original planting in 2003

to a gulag with weed trees in the foreground, and vistas of  bark and turf.

The Hugh Owen bank today

Other major losses to the important  Cadw II* listed plantings have been described in this blog over the last 18 months.   Its historic character is being steadily and unnecessarily whittled away. Another loss has just occurred in association with the car park which occupies a space between Computer Sciences and Physical Sciences and is being radically reconstructed.

Refurbishment of the car park underway between Computer science and Physical sciences buildings.

The Sweet Chestnut which stood out so handsomely against the red wall of the Physics Building has been cut down.  It adjoined the car park, but was not in it.  The stump stands, outside the contractors’ area today.  Once again the decisions about “Improvement” are being carried out without attention to the landscape significance of the site.

The Sweet Chestnut ( left hand tree in picture) in October 2017.  In spring and summer the bright foliage gleamed against the plain red wall.

Plantings were created by thoughtful horticulturalists to complement this architecturally striking building.  On the other side there is a fine border and a birch, ( safe but for how much longer?).  This view was formerly framed by a lawn on which happy students were often photographed for University brochures.  Was it really necessary to sacrifice so much of it for the giant lettering on the huge turning area which  serves the users of two disabled parking spaces?

The other side of the Physics building

I took a visitor around the campus on Saturday, and across the road from this she spied the entrance to Biological Sciences. Could those really be PLASTIC PLANTS?

Plastic ferns flank the entrance to Biological Sciences

” I’ve seen enough” she exclaimed, “take me away from here!”

Perhaps the people in Biology are doing irony. The creation of the campus plantings in the 1960s and 1970s was closely influenced by the expertise of successive professors of Botany working with well-qualified designers and gardeners.  Today, the academic staff have no influence upon their  environment, and the University has no Conservation Management Plan, presumably because conservation of a 20th century landscape is not their priority.  Indeed it was recently announced that the care of the garden landscape of the campus has been devolved from the Estates Department to the general manager of the Sports Centre.

Contrast this with the University of Bristol which is custodian of eight historic gardens including a 2009 Centenary Garden, all expertly cared for.  Aberystwyth could shine for its exceptional 20th century landscape.  It is an opportunity lost.

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8 thoughts on “Penglais Campus – a continuing embarrassment

  1. It’s so sad to see the steady destruction of the, once glorious, diverse landscape of Penglais Campus.
    The increased use of netting of trees and shrubs, elsewhere, to prevent birds from nesting, so that contractors can cut them down doesn’t even seem to be necessary here!

  2. Instead of continuing to slander the work, why don’t you politely approach the University and find out from them what the plans are regarding green spaces. Perhaps then you could provide advice and assistance rather than moaning about it which has no positive impact for the environment you are standing up for.

  3. All this destruction makes me weep. This was such a beautiful eco-environment when I worked on the campus for 20 years. Yes, Mr Fox and others would be horrified, and would have surely stopped this vandalism of the campus had they still be alive today. The last insult is looking at plastic ferns plonked outside the Biology building; what a joke! There are clearly no longer any plans for green spaces on the campus – they have completely ruined a wonderful landscape, and haven for wildlife. Name and shame the people responsible.

  4. Interesting read, but I disagree.

    In my own opinion as an observer ( have had no involvement in the above ):

    Things before were unsightly and an overgrown mess, a result of years of spending little investment into the main campus. Things have seemed to changed and for the better.

    I’ve noticed removing overgrown trees ( not just the ones you’ve highlighted above ) is now letting in more natural light into buildings, saving energy and opened up fantastic views of the town and sea – a unique selling point with a ‘wow’ factor.

    Yes, always sad to see destruction of trees but my thoughts here are that I’ve also seen alot of trees fallen down from recent storms. Weakend trees are either going to be taken down in a safe controlled way like they have been or are at risk in a non controlled way, causing huge damage and possible injuries. There’s only one way to reduce risk of this to zero and that’s to eliminate it. Plus, if plant life has been removed to increase accessibility, is this really a bad thing? To me these changes are making the campus a much safer place.

    Futher to the above, I would like to say current management have my full support and I can see all staff are putting in tremendous contributions to make this University the best it can be and a place of work that staff ( and students ) can be proud of.

    The University has done so much good and made so many positive impacts across the board ( even during challenging times ). You’re an excellent writer, I would love to read what you can do if you were to write about something positive that staff have worked so hard to achieve instead.

    • Thank you for your kind remarks. I do believe many of my blogs are extremely positive. I also agree with you that years of under-investment on Penglais campus took their toll on the grounds. Where we disagree is the solution. If something is damaged one must decide to either repair it or throw it away. Such a decision is generally informed by the value of that item. Where the item in question is a Cadw Listed Grade II* landscape (an accolade no other Welsh University has received) surely restoration rather than piecemeal removal would be the responsible way forward.

  5. I disagree with ‘Anonymous’. I am not criticising the academic merits of the university, of which there are many, but I would be very surprised if those who have worked on the campus for some time, actually like what has occurred. There is no mention in your comments about the destruction of wildlife habitats, of which there were many species. By all means take down those trees that have passed their useful life, and especially if they are in a dangerous state. Having said that, I would like to hear that a comprehensive tree planting programme is going to be implemented; if trees are appropriately placed, they would not impede the natural light from reaching the buildings. Plant some bird/bee friendly shrubs, without creating risky pathways to walk along, e.g. looking after student/staff safety. All this could be achieved, and I sincerely hope that one day the powers that be will be persuaded that the campus can achieve something resembling the original state that echoes the accolade afforded to the campus from Cadw some years ago.

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