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 Current issues

October-December 2010 

The Swans
(updated 17 December)

The planned removal of Lorne McKean’s iconic sculpture from Swan Walk in 2007 was thwarted following a massive public outcry and campaign in which Horsham Society played an important role.

 

It was not until Easter 2009 that the Swans were fully restored with a new plinth and its essential moving water.  It was disturbing therefore in September 2010 - less than 18 months later - that the water was turned off and drained following what we were first told was a problem with the disinfecting process.

 

We asked the Swan Walk management for more information and a date by which repairs would be completed but they declined to give any details other than that they “had identified a number of problems”.

 

We wrote to the Chief Executive of Aviva Investors – the owners of Swan Walk – who passed the matter to Chris Paterson, the Fund Manager who dealt with the aftermath of the 2007 debacle.  He assured us that the management was

 

“actively working towards resolving the operational problems so that the feature will again be fully functioning”.

 

Another cliff-hanger ensued but we continued to keep the pressure on Aviva, and the water was eventually restored on 16 December 2010.

 

Our correspondence with Swan Walk and Aviva is below.


16 October 2010

Mrs Gill Buchanan
Centre Manager
Swan Walk Centre Management
12 Swan Walk
Horsham, RH12 1HQ

Dear Mrs Buchanan

I am writing to enquire what has happened to the water in the Swan feature.
At the beginning of the month one of our members was told by a member of your staff that you were “awaiting an engineer”. He was told there was a problem with the disinfectant solution being delivered in too strong a concentration.

As you know both the Society and Aviva have been very keen to ensure that the water is retained as it is an integral part of the feature, but equally it must be safe.

I should be grateful if you would let us know what the chemical is that was being used and supply us with a copy of the Safety Data Sheet and the mandatory risk assessment which you will have undertaken.

Finally, please could you let me know when the water will be working again.

Yours sincerely
John Steele
The Horsham Society


21st October 2010

Dear Mr Steele

Thank you for your letter dated 16th October regarding the Swan feature.

I can report that operational matters relating to the water in the Swan feature are in hand.

Please be reminded that the Shopping Centre is a private commercial retail business and we are therefore under no obligation to provide any data capture or maintenance records to local voluntary groups.

Yours sincerely

Gill Buchanan
Centre Manager


24 October 2010

Dear Mrs Buchanan

Thank you for your letter of 21 October.

I was surprised by your refusal to provide the information we asked for because of course you have a legal duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act to ensure the health of members of the public who use your premises.

It should be perfectly possible for a competent operator to run the Swans water system in complete safety, as are many similar water features up and down the country.

Given that it was a member of your staff who alerted us to a possible problem with too much disinfectant in the water I would have thought you would have been eager to reassure our members who are after all members of the public.

I would ask again that you confirm what the problem was that led to you turning off the water and when we can expect the feature to be fully operational again.

I look forward to hearing further from you. Meanwhile we will be publishing this correspondence on our web site.

Yours sincerely
John Steele


1 November 2010

Dear Mr Steele

Thank you for your letter dated 24th October.

I apologise for the delay in replying but I have been away on annual leave.

We are well aware of our duties regarding Health and Safety and there are multiple issues regarduing the water in the Swan feature.

The safety of our customers is always a priority and this is the reason the water has been drained at this time.

Yours sincerely

Gill Buchanan
Centre Manager


4 November 2010

Alain Dromer

Chief Executive    Aviva Investors

St Helen's    1 Undershaft
London   EC3P 3DQ

Dear Mr Dromer

I am writing to alert you to a long standing problem affecting the Swan Walk shopping centre in Horsham which is owned by your company and the very real risk of reputational damage to the Aviva brand that it poses unless it is resolved speedily and for good.

When the Swan Centre was redeveloped in 1990 by Norwich Union the centrepiece was a magnificent large bronze sculpture by Lorne McKean of swans landing on water.  I believe the sculpture was paid for by Norwich Union as part of a local programme of public art installations within the town.  It is probably one of the finest pieces in the south east and has become an iconic landmark in the town, much loved by residents and visitors alike.

Back in 2007 the Centre Management announced it was to remove the sculpture “following an environmental and safety review”.  It turned out later that this was untrue and that it was really part of a proposed modernisation scheme.

Following an enormous local protest, including a campaign by the local newspaper and an appearance on BBC news, Aviva was forced to step in and insist on the reinstatement of the swans.  There followed a further considerable and in our view entirely unnecessary delay before the sculpture was fully restored with its moving water in spring 2009.  The reinstatement was to say the least grudging, with a much reduced plinth and a position visually impaired and crowded by café  tables and chairs.  Nevertheless, at least we had our swans back.

Some weeks ago the water in the feature was turned off, and the decorative stones removed, making it a very sorry sight indeed.  We wrote to the Swan Walk Management asking what the problem was and when it would be repaired but have been unable to get any information.  The arrogant and high handed dismissal of legitimate public concerns by the Management has been extended to enquiries from the local press.  We have just been told “there are multiple issues”.  There is inevitably a feeling locally that this is just a precursor to a new excuse to remove the sculpture.

The Centre is I believe managed on your behalf by Jones Lang LaSalle but they are invisible locally and risk no reputational damage.  On the other hand everybody in Horsham knows Swan Walk is owned by Aviva and that it was only your intervention last time that saved the swans.

It seems clear that the Swan Walk Management are unaware of Aviva’s policies on corporate social responsibility and its commitment to supporting communities within which it operates and I urge you step in and resolve what should surely be a simple matter before it incurs further reputational damage to your company.

All we want is the swans back, fully functioning, and a public commitment from Swan Walk to make whatever efforts are required to maintain them.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

John Steele


11 November 2010

Dear Mr Steele

SWAN WALK

Thank you for your letter of 4 November.  I am writing to advise you that this has been forwarded to Richard Jones, Managing Director UK Real Estate who will respond in due course.  I have asked to be kept updated on the situation.

Kind regards

Alain Dromer
Chief Executive


17 November 2010

Dear Mr Steele

Horsham - Swan Walk

Alain Dromer has passed to me your letter dated 4th November 2010 for dealing, as I am the fund manager with responsibility for the Aviva Life Funds retail properties including Swan Walk.

I note your comments regarding the bronze swan sculpture within the centre.

The centre management team at Swan Walk have identified a number of problems with the water feature component of the sculpture.  As a result is has been necessary to temporarily drain the water and remove the decorative stones to allow further investigation.  May I stress that this is not a precursor to removing the sculpture, but it is to sort out the problems identified.

Concerned by the comments you make in your letter regarding the nature of communication with the local Management Team, I have made enquiries and reviewed the correspondence.  It is unfortunate that you have construed this in the manner that you have, as this is not what I see in the letters, and was certainly not the intention of those who wrote them.

Be assured that both Aviva Investors and Jones Lang LaSalle are actively working towards resolving the operational problems so that the feature will again be fully functioning.

Yours sincerely

Chris Paterson
Fund Manager


18 November 2010

Dear Mr Paterson

Thank you for your letter of 17 November and your assurance that the swan sculpture will be restored to full working order.

Given the wholly unhelpful approach adopted by the Swan Centre Management you cannot blame people for being suspicious particularly as you know only too well that when the swans were peremptorily removed in 2007 the public were not told the truth about the reason for their removal until you personally intervened. 

The whole swan saga reflects very badly on Swan Walk and Aviva and the sooner the latest problem is sorted out the better.  Can you tell us what is wrong or at least give us an estimated completion date for the work?

I can assure you that The Horsham Society is keen to see Swan Walk prosper.  It is a key part of the town’s shopping experience and the local economy benefits enormously from its success.  It is of course also Aviva’s main presence in a town otherwise associated with Royal SunAlliance which has a long history of supporting our local community.

I am sending this by email as you haven’t provided your address.

A copy goes to Alain Dromer, Chief Executive Aviva Investments.

Yours sincerely

John Steele


7 December 2010

Dear John

As my colleagues and I are coordinating the repairs to the water feature Chris Paterson has asked that I contact you directly with an update.

The new bespoke tray has been manufactured and was due to be fitted last Thursday. I am sure you will appreciate that the inclement weather meant that this did not happen and I have been advised that the contractor now intends to be on site this Wednesday or Thursday.

Once the new tray and pebble surround is fitted the additional works relating to the leaks into and from the electrical components, lighting and the dosing system can then be undertaken. You will understand that there will be some settling, testing and ”going off” required to ensure that the operation of the water is safe but we are hopeful that the water will be running again next week.

Should the timetable change considerably I will advise you.

Kind regards

Gill Buchanan
Centre Manager


15 December 2010

Morning John

Just to advise that works were completed last night and the water is now running in the swan feature.

Kind regards

Gill Buchanan
Centre Manager


Swans archive»