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Fairwater Unit Centre, Fairwater, Cwmbran

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Map ReferenceST29SE
Grid ReferenceST2762694489
Unitary (Local) AuthorityTorfaen
Old CountyMonmouthshire
CommunityFairwater (Torfaen)
Period20th Century

The unit centre at Fairwater was one of a series of smaller shopping centres developed by the Cwmbran Development Corporation to sit at the centre of each of the residential neighbourhoods, supplementing the main town centre by providing for the day-to-day shopping needs of the residents. That at Fairwater was slightly different to the others, built to serve the 'south-western areas' of the expanded town in conjunction with a network of 12 pantry shops, rather than serving just one neighbourhood.

Built between 1963 and 1967, the centre comprised 18 shops, a childrens playground, public toilets, a health and dental centre, and a combined public house and community centre. The unit centre was designed by Chief Architect of the CDC, Gordon Redfern, and was architecturally the most innovative and ambitious unit centre within Cwmbran New Town. To combat the exposed nature of the site together with the ‘high rainfall, mists and variable winds’ prevalent in the area, Gordon Redfern designed an enclosed, high-sided space that would physically and mentally shield shoppers during their visits. This protective environment extended to creating a central play area that could be viewed from the shops, allowing a more enjoyable experience for children. Four different shops types (1/10, A, B and C) were provided on increasing floor footage for facilities ranging from barbers to grocery shop, all with storage to the first floor and eight, on the south-west side, with a two-bedroom maisonette above. To enhance the architectural impact of the scheme, Redfern created each unit on an hexagonal plan despite the inefficiences in floor space usage and additional costs in creating the fixtures and fittings. The CDC also fitted out each of the uits to a customised requirement - for example the Post Office unit was pre-fitted with a telephone booth, posting box, stamp machine and half-glazed panel for advertising services.

15 van garages were provided for the use of traders, along with 26 reserved parking spaces and 60 free parking spaces. To the west of the centre was an attractive birch wood which Redfern decided to retain, incorporating areas of informal and irregularly placed car parking among the trees, again despite the extra expense this incurred. 

The structural engineers were Ove Arup & Partners, the builders were Gee, Walker & Slater. Construction costs for the scheme were estimated at £214,106. The unit centre was opened 12 September 1967, shared with the opening of Monmouth House, both undertaken by Rt. Hon. James Callaghan, M.P. A scathing article written the following month by architectural critic Ian Nairn dismissed the design as a ‘kind of in-turned medieval village … an oasis of picturesqueness in a desert of statistical units’ designed for, rather than with, the inhabitants and therefore destined for commercial failure.

The public house and community centre was designed to provide a social hub for drinkers and non-drinkers alike, with seperate entrances to each part to ensure all felt comfortable using the premises. The lease was taken on by Ansell Ind Coope (Allied Breweries), and Fairwater House opened in July 1969.

S Fielding RCAHMW July 2021

Ref: Cwmbran New Town: An Urban Characterisation