BSCF feedback on Solum Regeneration's plans for the Goods Yard site New!
In October 2015, a presentation was made by Solum Regeneration to members of the BSCF. This email is a summary of the feedback and comments from BSCF members.
||11 November 2015|
GOODS YARD SITE REGENERATION
I am writing to you following your presentation to the Civic Federation on 21 October with further feedback from our members on your plans for the goods yard site.
I should say at the outset that we were encouraged by the consideration you had given to the results of an earlier consultation in evolving your plans. In particular we welcome the fact that your plans embrace the whole of the site and that they include a southern access, without which we do not feel that any development could be absorbed.
I am grouping our comments under some broad headings.
Traffic and Parking
It was clear at your presentation that the assessment of the traffic implications both during and after completion of the development was still work in progress. In our view it is essential that the implications are robustly modelled with results in which we can have some confidence before any planning application is submitted. Indeed, this is such a crucial issue for the development itself and for the wider circulation of traffic in the town centre that we would encourage you to submit detailed plans with your planning application for the different stages of the development rather than leaving it to be dealt with as a reserved matter as often seems to happen with such developments. We have considerable doubts about the ability of Herts County Council’s SATURN model to provide credible forecasts of the traffic implications of developments in our town, and hope you will supplement it with more sophisticated modelling techniques of your own.
More detailed issues that arise under this heading are as follows:
- Whether the southern access road should form part of a through road joining the one way gyratory system or whether the northern and southern access points to the site should not be linked.
- Pedestrian routes
- Car parking
London Road, from the railway bridge to Hockerill traffic lights is the most congested road in town and congestion has led to the creation of an air quality management area there. Traffic congestion has worsened as a result of the recent opening of an Aldi store which is now in the process of being enlarged (a recent example of our lack of confidence in transport modelling capability). The proposal for a link road through the goods yard was first aired by Steer Davies Gleave in their transport strategy proposals in 2006. They suggested that this should be implemented in conjunction with turning Dane Street/Adderley Road into 2 way operation, banning right hand turns on some arms of the Hockerill cross roads and (possibly) turning the Station Road spur joining London Road into a dead end. The benefits were thought to be that a significant amount of through traffic would be removed from both Hockerill cross roads and South Street because it would use the new link road instead.
East Herts Council adopted the transport strategy (apart from the banned right hand turns at Hockerill) but in practice has so far chosen only to implement the easy bits. The particular issue of a new through road would in any case need much more thorough testing. It might simply shift the congestion at Hockerill to another part of the town centre network, and Dane Street/Adderley Road cannot be converted to 2 way working while the flour mill remains on its current site because delivery vehicles need to use both lanes for access. Nevertheless, we suggest that as part of your modelling work you should test whether a properly designed through road would relieve congestion where it is currently worst, simply shift the problem to another adjacent part of the network or even make the overall operation of the town centre network worse.
If you conclude that a through road would have adverse consequences then you will need to design the internal road network on the site so as to discourage or prevent rat running, while ensuring that emergency and public transport vehicles will have the access that they need. Even without a through road we would expect the southern access to remove a significant amount of traffic from London Road and South Street because these are the only routes by which the station car parks can be accessed at the moment.
Your presentation indicated that you wanted to create much better pedestrian routes from the proposed transport interchange to the town centre and to the western side of town and we welcome this. However, you will also need to address safe pedestrian access from the new interchange to the eastern side of town on the other side of the railway line. This is a major pedestrian flow because three secondary schools, one JMI school and the Herts and Essex hospital are all located east of the railway. Currently the only access route is via steps and a bridge from Station Road to London Road. It is particularly dangerous for pedestrians because it has very poor sight lines, the footpaths are incomplete, and the one way signal controls encourage drivers to think they have a right of way without considering people on foot. This will be an accident waiting to happen unless traffic and pedestrians are better segregated, possibly by turning an improved railway station bridge into a pedestrian right of way.
The data you provided at the meeting suggested close to 100% occupancy of the present station car parks after the weekday morning peaks. More spaces will need to be provided because the Bishop's Stortford North development as well as new housing in Uttlesford will add to demand. We were somewhat surprised that you seemed to be contemplating two separate car parks as a permanent rather than temporary arrangement. While this may depend on the north/south access arrangements discussed above, a long thin multi storey car park immediately next to the station may be less intrusive than two separate taller blocks and might even provide a welcome sound barrier between the railway and the housing. It may also enable incremental additions to capacity to be made without adding too much to the height of the facility. We were left unclear about how much parking was to be provided for the residential part of the development and whether it was to be all at surface level. If some parking were placed beneath the blocks, it might assist with any flood relief measures you may have to implement and free up more surface space for public realm improvements. As an example, the Jackson Square phase 2 development has deliberately allowed for the car park to provide flood relief in an emergency.
Quantum and Scale of Development
While we agree with your approach that the buildings near the river should be set back from it and lower in height, we feel that six or seven storeys is too high and would set an unwelcome precedent for other possible brownfield developments in the town. Nor are we persuaded that the southern end of the development next to the railway line is necessarily the best location for the tallest blocks. We are also concerned about an aspiration to build some 700 flats not just from an aesthetic point of view but because of the potential impact on the community of having a town centre occupied by over 1000 flats (taking other development into account).
We appreciate that this is a difficult site to develop but flat dwellers tend to be more transient, particularly with the growth in the buy to let market. It is very difficult to build stable communities in such an environment, because many flat dwellers will want to move on, to more permanent tenure and/or to family homes. We wondered therefore whether there might be a possibility of reducing the number of flats and incorporating a family home element into the scheme itself, as proposed in policy BISH3 of the draft district plan. It might also make more palatable the significant loss of green space at the southern end of the site which your plans contemplate.
We also noted that even with the type of accommodation you are planning for at present, a significant demand for schooling could arise. While the developer’s normal response to this is a S106 payment, we wondered what investigations you had made into the feasibility of adjacent schools being enlarged to cope with the increased demand. Our comments above on pedestrian access are relevant to this point too.
Bishop's Stortford has not so far taken advantage of the potential the river has to offer to enhance the visual attraction of the town and to provide leisure and recreational opportunities for a larger proportion of the population than the traditional angling and boat users. Apart from the flour mill site (which shows no sign of an imminent change of use) this is the last opportunity in our generation to bring about a genuine enhancement and you have some encouraging ideas.
However, you might be able to make more of the leisure potential. With the agreement of the Canals and Rivers Trust, it might be possible to provide some serviced moorings along the tow path. These might be located near a pub or café to complement those on the other side of the river near the footbridge. It might also be a more attractive location for the proposed hotel which could also add vitality to the area.
Gateway to the Town
Currently the approach from the station to the town has little to commend it either visually or in terms of vehicle and pedestrian access. We hope you will make the most of this, in terms of the quality of the design and the circulation arrangements. This too prompts us to wonder whether this is the best location on the site for the hotel, particularly if all we have to look forward to is a standard Travel Lodge slab.
Just off the site it will clearly be necessary to widen the Station Road bridge over the river by adding to the width of the current single file footpaths. But we also wonder whether there is any other wider community benefit which might be incorporated into the development. For example, both our town centre medical practices need new premises, and this would be well located to meet that need.
We understand that the railway sidings will remain in use for at least the earlier part of the development. We trust therefore that you will seek to maximise the use of rail for delivery of materials and removal of spoil from the site.
We hope you find this comments helpful and look forward to seeing the next iteration of your plans. We are advising our full membership of you latest ideas in our Autumn newsletter, and if that prompts any further comments, I shall let you know.
President, Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation