Prestonville Town Square?

Wasted space or public place?

Having come up with this phrase on this blog a while back, I contacted a local architect to try and find out what it might mean. Thanks to him, local Green councillor Amy Kennedy and I met up outside the Chimney House with Lee Davies of Conran & Partners and Ben Meekings of Project Centre, which has worked on a number of major street schemes in London and elsewhere. This was a completely informal meeting – no group, party or company is involved yet, though the PCA will discuss it on 23 June.

The basic idea is to create a public space that all parts of the community can use and enjoy. Schemes like these are known as Home Zones, and they work by removing the priority vehicles enjoy in ordinary streets. Vehicles still have access, but they don’t come first. Typically the streets are resurfaced so that the distinction between pavements and roadway is removed.

At the Exeter – Buxton – Upper Hamilton junction there is a large and underused space that could become a focus for the community – a spot we could be proud of and enjoy spending time in. It could also be good for local businesses, both existing ones and ones that might be attracted to an improved area in the future.

Lee and Ben felt that there was potential to do something here, and few potential problems. The traffic is light, there’s loads of space to work with, and the area is well overlooked by homes, which discourages anti-social behaviour.

Nor should parking be an issue. There would be at least as many parking spaces as before – and possibly even a few more. Those could be allocated to cars or to bikes (perhaps using more attractive stands than the current ones).

Looking at the street scene – a very pleasant one in the sun, sitting outside the Chimney House – Lee and Ben thought that it might be good to take in Upper Hamilton Road down to the junction. The pavement on the north side could be widened, for instance, to make space on the sunny side of the street. (Delivery vans and lorries would still be able to pull up where they do now, though.)

Though it’s people like them who provide the expertise for schemes like these, they stressed that success depends on the community. Ideas and plans should come from the people who live in the area. Zones like these work if people are inspired by them and can see how they would be good for all concerned.

That has to include people with disabilities, particularly blind or visually impaired people, whose organisations are very wary about schemes like New Road near the Pavilion. Any design would have to address their needs.

As you can imagine, these schemes don’t come cheap, and times are tough. But this would be a long-term project anyway. If we decided we wanted to go for something like this, we could work towards having a plan ready for when circumstances are more favourable.

Sorry about the length of this post, but Lee and Ben have given us a lot to think about. I think there are some really exciting possibilities here, and I hope you will too.

Marek

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9 Responses to Prestonville Town Square?

  1. Phillip says:

    Personally, I would be against such a scheme as I feel it would spoil the existing character of the area, and would contribute very little.
    Incidentally, a similar scheme was put forward several years ago, but was strongly opposed by the local residents who would have been most affected. This could well be the case this time round as the concerns expressed then remain valid.

  2. Amy Kennedy says:

    Thanks for a great meeting Marek – sorry I won’t be able to come to the PCA meeting this evening. Looking forward to hearing the feedback.

  3. Phillip says:

    Having recently had lunch with an estate agent friend of mine, we discussed in very general terms your proposals to introduce a home zone scheme. I was surprised and disturbed to learn that apart from any inherent problems, in her experience such schemes in areas similar as ours, have tended to devalue property prices for the area directly affected, and to a lesser degree for the immediate vicinity.
    Given the current economic situation, I feel it is of utmost importance to include this information in your proposed article.

  4. petergolton says:

    Phillip – your last comment surprises me because I’ve only heard positive things about homezones and would have thought the opposite was true. Could you say which homezones your friend is referring to?

  5. Phillip says:

    Peter, although my friend was originally from Brighton she now lives in Essex and her experiences of home zones would be from that area, although no specific schemes where mentioned.
    However, in the committees enthusiasm to push their proposals forward come what may, they seem to have failed to check as to whether it falls within the Governments basic requirements, namely:-
    1) There must be existing low traffic speeds in force (well below 20mph). This is hardly the case.
    2) No more than 100 motor vehicles to pass through area in afternoon peak hour. Area is historically quieter this time of year due to holidays, closure of BASVIC etc, even so I counted 31 vehicles over 15 mins yesterday afternoon.
    3) Little or no through traffic. Although the junction can be quite between say 10am-4pm, it can certainly be fairly busy outside these hours.
    4) Area must be predominantly residential. Hardly, with I believe 8 businesses/shops in the immediate vicinity.
    Given the above it would seem the whole idea is a non starter, having failed to meet any of the basic requirements.

  6. marekkohn says:

    ‘the committees enthusiasm to push their proposals forward come what may”

    The PCA committee has not made any proposals. We plan to present proposals, which we’re looking forward to seeing ourselves, to local residents for discussion.

    May I draw your attention to what I wrote in the original post above:

    ‘ … success depends on the community. Ideas and plans should come from the people who live in the area. Zones like these work if people are inspired by them and can see how they would be good for all concerned.’

  7. marekkohn says:

    I passed Philip’s post on to Lee Davies of Conran.

    Lee comments that perhaps it might be better to describe the kind of thing we’ve discussed for this area as ‘public realm improvements’, to create a more attractive, safer and functional environment.

    It’s not strictly a Home Zone, but a lot of Home Zone values do apply. Home Zones alter streets in an attempt to strike a balance between vehicle traffic and everyone else who uses the street – the pedestrians, cyclists, business people and residents.

    Remodelling the streets should make an area look better and offer many other community benefits. “Particular to your area is the aim of creating a strong sense of place at the heart of the community,” Lee says.

  8. Phillip says:

    I read Marek’s latest post with interest and agree that Public Realm Improvements and Home Zones are very similar, the main difference seems to be that the former mainly applies to Town/City centres, the latter to residential areas such as ours.

    My understanding is that any scheme at the junction which involves part/full pedestrianization of the road would fall under either the Quiet Lane or Home Zone schemes, but neither falls within the governments basic requirements.

    Apart from the initial chat with an architect, can I ask what other basic research has been undertaken to establish the viability/support/suitability/effects etc?

    I do feel that before formally asking architects to draw up plans which will no doubt incur costs, that local residents should be consulted. To this end would it not be better to run a small article in the next Post, giving a brief outline as to what is being suggested, the possible pros/cons, and asking for feedback/comments.

  9. marekkohn says:

    That would be more than a small article, as the discussion here shows. As noted in the minutes of the last committee meeting (above) we’re planning to set out the ideas in the next Post, which will be distributed first to residents in the immediate area.

    We may be able to include a drawing as the architects have suggested they could provide one free. That could be very helpful, since it’s not ideal to ask people to comment on something without giving them an image of what it might look like.

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