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Stevenage: linking new development to the town centre

Stevenage: linking new development to the town centre

Linking the town centre

A development site close to Stevenage town centre (Bessemer Drive) is nevertheless cut off from it by Gunnels Wood Road, a 4-lane dual carriageway with a 40mph speed limit. Crossing this road on foot or cycle involves using an unattractive subway (see photos). 

In order to reduce the severence caused by the main road, and to make the possibility of walking and cycling a more realistic choice, a surface level crossing was proposed. Further enhancements are needed to create an attractive route between Bessemer Drive and the railway station, which then provides step-free pedestrian access via a bridge directly into the pedestrianised town centre.

These enhancements would also provide huge benefits to a planned major urban extension (of at least 3,600 and up to 10,000 new homes) west of Bessemer Drive on the west side of the A1(M) motorway (see first pdf on the right). No significant improvements of this route have featured in the plans for Stevenage West put forward so far (November 2012).

An opportunity in waiting, or opportunity lost?

The proposals developed in this project, which would benefit the wider Stevenage community, as well as the Bessemer Drive development site, amount to a significant opportunity to promote more sustainable travel choices for east-west movement. The developer at Bessemer Drive (Gabriel Securities Ltd) was willing to sacrifice development land (as can be seen on the option proposals - see pdf) to create new cycle and footways and bus priority, but the value of this would depend on the necessary creation of a surface crossing of Gunnels Wood Road. Implementation of the proposal is thus dependent on the agreement of the transport and highway authorities, i.e. Hertfordshire County Council or Stevenage Borough Council.

As so often is the case, the choice is between the creation of proper facilities for sustainable modes, and the protection of capacity and speed for general motor traffic. A surface level crossing on Gunnels Wood Road would have some impact on general traffic capacity, although the roundabouts at either end of this road already limit the overall capacity of the route.

Without any commitment to the creation of the proposed high quality east-west route, the risk was that the developer would withdraw the plan to transfer land to public highway, and instead (reasonably) seek to maximise returns on the full development site, thus closing the door on the opportunity to create a high quality pedestrian, cycle and bus route.

Stevenage West urban extension

The major development west of the A1(M) has been mired in controversy for many years, and its future was still uncertain in November 2011. An effective planning process would have made sure that permission for it was dependent on high quality access by the sustainable modes. Unfortunately this was not to be. The West Stevenage developers were going for the cheapest solution they could get past planning (with no at-grade crossing of Gunnels Wood Road), and had no interest in the high quality scheme for Bessemer Drive prepared by Tim Pharoah (Llewelyn Davies Yeang for Gabriel Securities). The local authorities could have picked up the challenge and secured the extra highway land required for the quality scheme, but were not prepared to do so. Thus the opportunity for a good solution for future generations has been thrown away.

In November 2007, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, considered access requirements in relation to the West Stevenage proposal, namely the relative merits of schemes to enhance pedestrian and cycle facilities at Bessemer Drive. One was modest improvements offered by the West Stevenage applicants, within existing highway land, for which they were prepared to contribute 200,000. The second was the scheme prepared by Tim Pharoah for Gabriel Securities (as illustrated on this page).

Sadly, although the Tim Pharoah scheme was preferred by the Secretary of State (see quote below), it depended on a third party (Gabriel Securities) making the land available. The modest improvements scheme did not involve a third party, and the S of S felt it inappropriate to impose a condition on the West Stevenage permission to achieve a better scheme that did. This was despite Gabriel Securities' willingness to make the land available in order to achieve a well-designed "edge" to their site.

Here is what the Secretary of State had to say on the merits of the schemes (Letter from DCLG 2nd November 2007):
"The Secretary of State recognises that Bessemer Drive would be an important walking and cycling route between Stevenage town centre and West Stevenage?.The Sof S considers that the increased width of foot and cycle ways in the scheme put forward on behalf of Gabriel Securities Ltd provides an attractive environment for non-car users and would avoid conflict between pedestrians and cyclists. She considers that the proposal makes the route to and from Stevenage town centre more visible and legible, as well as improving the directness of the route.... these proposals would provide an at-grade crossing at Gunnels Wood Road. Overall she considers that the scheme is of high quality and would enhance personal safety and security of non-car users...
Overall the SofS considers that the Gabriel Securities scheme is more likely to improve pedestrian and cycle facilities at Bessemer Drive."

A history of the West Stevenage scheme and its current status can be found at the Stevenage Council website:

http://www.stevenage.gov.uk/planning/stevenage-west/

LocationStevenage England
Date(s)2006
Client(s)Gabriel Securities
Team(s)Tim Pharoah with Llewelyn Davies Yeang

keywords

Stevenage, sustainable transport, connectivity, permeability, street design, traffic calming, proper streets, town centre access, new links