Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Plot 6 revisited

A very timely question has been raised about Plot 6 - the wasted space alongside Temple Meads station. "Is this a suitable moment to renew the pressure on using Plot 6 for a more convenient Coach Station and Transport Hub? "

Good point. Plot 6 is in the joint ownership of Network Rail and development agency SWRDA - but their plans to cover this key site with another uninspiring development of offices, flats, and retail have stagnated - and now SWRDA is to close its doors, and its wallet, by March 2012.

Meanwhile Network Rail's future is little more secure, facing (as Christian Wolmar puts it) "something between dismemberment and death"

So what happens to their (ie our) Plot 6 asset? SWRDA says " the rules by which we are governed require that any disposals must be at open market value", though they also hint that councils or the new Local Enterprise Partnership could inherit land assets like Plot 6. An Evening Post report
is less optimistic: "The RDA has also been told it will not be allowed to hand on any properties or assets and they will have to be sold on the open market". In short, the whole deal's being rushed through on ideological grounds without much thought about how it's done or what will be lost, and no-one has much idea what's going to happen. Brilliant.

So is the Plot 6 opportunity be lost to Bristol for ever, thanks to gross political ineptitude?

There's certainly been plenty of public pressure put on both the city council and the West of England Partnership to make sure that this chance isn't lost - but there's been precious little response from them so far.

Bristol is now considering its long term plans for the Central Area, including Temple Meads, as part of the evolving Bristol Development Strategy. On the way, it's seen repeated demands to list Plot 6 for the road/tram component of a multimodal city transport interchange (using the adjacent, and equally underused, Digby Wyatt Shed as the passenger concourse); you'd be hard put to find an event or consultation where the topic hasn't been raised.

Questions to the Cabinet, though, suggest that there is no great ambition to do more than 'improve' the interchange facilities that already exist at Temple Meads - effectively providing a marginally better quality of bus stop. The council's own scrutiny commission was due to get a progress report on Plot 6 on September 23rd; but that seems to have got lost somewhere along the line. [*updated - see footnote]

As for the West of England Partnership, they too make a great thing of seeking out the public's views on their plans, and they too have been told very clearly that Plot 6 could provide the smooth, comfortable interchange that could make public transport in the city an attractive option that could really be preferred to travelling by car. So you might think Plot 6 would merit a mention in the latest Joint Local Transport Plan (JLTP3) covering the next fifteen years of transport development in Bristol and the surrounding authorities.

As luck would have it, the 'final draft' (isn't that a contradiction?) has just been published

And Plot 6 really does get a mention in it! JLTP3 puts on record that Plot 6 was among the big issues raised by consultees, and adds encouragingly that "we have been able to take most of these on board". But - that's the only mention - in 150 pages of detailed proposals to take us through to 2026.

In a further 275 pages of strategic environmental assessment, and in the supplementary papers on cycling, network management(!), public transport(!), parking, road safety, rural transport, smarter choices, and walking - likewise, Plot 6 is totally absent. It's not part of the plans.

So it's pretty clear that the local authories are sitting on their hands while the coalition government prepares a fire sale that will to kill off the sole opportunity to use this unique piece of land to help solve the city's biggest problem.

"Is this a suitable moment to renew the pressure on using Plot 6 for a more convenient Coach Station and Transport Hub?"

I think the answer's pretty obvious....

[*Updated 5th Jan]
I've just acquired a copy of the officers' scrutiny report, which should be added to the web records of the Sept 23 meeting soon. It shows a clear effort to defuse any attempt by rank and file members to get Plot 6 designated as a transport interchange...

  1. Although initially the site looks ideal for a multi-modal interchange, and there have been representations suggesting this, the case for a multimodal interchange is not clear. It may be that improving links to existing public transport and proposed future Bus Rapid Transit is better than diverting a large number of services on to this site.
  2. For this reason the prudent approach will be to seek that any development at the site is as permeable as possible, improves interchange and provides car parking for the station, without prescribing that it must solely be a multi-modal interchange."


Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis Pete, and the usual sad - and sadly familiar - indictment of the "theory vs. practice" of sustainability.

The redevelopment of the whole area between Temple Gate - including Plot 6 - to Cabot Circus, offered the opportunity to relocate not only the Coach station, but also the Bristol City FC home ground.

The advantages would have been significant:

- it would have further integrated transport links, allowing passengers to make quick connections between rail and coach - with an option of using the footie ground car parks as a Park And Ride during the week

- it would have made the football ground easily and conveniently accessible by public transport, removing the huge traffic congestion games cause in Southville and Ashton at present

- it could have linked the area up to the M32, A4 and St. Philip's Causeway by relatively short access roads, minimising traffic disruption

- it would have redeveloped the whole area into a profitable complex, instead of providing more office space - something Bristol has in surfeit, as a legacy of its 1980s promotion by the BDA.

Now that Swindon has replaced Bristol as the Coporate relocation capital of Southern England, Bristol has more empty commercial premises than ever.

Meanwhile, the relocation of Ashton Gate remains a major bone of contention and the coach station continues to operate from its quintessentially idiotic location, squeezed between the BRI and a church, with access roads so cramped I have seen visitors look in dismay at the coaches trying to negotiate the narow access, shaking their heads and asking incredulously "THIS is your ONLY coach station?" and laugh out loud.

How come Bristol retains such a peculiarly provincial, country bumpkin outlook, when it is the largest city in the Southwest?

Does that subtle and expertly covert, Masonic tradition of the old Merchant Venturers still hold sway in this old city?

Granted, conspiracy theories are ten a penny, being unprovable by definition... but perhaps one could reasonably dub your article "The Plot 6 PLOT"?


between-the-lines said...

Yeah, you'd think that Bristol's top brass don't really want easy and convenient public transport and prefer that people keep on purchasing private cars, petrol, garage services and extensive car parking space, wouldn't you?

between-the-lines said...

Oh, and not forgetting insurance ...

Stockwood Pete said...

I was tempted to title this piece "2011 - Losing the Plot".

I don't usually go for conspiracy theories until all other avenues are exhausted, but, well they do seem to be!

I can't see any good explanation for the total lack of interest in the council in a decent transport hub, lots of them do actually use public transport and must realise what a difference it could make. So maybe yes, it's the vested interests that are preventing it happening...

I'm hoping to put a question in for answer at the next council meeting on these lines:

"As both Network Rail and SWRDA face reorganisation or dissolution, what active steps are being taken by Bristol City Council (or the West of England Authorities) to take ownership or otherwise safeguard the status of these agencies' property at Plot 6 at Temple Meads, so that its potential as a future major multimodal transport hub is not compromised?"

You never know, it might get a straight answer.

"A green steam" said...

Thanks for your feedback.
One night I met a man in the Old Market Roundabout who was lost trying to reach the Coach Station from Temple Meads. In most other cities it is at most five minutes’ walk, he thought.
I cannot understand why there isn’t lobbying from bus/coach operators, their operations would be certainly easier from Temple Meads than from that hostile location in the most unsuitable place in the centre. Some operators already avoid it keenly.

Stockwood Pete said...

Obviously, a decent hub at Temple Meads would overcome that problem, but in the meantime...

If you know where you're going and it's daytime, there are quality pedestrian routes to the coach station and other centres, but at night it's a very different story.

Maybe a better display at Temple Meads of how to get a bus to the coach station? The Wells and Bath routes both make the trip. Or maybe the airport service, which is more frequent and more accessible, could fill some empty seats on that leg with a (say) £1 flat fare?

"A green steam" said...

A new post would be needed on the new issue, It's very easy to go off-topic with many examples... I regard incredibly easier to use Plot 6 for the Hub than convincing transport operators to assist passengers. Information is pretty much not available for not perfectly planned journeys and for this problem the solution will arrive more easily through a wider distribution of personal digital devices. National Express (long distance potential coach passengers are heavily affected by this) already gives for some destination a voucher to use local public transport. But that helps only towards the cost, because the decision process to use public transport is likely to be determined by the number of transportation vectors needed for the journey.