CORE STRATEGY CONSULTATION
STANFORD PARISH COUNCIL CONTRIBUTION
Shepway is at the very south east corner of Britain and is on the road to nowhere. It must have good communications to survive but the main centres of population, Folkestone, Hythe, New Romney/Lydd are avoided by the M20; the harbour is no longer commercial, and the addition of high speed passenger trains is to be the least possible, serving commuters but not providing the additional infrastructure that must be the key to any real development of our district.
Whatever is decided in the context of the ‘big issues’ must be dependent on the growth of transport links. In the present, environmentally sensitive times, this must involve the railways. We have high speed and conventional trains and we have the channel tunnel railway system. We have a point of contact where these meet the road system, both trunk and motorway, near junction 11 on the M20. If railway connections are not enhanced, Shepway cannot become more than an outer suburb of London, generating greenhouse gases as few more tens of thousands of commuters return here to a landscape full of homes but without local employment or quality leisure.
If businesses, the arts, sport and recreation, shops and offices, educational facilities, houses and homes, and all the other things that could bring life back to this district are to be attracted here to the furthest reaches of the south east of Britain, there must be an integrated transport scheme that looks beyond cutting ten minutes from commuter times or adding an extra lane to the M20.
We have addressed one possibility for an imaginative, forward looking, and practical approach to a key element of infrastructure improvement, with the STOP 24 motorway facility at junction 11 of the M20 becoming a hub for the integration of road and rail, freight and passenger services. This has been developed for us by Cllr Martin de Wolf who spent his working life as a manager and administrator on the region’s railways. We attach this as an appendix: it offers a vision of a transport scheme on which the core strategy might be expressed.
The final stages of journeys into Shepway also require attention. If the central area of Folkestone is to achieve its potential (the new retail area, the harbour, the creative zone, office expansion) the links between the central area and main line railway and/or the M20 must be improved. The harbour railway lines must be retained. In a similar way, Hythe and Romney Marsh are cut off from main transport routes (one of the main objections to the airport expansion at Lydd is the impossibility of getting enough passengers there). This will require the enhancement of the A259 or the creation of new roads although, ideally, the branch railway lines would be re-developed. Rural areas cannot develop countryside activities nor contribute to commercial and recreational activity in revitalised towns unless the rural bus services are improved. Hard decisions, many of them unpopular, will be needed but improved transport must accompany any worthwhile local development.
The evolution of patterns of shopping will have an effect on local development which is not addressed in the Strategy Document. It is implied (eg, in 1D) that shops will arise to form the centres of emerging communities, but recent experience of supermarket expansion and the establishment of ‘out of town’ retail parks gives the lie to this. Shopping in the High Streets of Hythe, New Romney and Folkestone is no longer the centre of social and commercial activity. It may be too late to redress the damage caused to these communities by retail parks and supermarkets but if retail activity is seen as the way to develop or regenerate communities in future, very serious planning decisions will have to be taken.
B Big Issues
We would like to address these in reverse order: it seems more logical:
- what will drive development,
- what type of development, and then,
- where should it be?
B1 What will drive development?
As the Preamble, above, makes clear, infrastructure development based on the railways is a key to successful development. But it cannot be enough on its own – people and freight need to get here for a purpose, and there is no reason why the other three items listed should be mutually exclusive. Secondary and tertiary education offer the opportunities for skill, innovation, culture and creativity as the embryonic developments in Folkestone demonstrate. Through the enhancement of the links with the Universities and Colleges in Canterbury all elements could lead to the attraction of science-based industry, and cultural and creative activities which would provide employment and recreation for an increased population. Successful communities need good transport, varied and satisfying employment and stimulating cultural and sporting recreation. Development should embrace all these.
B2 What type of development is best?
Again, there is an unhelpful dichotomy – housing and employment are not alternatives, unless it is envisaged that this should be either a dormitory or a workbase drawing workers in from other districts. If Shepway is to become vibrant it must develop new enterprises, whether scientific, productive, creative, educational, recreational or otherwise. It must also provide new and suitable homes for those engaged in these enterprises. One of our councillors believes that any development near to this community should be residential in order to preserve local character and to provide a population base for the expansion of local services such as a school, buses, a shop and a village hall. These new residents would leave the village for work and recreation. Another suggested model is to have a mix of developments, although we note a history of local preference for no development at all in this parish.
B3 What is the best pattern of development?
Option 1A has been the preferred option according to national and local policies, with development linked to existing centres of population and employment. This has the advantage of limiting green-field use and simplifying the enhancement of infrastructure. It also preserves the maximum possible area for amenity and leisure use – providing breathing space for those who live in local towns.
Among councillors here, a preference has been expressed for option 1B. however, it has been noted that the broad areas whose character is to be maintained would soon lose their character if housing and industry grows. There is an implication in the final sentence of this section that the effects of option 1B would see the growth of Folkestone and Hythe, ie option 1A!
1C is not likely to produce self-sufficient’ hinterlands and we discard this. 1D is inflexible and too ‘centralist’ in its approach. Who will decide what the ‘function’ of any community is to be?
TRANSPORT: Problems and a solution
For Shepway to manage its development properly, key decisions taken years ago are likely to adversely affect growth unless a U turn on rail proposals and other connecting public transport services are drastically altered. These failings have been drawn to the attention of the transportation officer of Shepway and the local MP, but without any success.
The High Speed One train (HS1) will deliver to Folkestone an excellent and long overdue boost to the local economy but provision of the number of seats in the peak hours and the abandonment of First Class seems to give a less than ringing endorsement to the commuters which this premier service should attract. It is a travesty that a decision was only recently made to modify Shakespeare Tunnel. However, that is a strategic issue and as a Parish Council we are concerned with more local issues: Westenhanger and the area around Jct 11 of the M20.
There are three local transport issues which cause concern: their resolution, however offers of hope for the sorts of development which could greatly enhance the future of Shepway if addressed with sufficient imagination and vigour.
1 STOP 24, junction 11, M20
In January this year STOP 24 opened, reputedly the largest MSA in Europe, but it is unlikely to be the business success that is claimed. Common sense says that 4.2 million a year (their figures) visitors will simply not want to stop so close to their destination or so soon after leaving France. Alas the MSA site is likely to be a white elephant, and thought should be given to what can be done, to prevent the dereliction of this conspicuous site in our community and, at the same time, greatly to enhance the transport infrastructure of Shepway as a key to future development
2 Westenhanger Station
The car park at Westenhanger is tiny, which forces the majority of commuters to park on the verges of Stone Street causing problems for access and egress to the Racecourse and Westenhanger Castle. Even the railway company have problems with road access to Westenhanger – they have to provide a special mini-bus for Westenhanger when buses replace trains for engineering work – because the bus they would otherwise use cannot get to and from the station. Access to the “up” platform is on the flat but to the down there is a 50 step decent from the road bridge, making this station inaccessible for many people with disabilities.
3 HS1 trains at Sandling
In December 2009 the HS1 trains will be calling at Sanding, and the car park will be over-subscribed. Just about everyone who uses the station will come by car. The road access is very poor, twisty, without pavement in the northerly direction and totally unlit. It is inconvenient for commuters from Romney Marsh and not much better for those from the M20 direction. Operationally the platforms are on a curve, so safe train despatch is an issue and the station is at the bottom of a sharp gradient which in the leaf fall season is an issue. The decision to have HS1 trains at Sandling will almost certainly prove to a mistake.
The central idea is to use Westenhanger for the HS1 trains, cutting out Sandling and using the car parking and other facilities at STOP 24 for train users.
A glance at Google Earth for Jct 11 reveals an interesting geographical fact – Westenhanger station is very close to the MSA. It was built in 1842: the “up” platform is still its original length (5 coaches) but there is land to the east for an easy extension of this platform to accommodate much longer trains. The “down” platform was lengthened some years ago and will accommodate 8 cars – and although this facility is not currently used, there is the possibility of extension.
What would be the benefit of switching the service to Westenhanger?
· The platforms would have to be lengthened – in the Dover direction – to take longer trains, but the signalling system could probably be left as it is, and once the platforms are lengthened, they would reach to the MSA site. The necessary provision of a wheelchair friendly ramp, either below the CTRL or over it by a footbridge, would access directly into that area.
· The tracks at this location are straight and are almost level at Westenhanger(the highest point between Ashford and Dover). There are no wheel-slip issues and there is excellent visibility for safe operation.
· There is a large parcel of land west of the proposed Hotel south east of junction 11 which would make an ideal commuter car park.
· Vehicle access would be from Jct 11, giving a quick and convenient way for persons, not only from Romney Marsh and Hythe, but for those from the expanding Hawkinge area. This also would greatly alleviate traffic via Cherry Garden Avenue, over the A20, trying to get to Folkestone West (Parkway).
If High Speed trains called at Westenhanger the effect on local businesses and living conditions would be dramatic.
· Folkestone Racecourse would be within 40 mins of Stratford East London. There is a known lack of Racecourse provision in that part of London and the potential would easily exceed the 25% target of rail passengers. It would allow free passage of large road vehicles bringing horses, TV equipment etc.
· SDC has sanctioned up to 10,000 persons per event at Folkestone Racecourse. Car access for this number would be impossible along Stone Street.
· Westenhanger Castle Medieval Barns project is well advanced and when open will be a popular venue, and much better if visitors came by public transport.
· The Hotel which is to be built at STOP 24 would suddenly be very strategically placed to offer a fantastic transport link to London and make it easy to market in Northern France as a good place to stay to visit London.
· STOP 24 itself would benefit from a captive commuter market as they could charge for car parking, with the add on benefit of the petrol station and other facilities (which might include booking).
· If all parking for the station was channelled into the STOP 24 site, to the north of the tracks, Stone Street Westenhanger could be yellow lined and all parking at the station stopped, leaving just a pedestrian access from Stone Street. It would not matter how busy the station got, local residents would be totally unaffected by cars and their pollution. The area would become safe again.
There are even further long term benefits.
· It has been proposed in the past that a freight railway should be built from Nottingham to the Channel Tunnel, to carry lorries. This project has not been well promoted but trends suggest that, within the next 20 years, it will be built. The alternative is to double the size of the M20, and this will never be acceptable. Such a railway would run immediately to the south of the present line, straight through the disused Westenhanger station building and the car park. If cars for the station were already parked to the north (at the MSA), that part of the plan would not matter.
· Also there is a proposal to extract sand from Shrine Farm – a massive project involving thousands of HGV movements in the Sandling area. If Sandling station was closed – and all traffic moved to Westenhanger – not only does it make that idea more palatable but would allow the possibility of a rail freight depot being built at Sandling.
Thus, the potential advantages for the whole of Shepway from a realistic examination of the sorts of change which could take place at the district’s newest facility are very great indeed and should form part of the Core Strategy for the Local Development Framework.
Ken Bultitude, Chair of Stanford Parish Council, 26 February 2008