The following is an abridged version of a letter sent to Mary Harpley, Chief Executive of Cherwell District Council, over the forthcoming pedestrianisation of Parsons Street:
I thought I should contact you direct, as the management committee of the Banbury Civic Society has a significant concern over the forthcoming pedestrianisation of Parsons Street.
We have participated fully in the consultations over the details of disabled parking and times of vehicular access. Given Parsons Street's highly sensitive and very public location at the heart of the Banbury Conservation Area, we had anticipated that there would be similar public engagement and consultation over the choice of paving, signage, landscaping and street furniture. At the very least we had anticipated that there would be a planning application, given the obvious potential for these items to have a significant effect on the character and appearance of the Banbury Conservation Area.
Following announcements in the papers over the letting of the contract and the start of works, we are dismayed to discover that the choice of all of these features will apparently be decided with no public discussion. We understand that paving is to be in brick, signage will be the minimum required for traffic regulation and street furniture will match that used in the rest of the town. We understand that the budget is severely constrained, but under such circumstances it may have been better to have reconsidered the appropriateness of previous brick paving and whether spending the whole of the budget on hard-surfacing is actually the most cost-effective route to the effective 'place-making' that Parsons Street and Church Lane so desperately need.
As a statutory undertaker, the Council can clearly do as it pleases, but we would observe that the proposals currently appear to run contrary to advice in Government guidance contained in Planning and the Historic Environment – PPG 15. This explicitly states:
Floorscape and street furniture… make a vital contribution to the appearance of a conservation area. In particular, where there is a tradition of rectangular slab paving, small block paviours and arbitrary new patterns should be avoided. Tarmac, preferably dressed with a suitable local aggregate, remains an appropriate and inexpensive finish for many conservation areas.... If a street is to be pedestrianised, it is important to retain the traditional relationship between footways and carriageway, including kerb lines. Wall-to-wall surfaces are often unsuitable and the scale, texture, colour and laying patterns of any new materials should be sympathetic to the area's appearance… In certain circumstances grants may be available from English Heritage towards the cost of street improvement schemes which incorporate the use of traditional paving features. English Heritage's publication ‘Street Improvements in Historic Areas’ offers guidance on the treatment of streets and public open spaces in historic areas, to encourage wider recognition of the important contribution they make to townscape quality.
We know from documentary sources that Banbury's historic paving materials were York stone paving, Gornal (Dudley) gritstone kerbs and rammed Hartshill (Nuneaton) granite chippings for road surfaces. Wall-to-wall brick paviours are clearly alien to the town and my own feeling is that the existing pedestrianised areas and street furniture already look rather dated. Rather than perpetuate these themes in Parsons Street, it may well have been better to have considered alternative options, for example high quality materials throughout, taking advantage of government (EH) funding, or a cheaper and more traditional surfacing comprising quality stone 'pavements' and 'kerbs', laid flush with a cheaper bound aggregate surface laid in between.
I do appreciate that money is limited but, given that the re-paving is being paid for from Council funds (i.e. from the ratepayer), the current lack of public consultation on surface finishes, signage and street furniture does appear at the very least rather impolite. It is rather like telling granny that you'll have her house redecorated at her expense, then not allowing her any say in the choice of paint, carpet, wallpaper or furnishings.
I am very sorry to raise this at such a late stage, but getting this right now seems absolutely imperative, as the chosen scheme will be with us for a generation.
Kind regards, as ever
(Chair, Banbury Civic Society)