Newsletter 4th Quarter 2009
Parson’s Street Pedestrianisation

Readers of our last Newsletter may recall the concerns of this Society with regard to the final realisation of the Parson’s Street pedestrianisation, not least with regard to the loss of the historic granite kerbs and the laying of wall-to-wall brick paviours; features which contravene all recognised guidance about pedestrianisation schemes in historic areas, not least the current guidance contained within the government’s Planning Policy Guidance note, PPG 15. We had hoped that CDC would be able to respond in time for our last Newsletter to carry both our letter and CDC’s response. Unfortunately this was not possible, but we are pleased to publish CDC’s response in this issue:

24 August 2009

Dear Rob

Parsons Street Pedestrianisation

I refer to your email to Mary Harpley dated 6 July and also to the letter from Rev’d Fryer 27 July also addressed to the Chief Executive. I apologise for the delay in replying.

I understand that you feel there has been a lack of consultation on the design approach and the choice of materials for the pedestrianisation scheme currently on site.

You may recall that several years ago we consulted widely upon the proposals to pedestrianise not only Parsons Street, but the whole of Market Place as well. The Chief Executive and Linda Rand gave numerous presentations to local groups. There was much publicity and a public exhibition was held in Castle Quay Shopping Centre, which was well attended. The consultants, LDA Design also gave presentations. The Civic Society was fully engaged in this process. The proposals were deliberately contemporary in character, with the use of innovative new paving techniques, albeit that the manufacturers of the materials were not specified. The scheme involved paving across Parsons Street and Market Place to create a single surface for ease of pedestrian movement and to signal clearly to drivers out of Core Time that this was a pedestrian environment. The design was generally enthusiastically received, albeit the loss of parking was rather more controversial.

The proposals were put on hold for a number of years. When they were looked at again more recently, Members took the decision to retain the same amount of parking in Market Place, so this was redesigned to free up Market Hill as public space. It was also decided that the final scheme design and contract specification should be an in-house project. The principle of the design had already been established several years prior and so the proposals for the Road Traffic Order were all that was left to be consulted upon in terms of fundamental decision. We did however set out to publicise, exhibit and take comments on the proposed scheme layout details and the public art installation.

I feel our approach to consultation has been thorough and we have adopted a stage by stage approach starting with principles, then design parameters. Once stage decisions are made it has not been our intention to reverse earlier decisions.

The scheme layout was subject to stakeholder consultation and consideration by Project Board including the Chamber in mid 2008. In October 2008 the scheme layout was displayed in the Town Hall (clearly showing block paving). I think we can fairly say there was general support for the approach at that stage. We did not define the precise colour and detail of the materials choices as this was set by the need to match the rest of town centre and then became part of the work with County Council about available acceptable materials for maintenance and design/drainage detail. Within the parameter that we were to block pave specific choice is something we would always wish to deal with through our normal internal implementation arrangements, as this is the only practical way of proceeding.

There is no question of a need for planning permission or conservation area consent. A street works project of this kind is undertaken under the “permitted development”regime for works on the highway. There are routine highways act controls from the Highway Authority (County Council), but CDC has an agency and related agreements allowing it to act for the Highways Authority on this scheme.

CDC is very conscious of design sensitivities and the debate around appropriate street scene improvements in historic areas. This was considered from the outset and balanced with all considerations, particularly the need to ensure clear differentiation of the pedestrianised street from vehicular routes and to do a match with the rest of the town centre pedestrian areas.

I am sorry that the scheme currently being implemented does not have your support. However, the conceptual design decisions were made early in the design process and we clearly cannot reverse the decisions at this late stage.

I trust the Civic Society will continue to engage with the decision making process of other important projects at the appropriate stages in the future.

Yours sincerely

(John Hoad for) Mary Harpley (Chief Executive)

Now that the first phase of the pedestrianisation scheme has been completed (ahead of schedule), it is apparent that its appearance is not nearly as poor as had been feared, due largely to the brick gullies going some way to reproducing the linear visual effect of traditional kerb lines. We nevertheless still deeply regret that the 180-year-old granite kerbs could not be incorporated into the scheme as flushlaid features, in line with established conservation principles. Fortunately these valuable materials have been retained by CDC. We have requested they be reused in the town, rather than in the surrounding villages as has happened with Banbury’s granite setts.

We should note that this Society has always been supportive of the pedestrianisation in principle, as the former status-quo clearly wasn’t working. Nevertheless, the scheme as realised shows that there is much more to effective place-making than paving. Come the new year we will be seeking partners to promote and market ‘the Banbury Lanes’ as an entity, with appropriate seating and signage, shopfront improvements and, where appropriate, localised strategic planting.

Parsons Street before and after pedestrianisation