Valley Gardens Consultation: Old Steine and Roundabout
The current publication and presentation of the Council’s plans for the Old Steine and the Palace Pier Junction mark the preparation for the final phase of the Valley Gardens redesign.
The city is a place for people to live. Apart from being aesthetically pleasing, it should also combine many functions and meet the varied needs of its citizens. The Valley Gardens project will go some way in addressing the look of the area that has become through neglect and poor management an eyesore and a disgrace.
This is the showcase area of the city; it is the part that most visitors see when they enter Brighton, therefore a high quality design solution should be a priority. It will take more than the planting of a few trees and an uninspired hard surface area to realise this need.
There is an opportunity to make the intended new spaces a real showcase that will attract people away from the seafront or the shopping outlets of the city to this area. A creative design strategy could transform this area of the city into a place Brighton citizens can be proud of. However, without high quality design the alternative might be that this area will once again be underused except for the profit making events that take place, for example during the Brighton Festival.
The noticeable reduction in roadway area with the introduction of enlarged and additional pedestrian spaces is welcome. Nevertheless, the success of the proposals will depend to a large extent on the quality of these new and expanded public areas in terms of planting, seating, landscaping, paving and kerbing, street furniture, lighting, and most importantly future maintenance.
We are concerned about the lack of any detail at present. Examples of good quality can be found in urban parks, gardens and squares not only in continental Europe but also as close to home as the Bexhill seafront landscaping or Eastbourne seating.
Even if the funding for all this is insufficient at this stage, once the major traffic and roadway alterations are made, there is the basis for further incremental improvements to all the elements referred to above.
During the development of the earlier phases of the Valley Gardens scheme, while the basis and funding derived from highways policy, a heritage consultant was engaged to advise on the garden landscape designs; but the public presentation of the Old Steine stage of the project is focused on plans for changes in transport, mobility and hard surface; prospects of continued expert garden design advice are uncertain. Meanwhile one of the stated principles of the project is that all green spaces will be retained. Permanent care and protection of the grass is crucial to the quality of the area.
Reassurance is required regarding the protection of existing trees during construction stage, particularly the many elm trees. What species will new trees be? Will they be planted in the ground or in containers? The green spaces should be properly landscaped with interesting trees, shrubs and planting – St James’s Park in London, for example, might provide inspiration. Some imagination is called for.
We are also concerned about the next design stage and how the important details will be illustrated and consulted upon. As there is unlikely to be a planning application, how will the public be able to make comments or objections to the proposals? And will the Council Planning Committee discuss or have any say in approving the proposals?
Given that the scheme is at the heart of the city’s historic centre, adjacent to the Grade 1 Listed Royal Pavilion, and is within the Valley Gardens Conservation Area – which is on Historic England’s list of ‘at risk’ conservation areas – will the Council’s Heritage Team have any input into the design? And will the Conservation Advisory Group have an opportunity to comment on the proposals?
It is vitally important to consider the question of what use will be made of these spaces. Certain areas may need enlivening and diversifying by temporary amenities or events – but intense uses for events involving heavy vehicular and pedestrian traffic create long term damage particularly to grassed areas, as has been seen in this location, as elsewhere in Valley Gardens.
Turning to the traffic-related issues: for pedestrian crossings, we would like to see some detailed options. For example, at the A259 crossing, where the roundabout is planned for removal, could something similar to the Oxford Circus model be applicable (either fully or partially) whereby all lights turn red and the junction area can be walked across in all directions? More generally, the use, for instance, of diagonal layouts for pedestrian crossings has proved effective in many overseas precedents.
With the loss to pedestrianisation of the traffic lane flanking the Pavilion, not only will some buses from the north, as now, be turning right at the foot of St James’s Street towards North Street, but buses from North Street will all be turning at the same junction to go north from the Steine. Might bus congestion here resemble the kind familiar in North Street and Churchill Square?
Since, in the absence of solutions to traffic volume, the hope and intention is at least for greater comfort and calm in the area, it is tempting to contemplate broader traffic and environmental questions, such as the alternative of small and mini buses and small delivery lorries in the central city area. There is already a problem of large delivery vehicles including articulated lorries turning or reversing into narrow cul-de-sac service roads near by.
There surely must be a case for reducing some of the speed limits in this locality. To allow vehicles to travel through the junction at the Pier at 30mph cannot be right – or for buses and the rest to be bolting through the Steine at 20mph? A commensurate restriction could also be applied to speeding bicycles, as has been introduced in Bournemouth.
The exhibition at the Jubilee Library closes on 21 November and the closing date for response to the questionnaire is 25 November.
We welcome the fact that the questionnaire invites comments in terms and a form that are in part open to individual expression, and is not confined to a rigid tick-box format; moreover some of the specific questions raised on the form address matters that are close to our heart – notably, in view of the proposed paving of the road alongside the Pavilion, “Do you have any ideas what the bus shelters could be used for?”