Conference Report: A Historic Core Zone – the solution to traffic management in a Historic Town? - 10 June, Bradford on Avon

 Bradford on Avon

View the speakers' presentations

Delegates arriving in the picturesque Wiltshire town were welcomed to St Margaret’s Hall by the Town’s Mayor, Councillor Isabel MartindaleChris Winter, Director of HTF then set the scene in the context of the Forum’s work on traffic management over many years and introduced Ian Poole of Bury St Edmunds Borough Council (and former Chair of HTF) to talk about the background and principles of Historic Core Zones.

He began by emphasising the importance of spaces and the stress placed on heritage assets in the new PPS5. He explained HTF’s development of the Historic Core Zone project since 1992 with its focus on special traffic management measures in historic towns.  The detrimental impact of street clutter and over engineering was amply illustrated by his slides, which were then followed by illustrations from his European study (a CABE Space Scholarship) demonstrating what can be achieved by a completely different approach, without compromising safety. 

Each of the four HCZ projects in Bury St Edmunds, Shrewsbury, Lincoln and Halifax had different challenges and varying solutions, but the principles were consistent:

  • Well designed traffic measures can meet traffic management and conservation objectives
  • There is no standard solution but historic streets deserve special treatment
  • A lot can be achieved within current regulations
  • Adequate investment in quality is essential and reduces maintenance costs
  • Good design can equal self enforcement

He concluded that investment in streets improves vitality, secures investment in buildings and contributes to well being.  First impressions are important and the streets are the town’s ‘front room’.

From this ..........................   to this

Allan Creedy, Transport & Development Manager of Wiltshire Council offered a strategic overview of traffic management and development in a small historic town. He set this in the current political and financial context, which means that we “have to make better use of what we’ve got”. He explained the dilemma faced by Bradford on Avon:

  • its considerable Conservation Area with many 16thcentury listed buildings
  • its poor air quality due to high traffic volumes
  • the high proportion of people travelling to work by car
  • daily traffic queues and delays and a poor pedestrian environment
  • the unpopularity and difficulty of delivering conventional solutions.

In order to achieve behavioural change, it had been agreed to adopt the HCZ approach, which meant challenging convention and seeking specialist advice, which is how the current project came about – with consultants Colin Buchanan and HTF as advisors.

Edward Nash, Senior Partner at Nash Partnership explained the impact and integration of development in small historic towns with specific reference to the Kingston Mill development in Bradford on Avon.  He emphasised the range of the skill-set required to deal with the challenges and the kind of management of projects of this sort which is needed. The development site, although 75% post war buildings had evolved from c18th & c19th wool and rubber industry buildings. The potential impact on the town was wide ranging and special attention was given to the topography, the narrow streets and special historic character.

  Public Spaces
Kingston Mill

The challenges faced by Bradford on Avon were explained by Cllr Malcolm Hewson, Chair of the Bradford on Avon Area Board. He said that it is an historic town with 21stcentury challenges, with divisions in the town’s population which makes solutions difficult to agree. The town must serve residents and visitors and maintain viable levels of employment, which are not easy to balance, he said.  The additional challenge of the new town centre development (at Kingston Mills) had added both threats and opportunities. He saw the HCZ proposal as part of a list of ‘flexible plans and agreeable actions’ which offered something for everyone. He concluded that flexibility was essential as well as defining the ‘good things’ and working with the opportunities which were presented, making small gains and constantly reappraising and adapting plans. He ended with the assertion that “Plans of action never survive contact with the enemy!” 

The HCZ proposal for Bradford on Avon was presented by Keith Firth, Director of Traffic Engineering, at Colin Buchanan. He explained in detail the consultation processes which had preceded the project, the project objectives and the data which had been collected in order to produce three options, with one ‘prefered’. Boundaries had been identified for the Zone and the project developed within the context of the Community Plan and LTP2 and other local initiatives. He said that it had been essential to understand the history of the town, its routes and their relationship to the surrounding area. He also illustrated the palette of materials for surfacing, street furniture, signing and lighting, which he recommended should be contemporary and locally distinctive, as illustrated by examples from other places with successful schemes.

Current budget constraints would impact on the project’s progress, but Keith offered several cost estimates and it was agreed that parts of the project could be implemented as funding became available through a range of funding sources. 

Design materials - surfacing

The speakers responded to questions from delegates before adjourning for lunch. This was followed by tours of the proposed HCZ and the development site.

 The Hayes  
Delegates explore the proposed Historic Core Zone

Workshops: Exploring the challenges & solutions
On their return, using copies of the plan provided by Colin Buchanan and the information gleaned from their walk around the town, delegates discussed the HCZ principles and the project objectives and gave feedback on whether these would be achieved by the ‘preferred option’.

Workshops explore the principles and objectives

Summary by Ian Poole
The seminar demonstrated that there is a passion both amongst built environment professionals and the community concerning the quality of the streets and spaces in historic towns.  It remains clear, however, that there is no “quick fix” and while everyone is a transport planner and engineer in terms of identifying a solution, the challenge is reaching a consensus about a deliverable project.

Projects in the public realm can take a long time to come to fruition and this is likely to be more so in the current financial climate.  But perhaps that’s not a bad thing.  It provides an opportunity to take a breath and examine what works and how projects can be delivered.  Creating good quality public realm takes a long time to deliver because of the huge amount of interest and stakeholders.  The Bradford-on-Avon situation demonstrates the whole range of issues that can occur in resolving public realm issues.  Community involvement is a key element in the improvement of streets in the UK, but perhaps this is unique in the UK?  There is evidence in Europe that projects are designed by architectural practices and delivered with little community engagement in the design, a bit like the design of buildings.  Whichever approach is chosen, there will always be dissent.  What we have in Bradford-on-Avon is a community generated approach to creating an Historic Core Zone.  This approach is to be commended as long as there is a level of realism by all involved.