Town planner and urban designer calls on Solum to revise pedestrian plans for Stortford Goodsyard development
Yvonne Estop-Wood, a member of the cross-party working group on Old River Lane (ORL), is a town planner and urban designer with experience in local government. Here she gives her insight into developer Solum’s proposals to remove a step-free access to the railway station as part of its Goodsyard development and possible solutions.
A small detail of the Goodsyard scheme has led to a big outcry. Residents are asking Solum to keep a gently sloping footpath from the station entrance to Station Road east, linking with London Road and Hockerill. The new scheme would replace this with steps, alongside cycle parking and new offices.
The existing step-free footpath to Station Road means people in wheelchairs, parents pushing buggies, people pulling wheelie suitcases, children and tired people can walk easily to and from their homes. It serves everyone, frankly – steps look like a barrier and sometimes they are a slog for anyone, including cyclists, who can push their bikes up a slope more easily than up steps.
This pathway is not just the smooth route home for Hockerill people. It is also the route that new Goodsyard residents will take to get to their nearest supermarket at Aldi, the hospital and three excellent Indian eateries. And for Hockerill residents it is the direct route to the Empire cinema, South Mill Arts and South Street.
It is fair to acknowledge that the huge achievement of the Goodsyard scheme is the new link road, enabling buses, taxis and drop-offs, as well as access to new homes and businesses – no mean feat. But pedestrian links are the delicate threads that tie big schemes into the town and bring them to life.
The main planning permission for the Goodsyard was granted in July 2018. The scheme shows an office block with steps up to Station Road. Was this overlooked? Actually no, Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation (BSCF) noticed the pedestrian route issue very clearly in its consultation response in December 2017.
And the planning authority did not overlook it either – East Herts Council placed an explicit and robust condition on the permission (condition 64) that requires a designed solution to achieving step-free access to the east. Solum has gained approval for this design before building the offices and removing the slope.
While the council did the right thing, with scrutiny by BSCF, Solum has undervalued this footpath link twice: first when designing the original office block with steps and a sharp corner; second when submitting the detailed design for the ‘highways, footways and cycle paths' (phase 1B) just six months after the main permission. This was the time its footpaths design should have addressed the requirement of condition 64. It actually excluded the steps, as if they are not part of the footways. It cut off the main link.
The road, taxi rank and part of the footway have now been built and Solum has painted itself into a corner, with no options for providing a step-free path, except to change the building itself.
Our job now is to press Solum and its excellent architects, Pollard Thomas Edwards, to work out a properly-designed solution to meet condition 64.
It looks as if this will require a significantly amended building design, reducing the extent of the north end, or shifting the whole building southwards. It will take ingenuity. The building is important as it contains the proposed station cycle parking, and the building frames the new station square, but neither of these intents need be lost.
But the station slope issue reminds us of the importance of good pedestrian and cycle access generally. Despite an excess of car parking, the Goodsyard scheme and link road make the station a more powerful hub for the town.
Being able to walk and cycle safely from all parts of town is essential and sustainable. Walking and cycling are quick, cheap, healthy and reduce car use and traffic. So the highways authority and Solum should look at the four key walking routes – Station Road east, Station Road west, Dane Street, cross-river to Southmill Road – and improve them: the lighting, the surfaces, the pavement width.
The quality of footways around the station is very poor; the Goodsyard scheme stops dead at its red line boundary. And let’s strongly urge train operator Greater Anglia to put cycle parking at its east entrance, by removing some of the ‘premier’ car spaces.
On the Elizabeth Line – Crosslink, all the east London stations have been upgraded. But the access upgrades didn’t stop at the station door; all pedestrian and cycle approach routes within a 500m radius have been upgraded.
Not everyone chooses to walk, but if you do, you are safer than before. The stations get less congested with ‘kiss and ride’ – casual dropping off and collecting by car that is now a daily practice for thousands of us.
The reason a high-density scheme could be allowed at the Goodsyard is because of proximity – living close to the station, shops, culture, healthcare, riverside amenity, restaurants. The foot traffic is not just train passengers – every afternoon, watch the surge of school students on Station Road, clattering down the old neglected steps.
Let’s press the highways authority, the district council and Solum to look wide and inclusively, and improve critical walking links.