The “Eco Town” that isn’t and its “transport plans”

The Co-operative Estates finally got round to publishing its transport plans for Pennbury, the proposed “Eco Town” (it’s an “eco town” again rather than a series of “eco villages”) in Leicestershire.

The Co-operative Estates state, “It is anticipated that 85% of journeys generated at the proposed ‘eco town’ will be going to destinations within the development itself or to nearby Leicester, where it is expected that up to 70% of the working population of the proposed ‘eco town’ will secure employment.”

So the Co-operative Estates admit that 70% of the working population of the “eco town” will actually be working in Leicester, not in the “eco town” itself.  Therefore the “eco town” will not generate or attract sufficient businesses and employers to employ more than 30% of the working population within Pennbury.  That wasn’t the original plan.

At least they finally admit that most people living at Pennbury “eco town” will be working in Leicester. Not sure about that future tense will though, since, in order to buy houses in Pennbury “eco town”, purchasers will have to be already working in order to secure mortgages. So how are they going to get to work?

The Co-operative Estates state, “The ‘eco town’ will make it easier for people to catch the bus by providing more convenient real time bus information.  At a basic level, this will be information on when the next bus will arrive available at the stop.  In addition, we are proposing ways to make this real time information available to people’s homes, to workplaces and to mobile phones meaning you always know when the next bus is due, making it as convenient as travelling by car.”

We already have real time bus information in Leicestershire, it’s a service called Traveline and the phone number is displayed at most bus stops (at least those bus stops that have signs).  It’s already available to anyone who can reach a phone whether they are at work, at home, visiting or standing at the bus stop using a mobile.  Some existing bus stops also have Startrak screens which (theoretically) state when the next bus will arrive.  However, knowing when the next bus is due won’t make bus travel “as convenient as travelling by car.”  A wait for half an hour or more will always be more inconvenient than getting in a car and starting a journey immediately.

The Co-operative Estates state, “To be attractive and make people want to use them, buses and bus stations need to be safe at all times of the day and night.  We’re proposing modern buses equipped with the latest security and safety measures (including CCTV).  We will also be looking to ensure buses run regularly into the evening and through the night, in line with demand.  We want people to be able to get into, out and around the ‘eco town’ safely, no matter what time of day or night.”

Trouble is, it’s not just buses and bus stations in the “eco town” that need to be safe and secure.  If someone is travelling back to the “eco town” from Leicester, then they won’t do so if the bus stops, buses and bus station in Leicester aren’t safe.

The vast majority of bus passengers want weather-proofing as a priority, ie bus stops that offer proper shelter from wind and rain.  But the Co-op don’t say anything about weather and public transport.  Clearly bus shelters are not part of their plans.

The Co-operative Estates state, “We are also proposing to make improvements to the main roads connecting the ‘eco town’ with Leicester city, including the A6 and A47.  In partnership with local authorities, we are proposing introducing alternative uses of new and existing roadspace to give public transport priority and to help make bus connections fast and reliable.”

So the Co-op is going to build new roads outside the “eco town”, then.  And where are these new roads going to be?  The Co-op aren’t saying.  Wonder why?  Lack of planning or because they know any new roads will be unpopular? 

There is no way that public transport can be given priority on the Gartree Road (the main route from the proposed “eco town” into Leicester).  Gartree Road is a single carriageway and too narrow to introduce a cycle track on it let alone a bus lane.  The A6 and A47 have existing bus and cycle lanes where they fit.  If the Co-op want to introduce further measures on either or both roads, they’d better come up with some solid proposals. 

The existing roads will not take 20,000 extra cars and the Co-op needs to do more than just make wishful noises about giving public transport priority.

The Co-operative Estates state, “As the proposed ‘eco town’ is 7.5 miles (over 15 minutes journey time) from the M1, it is unlikely to become a major commuter settlement serving towns away from Leicester.  An M1 link would not be consistent with our plans to reduce reliance on the car and therefore we are not seeking a specific response to questions around this option.”

Since when has an “over 15 minutes journey time” stopped East Leicestershire residents from getting to the M1.  Again, given that most Pennbury residents, 70% according to the Co-op’s own figures, will be working in Leicester, how does the Co-op know they won’t be working in Fosse Park, Grove Park Triangle shopping and business parks, the Leicestershire Constabulary’s Head Quarters at St John in Enderby, all near the M1 Junction?  So all those cars, around 20,000 of them, going to shopping, leisure and business facilities near the M1 Junction will be gridlocking the outer ring road.  Good to see the Co-op are as familiar with Leicester as they are with sky larks.

The Co-operative Estates state, “We will introduce a charge for people leaving the ‘eco town’ by car at peak times in order to disincentivise car use and to encourage people to reassess their travel choices.  We will also explore the possibility of making key routes within the ‘eco town’ car free at peak times, both in the morning and evening peaks.”

Taxing people for driving to work is going to get them on buses, is it?  Or are people going to take advantage of flexible working and drive at non peak times?  Meanwhile those non key routes within the “eco town” are going to become rat runs.  Just how attractive a proposal is this?

The Co-operative Estates state, “We are proposing Park & Ride facilities which we think will be genuinely attractive.  For example, we are proposing that these should be ‘dry in dry out facilities’ which provide fully covered parking, possibly on several levels.  Buses would collect and return people direct to the parking point so that, if it was raining, people could stay dry and under cover at all times.  We are also investigating the option to provide convenience services, such as shopping and dry cleaning, at the parking point so that people can manage day-to-day errands easily and while catching the bus.  We may also persuade major retailers from the city centre to deliver goods for pick-up at the Park & Ride.”

That’ll be the major retailers from the city centre who don’t want the “eco town” because it’ll take investment away from the city centre regeneration, that will have a miraculous change of heart and serve the “eco town” then. 

Note the Co-op will consider weather-proofing the Park & Ride facilities but not the ordinary bus stops.  Is this a deliberate attempt to encourage people to use Park & Ride or ignorance?

Areas the Co-op needs to research and fast:-

• its own studies into the land at the proposed site (remember the Co-op own it, they’ve got no excuse for not understanding it).
• sky larks (the ones that are ground nesting) and existing wildlife at the site.
• human nature (prefers cars to buses, will turn side roads into rat runs if blocked from using certain routes at certain times of the day and doesn’t want the hassle of being tied to an inconvenient public transport timetable, likes shopping and leisure facilities and will drive to them if they are not nearby).

This transport plan is nothing more than an aspirational wishlist.  Ignoring the M1 link is not sensible or practical.  If new roads are to be built, the Co-op should say where and give local people who will be affected by these new roads a proper chance to consider their impact.

The initial consultation period ends next month.  I’m still waiting for details from the Co-operative Estates that prove they’ve thought this plan, researched the area and know what they are doing.  All the evidence so far points to this being badly-researched, badly-planned and nothing more than a money-making exercise that will have a huge negative impact on the area.  It should be rejected.