Public Space Improvement Project

Taunton Deane Borough Council is moving ahead with plans to make Taunton town centre more user friendly, improving the area for pedestrians and cyclists in line with its status as the first Garden Town in the South West.

Phase one covering the permanent closure of St James Street between North Street and Lower Middle Street will begin in the New Year.

It will be followed by phase two which will see an 18-month trial closure of Hammet Street and East Street to all vehicles except buses and cyclists.

Taunton Deane Borough Council and Somerset County Council are currently working on the finer details of the proposed phase two changes together with the appointed transport and urban design consultants WSP.

A further dedicated consultation will be held for East Street, where the local community can put thoughts forward about the proposed designs. If the trial is successful, the permanent changes to both East Street and Hammet Street will follow as quickly as possible.

The public space project will generate opportunities for businesses, event organisers and artists to explore creative uses of the town’s most attractive areas.  It forms part of a much wider plan to enhance Taunton’s appeal along with the regeneration of Coal Orchard and Firepool.

As part of the consultation process for the traffic regulation orders (TROs), the proposed plans for St James Street will be available to view online from 22 November where representations can be made by: 13 December 2018

The Story So Far

Taunton Deane Borough Council, Somerset County Council and consultants WSP have been undertaking a project that considers how best to arrange the public space in Taunton to improve the shopping experience, provide an enhanced public realm experience for visitors and residents alike.

Stage 1 & 2: Project Scoping & Options

Following a site visit, street audit, desktop review and literature review, a long list of possible public space improvement options were identified. Each of these measures were assessed based on their ability to meet the project objectives, their ability to meet the councils’ overall vision for transport in Taunton, how much it would cost and how long it would take to implement.

Take a look at the Taunton Town Centre Public Space Improvement Project Scoping document

Take a look at the Taunton Town Centre Public Space Improvement Project Options document

Stage 3: Stakeholder Engagement and Public Consultation

Based on the above assessment the project team developed a number of more detailed proposals for consultation. These were as follows:

  • East Street would be closed to all traffic except buses and cyclists;
  • Hammet Street would be made a pedestrian zone during the day and reopen for loading only in the evening and overnight periods; and
  • St James Street would be closed to all traffic between North Street and Lower Middle Street to provide a new public space for pedestrians.
  • The principle of improving Station Road, Bridge Street and the pathways alongside the River Tone on a longer-term basis were also presented at consultation.

The public consultation was completed in the period 20 February to 18 March 2017. A number of stakeholder meetings were undertaken prior to the start of the public consultation included briefings with elected members, the local press, a stakeholder event for businesses and retail stores and a stakeholder event with various trader associations.  Five staffed events were held during the consultation period. The project team were available to answer queries, provide further information and discuss concerns about the proposals.

The public consultation indicated that 65% of respondents felt there were improvements needed for pedestrians and cyclists in Taunton town centre. 75% of respondents felt that improvements were needed to public spaces. Regarding the street closures:

  • East Street – A majority of respondents agreed with the principle of restricting traffic to improve the environment for pedestrians and cyclists. A majority of respondents agreed that there should be some form of closure of East Street and 75% of respondents stated that they would not be affected by the loss of on-street parking on East Street.
  • Hammet Street – A majority of respondents agreed that some form of restrictions was needed on Hammet Street. 81% of respondents stated that they would not be affected by the loss of on-street parking.
  • St James Street – A majority of respondents agreed that some form of restriction was needed on St James Street.

Overall, there was general agreement that some form of closure was appropriate on the three streets presented at the consultation. Respondents supported a 24-hour closure of St James Street and the daytime closure of Hammet Street. For East Street support for closure was more equally balanced.

Please click to review the findings of the consultation here.

Stage 4, 5 & 6: Option Refinement, Identification of Preferred Scheme and Detail of Preferred Scheme

The project team has been working through detailed design stage. It is now that the following restrictions will occur, considering both the outcomes from the public consultation, information gained at detailed design stage and option feasibility:

  • East Street – An 18 month trial scheme will take place on East Street restricts access to all vehicular traffic except buses and cyclists. This would be actioned via an Experimental  Traffic Regulation Order. The effects of this trial scheme will be monitored and a decision will be taken as to whether the trial scheme should be made permanent at a later date. It is expected that this trial closure will commence in Summer 2019.
  • Hammet Street – An 18 month trial scheme will take place on Hammet Street. For the trial scheme Hammet Street would have access/loading only for a period in the morning and evening peaks, with no other vehicular access throughout the day.  The taxi rank and disabled parking bays will be located in Magdalene Street.  This would be actioned via an Experimental Traffic Regulation Order. The effects of this trial scheme will be monitored and a decision will be taken as to whether the trial scheme should be made permanent at a later date. It is expected that this trial closure will commence in Summer 2019.
  • St James Street – A permanent closure of St James Street to vehicular traffic between North Street and Lower Middle Street. The public space will still be open to pedestrians and cyclists. This decision has been taken as St James Street was not designed for the level and type of vehicular traffic that currently uses it, it is expected that this permanent closure to vehicular traffic will commence in early 2019.

Stage 7 & 8: Scheme Implementation & Ongoing Monitoring

Regarding East Street and Hammet Street, there would be few physical changes while the scheme is in the trial phase. It is likely that pavements will be widened if the scheme is successful and becomes permanent. During the trial, trees would be provided in planters and located with seating in the areas currently allocated for on-street parking, to give an indication of how a permanent change could look.

The trial will be for 18 months. The situation will be monitored during this period to enable alterations to be made to the scheme should there be any unacceptable or unforeseen effects.

The project team will also monitor the effects of the permanent restriction to vehicular traffic on St James Street.

Details of the Experimental Traffic Order Regulation will follow, where there will be an opportunity to make a representation.  We expect to have the consultation and detailed design for both Hammet Street and East Street in May 2019

Questions and Answers

What are the main findings of the Spring 2017 Consultation?

120 businesses and organisations from the streets where changes were proposed were invited to attend a stakeholder engagement event aimed at discussing how the proposals may affect the operation of their business. 36 stakeholders attended the event.

The general sentiment towards the suggested street closures was mixed. Some representatives felt the suggested street closures detailed in the PSIP consultation would improve their business as they felt footfall would increase due to a reduction in noise and air pollution. Others felt their trade would be damaged as a result of a reduction in footfall.

The public consultation garnered 416 responses. 65% of respondents felt that improvements were needed for pedestrians and cyclists in Taunton town centre. 75% of respondents felt that improvements were needed to public spaces. Regarding the street closures:

  • East Street – A majority of respondents agreed with the principle of restricting traffic to improve the environment for pedestrians and cyclists. A majority of respondents agreed that there should be some form of closure of East Street and 75% of respondents stated that they would not be affected by the loss of on-street parking on East Street.
  • Hammet Street – A majority of respondents agreed that some form of restrictions was needed on Hammet Street. 81% of respondents stated that they would not be affected by the loss of on-street parking.
  • St James Street – A majority% of respondents agreed that some form of restriction was needed on St James Street.

Overall, there was general agreement that some form of closure was appropriate on the three streets presented at the consultation.  Here is the link to view the consultation findings

How have proposals changed since the public consultation?

As a result of both the public consultation and analysis occurring during detailed design stage, it is now recommended that St James Street is permanently closed to vehicular traffic, remaining open as a public space for pedestrians and cyclists only.

Under the original proposal, this was going to be a trial scheme. Is that still the case?

The plans for East Street and Hammet Street are still proposed as a trial scheme for Summer 2019.

The plans for St James Street are now proposed as a permanent scheme, temporary measures to close the road will be implemented in early 2019 and the permanent physical works are anticipated to begin in Spring 2019.

Why are you now planning to close St James Street (between Bridge Street and Lower Middle Street) permanently?

This rationale for the proposal to close St James Street permanently is that, simply, St James Street is wholly unsuitable for the level of vehicular traffic that currently uses it.  Monitoring studies have shown that regular use by private vehicles including HGVs and buses as a short cut from North Street to Toneway and the M5, is making the route increasingly dangerous for pedestrians.

When St James Street is closed, where will the traffic go? 

When St James Street has been closed for maintenance previously the traffic uses a number of other options depending on their origin and destination.  For the majority of users that rat run, they can either use Upper High Street and onto East Reach;  Third Way, Priory bridge Road and/or Trenchard way.  These routes are more suitable and have been designed for this type of traffic including HGV’s and buses.  In addition, it has been established that many journeys through the town are very short ones so if we can encourage more people to walk and cycle that will reduce the amount of traffic driving through the town.

When St James Street is closed we will monitor the traffic very carefully and make adjustments to the signal timings if appropriate.

Why can’t we consider restricting access to St James Street at certain times?

It would be near on impossible to enforce any limited access or restricted movement through this area; the signing required would be extensive and detrimental to the area and is very unlikely to amend driver behaviour or reduce the traffic through St James Street.

How does this project link to the Taunton Garden Town plans?

The project goes hand-in-hand with Taunton’s designation as the South West’s first Garden Town.

Taunton’s designation as a Garden Town enables us to secure direct support when creating further funding bids. In some cases it will give us priority when we present our business case in a competitive process.

Taunton Garden Town programme encompasses a number of elements; one of which is to invest in a thriving Town Centre and put the River Tone at the heat of the town whilst transforming the Rail Station, Firepool, Coal Orchard, Public Spaces and the riverside environment.

How long will the trial schemes for Hammet Street and East Street last?

The trial will be 18 months. The trial of the road closures will be monitored and assessed on the network, to make alterations to the scheme should there be any unacceptable, unforeseen effects.

What will happen at the end of the trial period?

Before the end of the trial period, a decision will be taken as to whether to convert the trial scheme into a permanent scheme based upon a detailed evaluation of the trial.  The trial will will be monitored for up to 18 months with a review occurring at the 6 and 12 month milestones.  The councils actively encourage the local community and local businesses to keep the Council informed of their opinion during the trial. 

How will you judge the success (or otherwise) of the trial?

The trail will be judged on how it performs in relation to the key aims of the project which are to:

  • Make the most of Taunton’s historic buildings, streets and public spaces.
  • Minimise street clutter;
  • Update public spaces and improve perceptions of the street scene;
  • Suggest materials of good quality yet which are still affordable;
  • Improve the legibility of the streets to encourage residents and visitors to explore the town; and
  • Improve the quality of walking and cycling routes.

A ‘before’ survey will be conducted against which the performance of the trial could be compared.

Do you expect any particular traffic issues as a result of the schemes?

The scheme is likely to increase traffic on both Upper High Street and Station Road due to the closure of routes that rat-run through Hammet Street and St James Street. Before closing St James Street or implementing the trial, we will look carefully at the operation of traffic lights along diverted routes to ensure they are working to minimise the chances of further delay and congestion. Traffic flows are also shown to increase on The Crescent, but these remain at a much lower level than on, say, Station Road and are not anticipated to cause any problems. However, traffic will be monitored whilst the closures are in place.

What is the timetable for implementing the project?

The plans for East Street and Hammet Street are still proposed as a trial scheme, opening Autumn/Winter 2019, for 18 months.

If the trial is successful – what would a permanent scheme look like?

If the trail is successful, there will be further investment to fully transform the town centre into an attractive traffic-free environment. This will involve the changing of temporary infrastructure, trees in planters, widening of the pavement, including additional cycle racks and benches and general landscaping improvements.

The permanent solution will also provide additional opportunities.

In the near future the project team will also look at ways to improve the public realm (on either a trial or permanent basis) in Taunton town centre generally, and specifically at Station Road, Bridge Street and pathways along the River Tone.

Artist impressions of possible permanent scheme visions are available to view online as part of this consultation.

Click the link to view the St James Street Layout

What are the Council’s future plans for providing car park spaces in the town centre?

To find out more about Taunton Deane Borough Council’s car parking strategy, please click here:  https://www.tauntondeane.gov.uk/media/2393/taunton-car-parking-strategy-2017-revision-december-2017.pdf

PDF to Taunton's parking strategy.

Extract from page 28 showing proximity of car parks to major retailers.

 

 

 

How and where can people express their views during the trial?

The councils actively encourage the local community and local businesses to keep the council informed of their opinion during the trial.  Details will follow of how and where will be made available nearer the start of the trial. 

Further information on the TRO process regarding St James Street closure and an opportunity to make representations from 22 November can be found at: TRO details.  The deadline for representations is 13 December 2018. 

 

A message from your Councillors…

Cllr Richard Parrish, Executive member for Planning Policy and Transportation, said:

“Taunton becoming a Garden Town is a real opportunity for us to review our town centre and look at how we can create a better environment for residents, shoppers and visitors, which will help attract investment and businesses to thrive.

We’ve seen this work well in other areas, and we’re keen that traffic is redirected to more appropriate routes. We want to free up space for new and improved public areas that are attractive and inviting to walk, shop or simply sit and appreciate the place. It would be more pleasant for everyone with fewer vehicles, less pollution and reduced noise.”

Cllr Richard Parish, Taunton Deane Borough Council

 

Cllr David Fothergill, Leader of Somerset County Council, said:

“We’re pleased to be working alongside Taunton Deane Borough Council to support their aspirations to improve the town in keeping with its status as the first Garden Town in the South West. This scheme is all about enhancing the visitor experience in Taunton and making it more appealing for pedestrians and cyclists.”

Cllr David Fothergill, Somerset County Council

 

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