Following our successful campaign to obtain funding for step-free access improvements at Biggleswade train station, the focus has moved to the provision of a transport hub linking the bus and rail network. For those who are not aware, lifts are due to be installed on the platforms by no later than the Winter of 2022 – and may possibly be earlier.
A bus/rail transport hub for Biggleswade, has been discussed for many years and appeared in the Biggleswade Town Plan back in 2011. You can see the outline diagram contained in the Masterplan below. You will see even then there were plans for a decked car park to provide much needed extra parking for commuters. At that time the proposed interchange was to be served by retail and service units. Under these plans it was proposed that the area around Century House would be extensively pedestrianised, making for a more pleasant and safer environment in the town centre.
I’m not entirely sure why none of the above got off the ground, although I understand there were problems in all parties reaching an agreed position. While we were campaigning for step free access at the station we were aware of proposals for an interchange, but didn’t see any details of this until very recently. I was asked not to publish anything which contained any detail at all about the interchange, other than the outline of the site. You can see this triangular site (currently wasteland) in the diagram below which was supplied to show the lift/ramp details of the step free improvements at the station.
Bringing us up to date below are the latest plans for this area which I’ll discuss below the diagram.
To orientate yourself, Station road comes in from the left of the diagram and the entrance to the station is at the top of the picture. The bus station will comprise of three bus stands, which you can hopefully make out in yellow within the station. The bus station will have the following features:
- CCTV coverage
- Covered bus shelters
- Information points with the latest train/bus times
- Improvements to pedestrian access and ‘build in’ areas to reduce traffic speeds.
That is pretty much it!
I fully support an integrated and accessible transport hub, with seamless connections between different transport modes as we move away from reliance on the car. However, I have a number of concerns about the current proposals:
- There are no plans for a toilet in the bus station and they are relying on one being provided by improvements to the train station, which I understand is not yet guaranteed. Where would a bus driver go to the toilet? Where would everyone else go?
- There are no plans to install secure cycle parking at the bus station. Again the scheme is relying on train station cycle parking improvements. This seems very short sighted as we move to a low carbon transport network. To encourage cycle use we should be making secure cycle parking a high priority.
- There are no retail or service facilities planned for the station. If you go back to the 2011 proposals these were present. It seems what we are being offered is a glorified bus stop with no attractions to attract usage or make the travel experience more pleasant.
- It would result in the loss of around eight roadside parking spaces at the very end of Station road before you enter the industrial area. These spaces are currently available after 12.00 Noon.
- There is no evidence of safe walking route to or from the bus station, or a suitable route for wheelchair users. The current ‘zebra crossing’ would in my view not be fit for purpose for a bustling transport interchange.
The budget for the interchange is around £2.4 million which will come from the recently agreed Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF). So far £180k of this has been spent in planning the interchange. Please note that this money is entirely separate from the funding for the train station improvements, which come from the Department for Transport ‘Access for All’ funding.
I do have some sympathy with the Central Bedfordshire Council planners, as their proposals are hemmed in by limited space and seemingly a reluctance from Network Rail to make more land available between the interchange site and the railway line. However, in my view what they are proposing is poor value for money and seems of very limited scope, for what has the potential to be such a boost for Biggleswade.
Attending the online Biggleswade Town Council meeting on Tuesday it was also very clear that the Town Councillors were not happy with the plans. I agreed with much of what they said and contacted them to say so. However, I would temper this with the view that they have had ten years to take a more proactive approach and speak up for what they believe is needed.
What is clear is that, in relation to the bus interchange, there seems to be very little cooperation between Network Rail, Central Bedfordshire Council, Govia Thameslink Railway and Biggleswade Town Council. It appears that improvements to the train station and bus station are being planned as stand alone projects. I believe there would be benefit if these parties worked together, as they have done successfully with the accessibility improvements at the train station.
I will be keeping a close eye on progress and I will press for greater cooperation between the parties above, as well as insisting on early consultation with end users, including people with disabilities.
Finally, a bus interchange will be useless without any buses to serve it. Bus services have been cut drastically over the last ten years and we need to make significant improvements which will enable buses to be a viable alternative for commuters.
12th November 2020
Biggleswade Town Centre 2011 Masterplan https://www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/migrated_images/biggleswade-masterplan_tcm3-7522.pdf