The prospect of a park and ride site to serve Brighton and Hove is about to be ruled out for a generation.
Anyone with views on the subject is being given a chance to have their say before Brighton and Hove City Council formally makes its final decision on the matter.
A public consultation starts next Monday (28 May) and runs until Friday 20 July. It ranges far wider than park and ride and is intended to shape the City Plan.
The City Plan is the master plan of what can be built where in Brighton and Hove for the next 18 years – until 2030.
Park and ride is one of the more contentious issues in the draft City Plan, along with whether homes and a school should be built in Toads Hole Valley.
The conundrum of where to build a park and ride site in Brighton and Hove seems to have gone unresolved as long as the riddle of the Sphinx. And to be as complicated as the Schleswig-Holstein question was in European history.
At one point the main political parties at least seemed to agree that we needed park and ride – and preferably on more than one site. But the rise of the Greens has put even the principle in doubt.
Disagreement has long dogged the selection of a suitable site.
Seven years ago Patcham Court Farm was declared the best bet. But people living near the site and an unlikely combination of Conservative and Green councillors saw off the plan.
Instead the council decided to sell the land to De Vere, the company that owns The Grand hotel.
Last week the deal fell through, reinvigorating hope in some quarters that plans for a park and ride could be revived.
A recent public consultation found a majority in favour of using park and ride as a way of trying to intercept cars on their way into Brighton and Hove.
The idea was to cut congestion and pollution along the route into the city centre and in the centre itself – and to head off some of the over-demand for parking spaces in the heart of Brighton in particular.
It would enable hundreds and preferably thousands of commuters, shoppers and tourists to switch from their cars to public transport for the last leg of their journey.
A few potential sites even offer the possibility of passengers choosing between a train or bus.
But last autumn the Greens suggested dropping the idea completely when they published some proposed changes to the draft City Plan.
The early indications are that businesses, the public and some of our politicians are strongly opposed to the Greens’ proposals.
The fresh round of consultation that starts on Monday will give the public eight weeks to make its voice heard.
The critics of park and ride believe that it’s a sticking plaster solution.
Chris Todd, from the environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth, has previously criticised the logic of park and ride campaigners.
He said that park and ride doesn’t prevent people from driving. It makes it more attractive.
Instead of choosing a more sustainable form of transport, they drive to an edge-of-town site – almost to their destination – and park there. They take the bus only for the final few miles.
He believes that if a park and ride is built, a comparable number of parking spaces should be removed from the centre of town.
Otherwise a by-product is that people living in Brighton and Hove would be tempted to drive into town when they might otherwise have caught the bus or cycled.
They would be attracted by car park spaces freed up in the centre of town by those using the park and ride sites.
He has pointed out more than once that this form of internal commuting accounts for a high proportion of journeys in Brighton and Hove. And that those journeys account for much of our traffic, congestions and pollution.
He said that it would be better to make it easier for internal commuters to use public transport – better for all road and pavement users, better for our environment and better for our health.
Green councillor Phelim Mac Cafferty put it in black and white terms at a recent council meeting when he turned the question back on to his political opponents.
He said: “Our proposals as they stand offer realistic and pragmatic approaches to managing the traffic and congestion that comes into the city rather than focusing on the historically unsuccessful search for a park and ride site.
“My question back to the opposition members is if you are so interested in park and ride we would be very interested during the consultation period about where you propose to build them and how you propose to pay for them given that they’re approximately £5 million plus per site.
“Once we have that information and once we share that information with the communities who will host them we can finally have a decent discussion about the idea.”
Fellow Green councillor Pete West also asked: “Where you would put them?”
He accused Labour of wanting to build park and ride sites in the newly designated South Downs National Park.
And he added: “There is no other space. We’ve looked at that. Everybody’s looked at that for a very long time.
“Our policies for looking at possible sympathetic use of existing car parks is an entirely different matter to designating and building large bespoke car parks for a park and ride scheme which are very expensive to build, very expensive to run.
“Park and ride has been a longstanding red herring and it’s less likely today than ever before to come about.”
Supporters of park and ride point to Falmer and the success of the scheme operated by Brighton and Hove Albion on match days. The club uses car parks in three locations
- Mill Road in Westdene
- Brighton Racecourse
- Lewes Road (by Brighton University’s Mithras House and Cockcroft House)
The racecourse site was agreed under the Green administration as was the longstanding proposal to build a car park on the site of the old Falmer High School. The school buildings were vacated by the new Brighton Aldridge Community Academy.
Some of the car parking closest to the Amex Community Stadium has only temporary planning permission.
It is not expected to be used in the long term, prompting concern among some, not least given the capacity issues between Brighton and Falmer Station when Albion play.
Southern, the train operator, has responded positively. Network Rail could help by upgrading outdated signalling.
The spirit of partnership that underpins some of the best aspects of life in Brighton and Hove has been shown by the way that Sussex University has made parking spaces available.
There are hopes in some quarters – unrealised as yet – that Southern Water might also help out.
These are the sorts of sites on the edge of town that park and ride supporters want to see better used all the time – not just when there’s a football match.
The practicalities are problematic though, according to Councillor Geoffrey Theobald, leader of opposition Conservative group in Brighton and Hove.
He said that the current sites worked well for three hours or so on a match day but said: “Anything more is very difficult.”
He was concerned about the practical constraints at a site like Patcham Court Farm.
Proposals often included associated shopping and commercial development to help fund the building and running costs of a site.
He said: “There’s a lack of space. There are issues around floodlights and shops and needing quite a big area for all the cars and for buses to get in and out.”
He said that his party wanted to find a series of smaller sites along routes into the city and was pleased that the Greens were adopting the same approach.
And he was adamant that Patcham Court Farm should not revert to being a potential park and ride site.
He said: “It’s completely and utterly inappropriate at that site. The Highways Agency had concerns about access. It would be very difficult getting in and getting out.”
He said that it was so close to the junction of the A23 and A27 that it would be dangerous. And possible alternatives at Braypool near by or Waterhall were inside the new national park’s boundaries.
He also questioned one suggestion that edge-of-town supermarkets such as Asda or Sainsbury’s would permit park and ride as their car parks were already full for much of the time.
He had looked at the issue in some detail when the Conservatives ran the council, he said, but concluded: “We just don’t have the space here.”
Gill Mitchell, leader of the Labour Party in Brighton and Hove, said: “The City Plan that’s being put together now has got to hold good for the next 18 years.
“It’s a mistake to rule out any consideration of park and ride as any part of an overall transport strategy.
“I know there will be issues around the location and I know there will be issues around the cost.
“I think there’s an economic case for park and ride – and we want to attract visitors here without their cars. But you can’t keep pricing people out of their cars with high parking charges.
“It will mean making a tough decision. We’re led to believe any site would have to be within the national park. But a park and ride can serve the city as well as the national park.
“The i360 and the regeneration of the seafront make it even more important to offer people a comfortable and efficient transport system to get them down to the seafront and back without clogging up the city.
“The first round of consultation showed a clear majority in favour of park and ride. The Greens have just completely ignored it.
“Those in favour included big partner organisations like the Economic Partnership.”
Earlier this year she chaired a scrutiny panel which looked at whether the council could do more to support shops and traders during the current economic downturn.
She said: “Virtually every trader and business that came to give evidence complained about the parking charges and their effect on business and said that the city should have park and ride and said that it would boost their trade.”
Where should a park and ride site be built? There are five main routes into Brighton by car – the A23 London road, the A27 Brighton Bypass from the east and west and the A259 coast road from the east and west.
Sites that have been suggested, and in many cases opposed by neighbours among others, include
- Patcham Court Farm
- Braypool Sports Ground
- Mill Road in Westdene
- Patcham Place
- East Brighton gasworks
- Roedean Miniature Golf Course
- Basin Road in Shoreham Harbour
More recent suggestions include
- Falmer High School land
- Brighton and Hove Albion car park (not match days)
- Brighton Marina
The consultation about park and ride the wider City Plan will be available from Monday 28 May at http://www.brighton-hove.gov.uk/index.cfm?request=c1148443.
It is being run by the council’s Local Development Framework Team. The postal address for the team isLocal Development Framework Team Planning Strategy and Projects Brighton and Hove City Council Hove Town Hall Room 407-410 Norton Road Hove BN3 3BQ
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