Town Centre Enhancement:
The recent debate about the proposed development of ‘the green’ in the town centre suggested that the time was right to revisit the processes that have been undertaken in recent years to determine the needs of the town, its residents and businesses. Those who have lived in the town for more than six years will recall the household survey and consultation events in the town hall that led to the publication of the Parish Plan in 2009 and the Community Masterplan in 2011. However those who are new to Chudleigh may have no knowledge of that work or its conclusions.
In particular, it was acknowledged that the area around the War Memorial and the Obelisk presents a series of challenges to pedestrians given the fact that it is where several roads converge and this, allied to poor visibility caused by sometimes illegal parking can on occasions render it dangerous for shoppers, especially the elderly and those with young children.
Teignbridge Council’s Local Plan envisages that the population of Chudleigh will increase by 20% over the period 2013-2033 (435 dwellings). That will undoubtedly lead to increased traffic flows in the town centre without any guaranteed benefit to Chudleigh’s retail offering.
Therefore the challenge is quite clear - how can the town centre be made a safer, more attractive and relaxing place for shoppers, residents and visitors, and how can the overall profile of the town be raised? Given the unrelenting pressure from external forces there is no longer the option of just sitting back and hoping for the best as the town that is dear to our hearts continues to decline in retail terms. So what is to be done?
The 2009 Parish Plan and the 2011 Community Masterplan found support for the idea of creating a civic space in the town centre involving the introduction of a ‘shared space’ scheme over which pedestrians and vehicles would have equal priority. This would greatly improve on the current situation where pedestrians are at a severe disadvantage, having to give way to vehicles, while still allowing short term parking and the servicing of the various business premises. This is not, as some have assumed, a pedestrianisation scheme, but it will create a more pedestrian friendly space, opening up opportunities for more community use, the development of a ‘café culture’ and allowing better access to the war memorial and obelisk.
Accepting that such a radical change will worry many residents, urban design consultants were commissioned by the District Council, in 2012, to develop the concept and show in more detail how it would enhance the town centre. Following a period of public consultation their report was published as part of the District Council’s ‘Towns and Village Project’ and the principles of the scheme are now embedded in policies affecting Chudleigh in the adopted Local Plan.
Therefore the principle of developing a shared space scheme is well established and the Town Council now has a Town Centre Enhancement Advisory Committee (TCEAC) which includes co-opted representatives of the Business Guild, the Amenity Society and the former Parish Plan Implementation Group. Its role is to advise on, among other things, how to progress the scheme. The committee is chaired by Cllr Mike Underwood who points out that, while the scheme has been through the local democratic process, there is a great deal more public consultation to be carried out, to give residents the fullest opportunity to influence the detail of the scheme.
So what in practical terms is envisaged? The current demarcation between road and pavement will no longer exist and as motorists enter the shared space they will see that things are different and will drop their speed so that pedestrians will be able to reclaim the street. The Department of Transport puts it this way : “a shared space is a street or place designed to improve pedestrian movement and comfort by reducing the dominance of motor vehicles”.
The main part of the scheme would cover an area from Old and New Exeter Streets, where there would be ‘gateway’ features. It would incorporate the Town Hall forecourt, and extend part way along Fore Street. At the other end of the town centre, there might be a further ‘gateway’, in the vicinity of Oldway, and there may be a need for a ramped area part way along Fore Street.
The current thinking is that the scheme would be implemented in phases so as to minimise inconvenience, but of course funding is a major issue and it could be some time before things start to happen. However the Town, District and County Councils remain committed to working together on the scheme : to borrow a recent quote from a representative of the District Council : “it’s Chudleigh’s turn”!
Chair: Town Centre Enhancement Committee