New green spaces, safer calmer traffic and better parking in the heart of town.
A major new uplift for Market St.
Having pretty much completed the successful traditional renovation of Central Park and started work on the heritage restoration of the Acacia Hall estate it’s connected to, Dartford Council is now exhibiting plans to regenerate Market Street. You’ll find a temporary exhibition of the proposals at the western end of Market Street, near the rear entrance of Barclays Bank.
Market Street today.
Market Street is one of the most familiar streets in Dartford – used every day by shoppers, library visitors and park users and although there’s only one lane of traffic passing through it, it can often feel like there’s a lot, lot more. Walking from the High Street to Central Park can bring you up-close-and-a-bit-too-personal with all sorts of vans and commercial vehicles serving the back of Iceland, cars waiting for spaces in the car park and buses heading to the old 1980’s bus stands. The overall impression is one of lots of vehicles, loads of roads and lots of barriers with cars and buses competing for road space and queuing at the Iceland car park. There’s a general feel of traffic dominating the space. It’s not particularly inviting to pedestrians or cyclists, looks pretty sad and out-dated now and doesn’t do much to support local traders in terms of loading, deliveries or customer footfall.
In short, it’s not very attractive to shoppers or visitors, doesn’t offer much to help traders with loading and looks tired and dilapidated compared to the renovated Central Park. With Bellway’s development of Lowfield Street now underway and the new gates and car-parking at Acacia about to happen too, now is the time to invest in it. A year ago, our Council made a successful bid to the Government’s Local Growth Fund to enable it to do just that.
Making a space that works for everyone.
Like all public spaces, there are a variety of issues related to users, local businesses and visitors to think about before making decisions. It’s not an exhaustive list but in-no-particular-order here’s some of the things the Council took into consideration during the earlier consultations.
Pedestrians – the public space needs to be safe and easy to navigate for shoppers and visitors on foot.
Small Local Traders – need to load and unload conveniently and depend upon local footfall to drive their business.
Big Stores – like Argos and Iceland have ‘big lorry’ deliveries to consider
Buses – need to pick-up and drop-off passengers close to the shops
Car Parking – Visitors and shoppers arriving by car need a good supply of parking spaces that are affordable and easy to access
Disability Access. – Visitors with disabilities need sufficient parking spaces to meet their needs and well-designed, functional spaces to meet their needs.
Cyclists – need safer, calmer roads and secure cycle racks
Park and Library Users – need safe and easy crossing points
Integration – the space we create must integrate with the destinations around it – the Library, Museum and Central Park, the new heritage regeneration and car parking at Acacia, the High Street and the shops and town centre at the junction of Lowfield Street.
Listening to people.
I know that people can be sceptical about consultations and sometimes think that decisions were a ‘done deal’ but that’s really not the case. After several rounds of consultation, the Council has already made several refinements to the proposals and we are still listening. Scheme designers have adjusted things in response to many of the points raised by shoppers, visitors and local businesses. Local businesses, big and small, have been visited to make sure their commercial requirements like loading and deliveries aren’t overlooked. Planners have also talked to local bus companies and utilities and worked closely with KCC Highways to model traffic flows and signal controls.
Will it actually happen?
Dartford’s been scarred by Tesco’s abandonment of Lowfield Street and it’s understandable that people look at new plans for great places and wonder if they are really going to happen. The difference is that these proposals for Market St. are in the town’s own hands to deliver and we’re not dependent on any private interests to make it happen. Funding has been secured and, just as they were with big projects like the Central Park refurbishment, the renovation of Fairfield and building new places like Princes Park & the new Cricket Pavilion ( all delivered ) the Council is in the driving seat. This will happen, and you will see the first phases by Spring 2019 – just a few months away. As you see, Bellway are also starting work on the regeneration of Lowfield Street so things are moving forward.
The plans DBC will be exhibiting over the coming weeks include:
Plenty of affordable car parking for shoppers and visitors, including designated places for drivers with disabilities.
Three new green ‘pocket parks’ bringing the best characteristics of Central Park into a new public square.
New planting and raised beds providing plenty of seating
Quality public space to attract visitors and increase footfall for local businesses
New Bus Stands at Home Gardens and the Orchard Theatre plaza for TfL services with improved bus stops at Holy Trinity Church and Lowfield Street North ( close to Barclays Bank ) to serve other town centre bus services
Improved loading arrangements for local traders
High Quality paving and stone ( with spares to ensure quality repairs! )
A well designed quality space that creates a safer environment for traffic, buses, pedestrians and cyclists.
I know that with any new proposal the devil is in the detail so I’ll try to address some of the key issues in the proposals.
The council is proposing to name the public and green space Brewery Square – a reflection of the long history of brewing on the site. The name dovetails neatly with proposals to create a new pub/restaurant and micro-brewery as part of Bellway’s Copperhouse Green development on Lowfield Street.
Everyone want to encourage more walking and cycling but it’s not practical for some and Dartford Council is sensible enough to realise that a town like ours relies upon a lot of visitors and shoppers who drive into town and want to find convenient and affordable car parking near the shops and restaurants. DBC didn’t own the public car park behind Barclays Bank and this was shut some time ago to enable the regeneration of Lowfield Street to go ahead so the Council’s proposal is to replace this with a new car park at Acacia served by a new pedestrian entrance to the estate next to the museum. On Brewery Square itself, the ‘Iceland’ car park is to be retained, but reconfigured to tackle the problem of queuing and provide better loading for local traders. Additional street parking is to be provided along Market Street. The net result is no loss of car parking ( and perhaps even more depending on what the consultation reveals about peoples’ attitudes to parking ) and a reconfiguration of the parking spaces to make them more convenient.
Three new Pocket Parks.
Too many new town centres are quick to dismiss the attractiveness of trees and natural planting in favour of paving and concrete. With more than a decade of experience rejuvenating Central Park I think that would be a missed opportunity so the Council’s proposals include three new pocket-parks designed to bring a little of the style of Central Park into the town centre. These pocket-parks are formed of raised grassed platforms ( the surrounding stone providing plenty of seating for chatting or eating lunch on sunny days ) with formal and disability-friendly access to the mini gardens within. Plenty of natural planting and trees will bring the natural quality of Central Park right into the heart of town.
The old bus stands in Market Street are quite unusual in that they only serve routes in one direction. The town currently has two clusters of Bus Stands – the first at Home Gardens/Orchard Theatre and the second at Market Street. Today, passengers are dropped off at one location but must start their return journey at another. This causes quite a bit of confusion and seems unpopular with bus operators who would prefer to serve a single town centre arrival point. At Market St, buses heading for the bus stands find themselves joining ( or sometimes even creating ) queues for parking. The general feeling is one of traffic and more traffic. There are several options including improving the bus stands at Home Gardens and the Orchard Theatre Plaza to serve Fastrack and TfL routes alongside improvements to town centre bus stops at Holy Trinity Church and Lowfield Street so that buses avoid creating congestion as they leave the and re-join Market Street to serve the existing bus stands. Although the Council are consulting widely and are interested to hear everyone’s opinions, it’s fair to say that views of bus operators are going to be of great importance. Of course, bus companies want passenger numbers to grow so you can be reassured that they want a service that’s convenient and well-located.
It’s not a precise distinction but Dartford might be said to have two broad types of retailers – national chains and local independents. We want to protect and support both. There’s been a lot of discussion about Dartford Town Centre but the truth is that new retail trends and the way more of us choose to shop is having the same impact on town centres across the country. As retail trends change, town centres will also change and evolve. Indeed, they already are and the contribution of small independent shops will be critical to their success. In planning Brewery Square the Council has tried to address many of the loading and delivery problems that retailers ( large and small ) face at the moment. Big stores like Iceland and Argos ( who run a home delivery service and receive significant HGV deliveries respectively ) will find new layouts and bays to assist them, whilst improved loading arrangements are also being incorporated into the square to help local and independent traders following the representations they’ve made.
There’s also likely to be a big boost to local traders when a fresh and attractive new public space is introduced to Market Street. It’s not somewhere that currently entices anyone to linger and, as we’ve seen from the success of Central Park, well designed and well maintained places draw in more people. Brewery Square has space for people to sit, chat, enjoy a coffee or lunch.
There’s a lot of similarities between this project and the Council’s regeneration of Central Park that so many of you tell me you love. The aim is to bring a better, cleaner, well maintained new environment to a public space that was tired and rather neglected. DBC is bringing new green spaces and pocket parks to the town centre but staying firmly rooted to practicalities of making sure that shoppers can park, pedestrians can enjoy safe spaces, buses can serve our town and traders – big and small – can do business easier. The Council is still listening -to you, to the bus operators, to traders and to anyone else who visits or cares about our town.