All posts by Tim Stonor

Architect & Urban Planner | Managing Director, Space Syntax Limited | Deputy Chair, Design Council | Visiting Professor, University College London | Director, The Academy of Urbanism | Fellow, Royal Society of Arts | Advisory Board, Norman Foster Foundation | Resident of Faversham

Off your backsides, everyone! There’s work to be done. 

Yesterday evening Faversham Town Council threw down the gauntlet/avoided its responsibilities (take your pick) to the people of Faversham: “Tell us where you want us to put benches.”

Cllr Wilcox claimed the “problem” (there’s always a “problem”) is that whenever a bench is proposed, the shop it’s outside of complains about the anti-social impact it will have.

Cllr Simmons cleverly suggested the solution might be to propose 6 benches, thereby spreading the pain. Not a bad idea – but how about 60? Or 160?

Cllr Martin offered an imaginative proposal to avoid painting Yellow Lines around the Guildhall: encircle it with benches instead! I think this is an idea worthy of further investigation.

Perhaps only one or two judiciously placed benches could solve the “problem” of people parking on the west side of the Guildhall. These might be heavy, moveable benches that can be wheeled away on market days and in an emergency. Other towns do this so why can’t Faversham?

Yellow Line painters forestalled

Better news on Yellow Lines at this evening’s Town Council meeting. Prof Harold Goodwin asked a good question, reminding the Council about the weight of public and expert opinion against the Yellow Lines and asking the Council not to paint lines around the Guildhall.

Cllr Wilcox, reading the temperature of the room, agreed to take the subject back to the next meeting of the Public Realm Group.

Not yet a victory. But a reprieve all the same.

Why wait to listen to the public voice?

A protracted discussion took place at this evening’s Town Council Meeting about whether, as proposed by Cllr Ogden-Starkel, the Council should create an online questionnaire to engage with the public.

Cllr Cosgrove suggested returning to the subject next year and spending the time between now and then in setting up “processes”.

What many Councillors don’t seem to appreciate is that discussion forums – like this one – are already in place.

The Town Council is behind the curve.

In the end it was agreed to create a Steering Group. I hope, as does Cllr Campbell, who has made a number of excellent interventions this evening, that they get on and do something soon.

Council votes against the future

Sadly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, Faversham Town Council has voted this evening against the creation of a Strategic Planning Committee. Such a group would have helped the town plan for its future.

The idea of the Strategic Planning Committee was not to replace any existing function of the Town Council’s Planning Committee – a fact lost on Cllr Mulhern, who gave a bizarre speech claiming just the opposite. He must not have read or perhaps understood Cllr Martin’s briefing note, which could not have been clearer.

This vote marks another sad day in the life of a council that is looking increasingly out of its depth.

Why Faversham needs a change of behaviour not another set of traffic lights

In thinking of replacing the pedestrian-friendly zebra crossing on Crescent Road with a signal-controlled crossing, the risk is that we end up designing the town for the minority of times when there is congestion rather than the majority of time when there isn’t. It’s the same argument at the Ashford Road/A2 junction. We need more sophisticated solutions than are being thought about. And we need to promote walking and cycling first, before we promote driving. This is national policy after all.

Why should someone have to walk up to a crossing, press a button, wait for the lights to change and then be permitted to cross the road – especially when the road is empty? That is an insult to pedestrians. And of course what happens is that people don’t wait – they cross on a red pedestrian signal. And then we get equally mad about the situation.

I – and many others – believe the solution is not to wrap ourselves in the municipal infrastructure of traffic lights but to improve the culture of walking, cycling and driving. Introducing a 20mph limit across the town will be a key move in taming driver aggression and encouraging the convivial friendliness on which Faversham thrives. Drivers blame enthusiastic younger people just as they blame hesitant older people, venting frustration as they sit in four-wheeled comfort. They should remember that they too were young once just as they will, most likely, be old and faltering one day soon.

Faversham – a town under attack from within

The great appeal of Faversham – to those of us born here as well as those of us who have chosen to make this our home – is both its immense historic beauty and its wonderful people.

Yet both Faversham’s good looks and culture are under attack – and, however unwittingly, this town council is leading the charge:

– defacing Faversham’s historic landscape with yellow lines

– removing benches so we have nowhere to rest and to talk to each other

– proposing to replace a pedestrian friendly zebra crossing with a car friendly pelican crossing

talking about banning cyclists.

What evidence is there that any of this is needed? What real evidence exists? And what kind of a town will be created if all of this happens?

I was, as you might imagine, most disappointed to read in the minutes of its last meeting that the Public Realm Group wishes to paint yellow lines around the Guildhall. As one of Faversham’s most important buildings, the consequence of this action will be highly damaging. The proximity of the yellow lines to the plaque that honours the valour of Sir Philip Neame will create additional visual harm. 

This matters. People love Faversham for its historic beauty. They spend their money here when they have a choice to go elsewhere because they like the look of the place and they enjoy the social experience. They encourage other visitors to do the same. Our economy relies on our good looks.

When, as a result of my intervention, it was agreed in 2014 not to paint the lines around the Guildhall, I was given the reassurance by Brian Planner at Swale BC that the impact of the lines would be carefully monitored. Can you therefore tell me:

1. What studies have been undertaken and what evidence have these generated to describe the effects that the lines have had on parking behaviour in central Faversham?

2. Where is this evidence documented?

3. How has this evidence been used to reach the conclusion that more yellow lines should be painted?

I see many unfortunate things in my job and I try not to be shocked but this situation troubles me greatly. To encircle the Guildhall with municipal yellow lines is to twist the knife in a wound that was created when yellow lines were first painted last year and repainted earlier this year.

These lines are a scar on Faversham’s historic beauty. This episode casts the actions of Faversham Town Council in a poor light. 

The lines are not needed. People don’t observe them. The police say they would prefer not to have them. The suggestion that emergency services can’t access all sides of the building simply does not stand up to the briefest of conversations with a firefighter. 

In town and in the outside world I am sorry to report that Faversham’s actions have drawn enormous criticism. Painting yellow lines has been opposed by people both locally and internationally. It has been described variously as “crude and destructive”, “degrading”, “defacing” – and as “bureaucratic vandalism” – not only by people in the streets of this town but by former presidents of the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Royal Institute of British Architects and The Academy of Urbanism. These people know what they are talking about.

Imagine a doctor telling you that you have serious health issues. High cholesterol. Poor circulation. That these are treatable if you change your lifestyle. But fatal if you don’t. What would you do?

So it is with the design of Faversham’s town centre. The social and economic health of the town is threatened. So why does the Town Council continue to pursue this brutal course of action? Why won’t it listen? Why won’t it engage with people who are experts in their field and who are telling it that it need to change its tack? Why won’t it listen to the thousands of local voices who don’t want yellow lines? Why did it only listen to a few who said they did?

And, at last, the Faversham Society has shown its colours in opposition to yellow lines.

If councillors believe what they are doing is in the public good then they are deceiving not only themselves but the people of this town that they represent. 

I urge town councillors and members of the Public Realm Group to look to their consciences and ask whether the paltry consultation exercise that was undertaken when the yellow lines were first proposed stands any test of rigour, especially in the light of the overwhelming opposition to the yellow lines that was revealed during the campaign that I have led during the last two years.

On that basis alone can the council or anyone it represents have confidence that these other measure coming forward are in the town’s best interests?

I ask the Town Council not to approve the recommendations of the Public Realm Group and, instead, to direct that group back to the drawing board in pursuit of common sense and the general good of this great town. 

20s plenty at the Ashford Road/A2/Mall junction

Mark Gardner makes a typically good point (Faversham News, Gardner Digs, October 1, 2015) in suggesting that Faversham drivers should grin and bear it at the “modestly” congested junction of Ashford Road/A2/The Mall, rather than submit to the expensive and uncertain outcome of traffic lights or roundabouts.

In fact drivers could go one step further and slow down to a maximum of 20mph as they approach the junction. In doing so they might find, contrary to perceived wisdom, they actually get through the junction faster. Why? Because junctions become more efficient at lower speeds. 

If you don’t believe me, you can try it yourself. Next time you drive through, take five or ten miles off your speed. What you might find is that cars waiting to turn into the road ahead of you are able to do so more easily. Rather than having to wait for you – and perhaps the chain of speeding cars behind you – to get through, they can instead slip in to the road ahead of you. Now imagine what would happen if most people did this. The entire junction would flow more efficiently.

Before we spend tens of thousands of pounds on lights or roundabouts, we could carry out a no-cost experiment by driving at 20, not 30mph through the junction. If this works then, for a modest cost – well below the capital expense of the municipal transport paraphernalia currently under consideration – we could install 20mph signs and begin the transformation of Faversham’s driving culture. At 20mph drivers can nod, wave and smile at each other. Now fancy that.

We might use all five fingers to greet each other and not just one or two.

Does Faversham deserve the best? Of course it does. 

We’re told we should do our best. And that’s right. But I believe we need to do more than that. We should do the best. This means we need help to do more than we can do alone. We need to surround ourselves with people who can form a team to do the best. 
Does Faversham want a plan that’s fit for purpose? Of course it should have one. But how about a plan that is at the top of the game? That sets highest standards? That wins awards?

I believe Faversham deserves the best. Not just our best – the best.