A vision for Wiveliscombe

By and large, the scheme prepared by the various Steering Groups, satisfies the aims set out in the Place-making objectives and I agree wholeheartedly with the design impetus of the project in hand. However, there are some notable issues which make it unworkable in its current form as a long-term plan, taking into consideration the expected expansion of the local population. Given the calibre of the professionals involved, Richard Guise and Phil Parker, I’m sure they are already aware of the shortcomings I have noted.

Whatever we do now will affect Wiveliscombe and everyone living in the area for a hundred years and more. Collectively, as a community, we must do our best to get it right.

Wiveliscombe Town Centre – a vision for people, place and movement.

My observations of the Project Group’s proposed plan: An outline drawing is included (A).

1/ One-way system: The proposal specifies a one-way system along a small section of West Street. This will effectively divide the town in two and throw up an unexpected barrier to vehicles travelling from the Croft Way/High Street junction. All drivers wanting to re-join Croft Way will need to turn their vehicles around. This will be impossible within The Square itself, and there are few, if any, suitable areas along North Street other than, perhaps, at the car park entrance/exit. Lorries and other large vehicles will be particularly affected. Aside from the ecological consequences of fuel-hungry vehicles forced to turn around and make the same journey twice, reversing and manoeuvring into narrow roads will inevitably jeopardise the safety of other road users and pedestrians.

2/ Traffic management: The proposed plan does nothing to eliminate existing problems of congestion and speeding from the Croft Way/High Street junction through The Square and onwards towards Langley. In effect, it creates and legitimises the route as the main thoroughfare. A racetrack to some. As such, it is difficult to envisage how the suggested ambient traffic controls will relieve incidents of gridlock or improve pedestrian safety, particularly through The Square and in conjunction with the effective roadblock at the neck of West Street.

3/ Signage: The proposed one-way plan will require a significant increase in signage within the Conservation Area. In addition to existing fingerposts and information signs, new signs will need to be installed, for example, on West Street opposite each entranceway indicating traffic flow (because it is only partly one way) plus no entry signs by the White Hart plus “No access to West Street and West Road” signs at the bottom of High Street plus direction signs at the traffic lights indicating how to access West Road and West Street plus signs opposite the Croft Way/West Road junction indicating this as the access route to West Road and West Street plus the probability of requiring additional fingerposts at the White Hart corner indicating safe turning areas and how to access lower West Street from The Square and the return route to Croft Way. What a mess of signs!

4/ Wiveliscombe’s character: The Place-making proposal does not adequately reflect Wiveliscombe’s uniquely quirky and enduring character.

Wiveliscombe is a small place located in an area with ancient connections to sheep farming, wool trading and brewing. In fact, Wiveliscombe was granted a licence to hold free markets and festivals by Edward 1st (Longshanks) in 1284. It is a quiet, peaceful, thoughtful and creative environment and as such, throughout the centuries has managed to avoid the turbulence of the Civil War and the unrest in the 17th Century. In a nutshell, Wiveliscombe has quietly and steadfastly trodden its own path without giving a damn what other people think.

In any “revitalisation,” this personality must, in my opinion, be preserved and enhanced. Most residents would dislike it very much for this tiny town with a long and distinctive history, set within a glorious landscape, to become a clone of so many other places that have been subjected to the over-enthusiastic application of modern standardised civic design practices. For example, polished granite blocks are not in keeping with the character of Wiveliscombe. Other materials indigenous to Wiveliscombe worth considering as alternatives are, to name but a few: Devonian sandstone rather than Welsh Pennant stone (which is also a sandstone), tiles and bricks similar in character to those that were made at Wellington Kilns. Somerset slate which was once quarried in Wiveliscombe. Oak from regional forestry.

It would help if the area’s strong tradition of visual art is represented on the Steering Group and more prominently in the proposal.

5/ The Square: Trip hazards throughout the area will affect everyone, not just visually impaired people. The proposed design for The Square stipulates a small differential in the height between pavements and roadways. Even though Highways Agencies specify 25mm as a minimum height differential (MCHW700), most Local Authorities prefer shared, one-level, surfaces as do most members of the public. Natural rough stone pavements and smooth Hot Rolled Asphalt, as per the proposal, will provide distinctive textures sufficient for anyone to recognise the difference between roads and pavements. In addition, one shared level will emphasise Pedestrian Priority and will considerably enhance the attractiveness of The Square.

6/ Place-making: Roads and walkways leading to The Square are as important as the design treatment of The Square itself. It is regrettable, therefore, that more attention has not been paid to, for example, traffic management along Church Street/Croft Way and onwards to Croft Way/West Road junction. Daily, the road is crossed by a substantial number of people on foot: school students, visitors to Lister House Surgery, the Nursery, and visitors to the Recreation Ground amongst others. There are only two formal crossing points, one at the corner of Croft Way/South Street and another by Croft Way car park.

Personal observations by various groups over the years have indicated that existing speedbumps are an ineffective means of traffic calming. Again, this road has become a racetrack.

My suggested amendments to the current Vision for our Town Proposal: An outline drawing is included (B).

For reference: The Loop encompasses West Road, West Street, the Square at the apex and High Street to the east.

1/One-way system:

  • Extend the proposed one-way system to the entire Loop running west to east.

Benefits: The town is not divided into two parts and eliminates an effective roadblock at the White Hart.

Traffic flow is easier to understand by locals and visitors alike coming from either direction off Croft Way.

No racetrack. A through road from High Street through The Square and onwards to North Street is ruled out.

Pedestrian Priority within The Square is reinforced as oncoming traffic can only come from one direction. Pedestrian safety is improved.

One-direction traffic within the Loop allows greater scope for road narrowing and other more attractive traffic calming measures.

Significantly reduces the need for signs at both Croft Way/High Street/West Road junctions as well as within The Square area.

Increases car park use. Coming from the direction of Taunton, vehicles pass Croft Way car park and, with explicit signage, will be encouraged the use of FREE parking rather than on-road parking in already congested town centre areas.

A low-speed limit will reinforce the pedestrian priority aspect of the whole town and will reduce traffic noise for the majority of town-centre residents.

2/ The Square:

  • Extend the platform further along West Street, North Street, South Street and High Street. These side roads are integral to The Square and are as important to the Place-making process as The Square itself.
  • Introduce a slight inward curve defined by stone cubes.

Benefits: Reduces traffic flow interference by parked vehicles especially when large vehicles are making deliveries and, for example, a bus needs to pass.

The Square, a busy place by any standard, will appear more open and aesthetically pleasing.

  • Stone cubes would be more in keeping with Wiveliscombe’s character if they were rough-hewn (but smoothed) Devon sandstone (Community Office) or Blackenstone granite from Devon.
  • Extend stone paving to cover the entire area (but not the roadway which remains Hot Rolled Asphalt as per the Project Group proposal).
  • Distinguish Wiveliscombe’s historical connections by creating a stone circular pattern within the body of The Square with, perhaps, a carved centrepiece commemorating 1284 and the establishment of the Wiveliscombe free market which was located in The Square. Involve local artists.

Benefits: The Square becomes a whole entity recognisable as a shared space by all users, including vehicles. The Project Group’s proposal already specifies a mishmash of materials and finishes: stone paving to create a virtual pavement around the shops, asphalt for The Square itself, polished granite blocks, existing kerb stones, different materials to make an informal crossing, and other materials for marking parking bays etc. It will be a clutter of textures and materials! By extending the stone-paved area, The Square will be better defined and preserve the appearance of being expansive.

3/ On-street parking:

  • Allow parking in marked spaces only. The Square and West Street – restricted to 10-minutes other than supplier deliveries. High Street – restricted to 1 hour including supplier deliveries.
  • West Street and North Street: As per the proposal.
  • High Street: increase the number of parking spaces. Allow parking only on one side of the road, clearly defined by abutments from the pavement between the parking areas.

Benefits: Traffic speed will be calmed by making the road virtually narrower in places. Rumble strips.

4/ Extended pavements:

  • Due to my suggested one-way system on the Loop pavements may be extended outwards in certain corner locations. These may be constructed in stone to associate with the surfaces proposed for The Square. They are marked on the plan (B).

Benefits: Improves traffic control, particularly on High Street.

Creates more space for signage should it be needed.

Opportunity for more green planting particularly at the Croft Way/West Road junction, the Croft Way/High Street junction and the Church Street/South Street junction.

5/ Bus shelter:

  • It is redundant and should be removed. In any case, it is completely out of character with the townscape.
  • Consider replacing it with a shelter that complies with Conservation Area principles and the quirky nature of Wiveliscombe. A “floating” bus stop arrangement is already in place outside the chemist.

Benefits: Whether removed or relocated, the pavement may be pared back to increase the turning circle for extra-large vehicles proceeding from West Street and turning into North Street. The pavement width will still be well within national width guidelines.

6/ Further opportunities provided by my plan:

The Strange Triangle: Remove the triangle arrangement at the Church Street/South Street junction. With traffic only able to proceed in two directions, it is redundant.

Traffic Lights: With robust traffic calming measures in place along Croft Way, the traffic lights at the Church Street/Croft Way intersection are also redundant. Removal will deliver considerable savings to the Authorities, over time.

Speed limits: I strongly suggest a speed limit of 10MPH in the Loop and 20MPH from Sandys Moor roundabout, along Croft Way to the West Road junction. South Street already has a 20MPH limit in place past Kingsmead School.

Stone rumble strips: I have indicated these on my plan. They are relatively cheap to build and have proven effectiveness at speed reduction. Research for the Manual for Streets (a national undertaking) has shown that block paving [such as used in rumble strips] reduces traffic speeds by between 2.5 and 4.5 mph, compared with speeds on asphalt surfaces.

Wiveliscombe Style:

The Place-making project provides a distinct opportunity to develop a style for the Wiveliscombe townscape. But, to do so with any validity, in my opinion, Wiveliscombe Town Council must become much more proactive in planning and managing the enrichment of the town.

I would like to see the Steering Group established permanently, as a part of the Town Council, charged with responsibility for Overseeing the preservation and enhancement of the town: its architecture, townscape, heritage and character.

I would also like to see the visual arts, artisans and other creatives more directly involved in contributing to Wiveliscombe’s unique presence.

In the process, particular attention should be given to Wiveliscombe Conservation Area Appraisal Document 2007. I would also advocate using the recommendations outlined in the Conservation Appraisal for Dunster 2018 as it clearly illustrates the obligations of all people living within a Conservation Area and is relevant to what we, as a community, are attempting to achieve in Wiveliscombe.

Some elements any new Steering Group might be responsible for:

  • Road signs and other signage etc. For example, perhaps the Town Council could insist that only traditional cast iron road signs may be used. (as they do in Dunster).
  • Shop frontage and signs etc.
  • Greenscapes and sustainability.
  • Street furniture, lamp posts, benches etc.
  • Creation, reinstatement and preservation of distinctive landmarks.
  • Tree planting.
  • Dilapidated buildings. Insist on renovations within Conservation Area guidance.
  • Guidance in the use of traditional building materials.
  • Exercise influence on design aspects of new housing developments. Most are outside the Conservation Area but still impact the visual landscape.

Under government plans set out in Local service delivery and place-shaping: A framework to support parish and town councils (August 2021) it appears everything and anything is possible.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to contact me: jimmytheflipper@yahoo.com

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