Words by Chris Wright and Tim Stonor
Faversham is a ‘walking town’, with no two points on the boundary more than 20 minutes apart on foot. Its street network was established in medieval times, with the M2 and the Western Link among the more recent additions. The centre has limited capacity for vehicular traffic, partly because of its narrow streets but also because its architectural heritage is sensitive to visual disruption, traffic noise, splash and dust, air pollution, and severance. The main conservation areas appear shaded in green in Figure 1.
Figure 1: The main road network. Faversham’s Conservation Areas in green.
Shaping the Town’s growth
The shape of the local landscape together with its historic infrastructure limit what can be done to accommodate vehicular traffic growth. The two railway lines and the Creek together with its upper reaches divide the area into four quarters. The western quarter is separated from the Town and from access to the M2 junctions by the line of the Westbrook, which has four crossing places or ‘gateways’ to the Town centre, of which the A2 is the only substantial two-way connection – although the lanes are sub-standard at Ospringe and cannot accommodate two HGV's travelling in opposite directions at the same time.
Consequently, without a major infrastructure investment, land to the west cannot be developed to sustain either a car-based lifestyle, or industrial activity with reasonable vehicle access. Realistically, the Neighbourhood Plan will aim to steer future development towards the south and east of the Town.
Traffic and the environment
For a small provincial Town, pollution levels on some of the streets in Faversham are surprisingly high, some of them above the recommended WHO limits. Hotspots include Watling Street at Ospringe and along the Mount (currently designated a Swale Borough Council Air Quality Management Area), the Ashford Road (A251), Crescent Road, and East Street. The narrow streets, hemmed in by buildings that front directly onto the footway, form natural ‘canyons’, trapping exhaust gases together with carbon and other particulate matter close to ground level. We expect traffic demand to grow at an increasing rate as a result of peripheral housing developments, which will generate a disproportionate number of car trips into the Town centre unless there is a change in the housing design standards together with changes to the transport network that encourage active travel.
The ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ scheme is already playing a useful role in making the Town’s streets more agreeable for walking and cycling, and the Neighbourhood Plan will aim to make the scheme permanent alongside other traffic measures to improve the local environment, including School streets, walking buses, highway and footway surfacing, improved cycle and bus routes, and street furniture designed to reflect the qualities of the local townscape.
However, at present there are considerable barriers to ‘active travel’ (walking and cycling). Watling Street (A2) features only two designated crossings along the whole of its 2.5 km length within the Town boundary, and the two railway lines create barriers that prevent people with pushchairs or bicycles, and those with limited mobility, from moving between significant areas of the Town (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Barriers to free movement by foot and bicycle.
Increasingly today, the professional transport institutions recognize the need for street layouts that combat climate change, that encourage active travel, and that ‘create a sense of place’. Three years ago, under the leadership of then Mayor Sheila Campbell, the Faversham Future Forum developed a set of guidelines since adopted by the Town Council that set out the design principles that developments should follow.
Essentially, all new development should be ‘joined up’ (see panel opposite), connecting with neighbouring areas to provide through routes for pedestrians, cyclists, and buses. They should also reflect the character of the existing fabric of the Town.
Requirements for New Housing Developments:
The development should contribute to a comprehensive, joined-up pedestrian and cycling network with crossing facilities on major routes such as Watling Street (the A2) and over the railway line, designed to maintain Faversham’s status as a ‘walking town’.
Vehicular traffic generated by the development should not erode the environment, threaten people’s safety, or worsen congestion, and the impact should be assessed not in isolation but in conjunction with other schemes approved or in the pipeline.
The street network should connect to the surrounding area and make provision for future development on neighbouring sites so that no development forms an isolated enclave,
Any development should be configured with a design speed of not more than 20 mph, with parking control and junction layout relying on imaginative design to influence road user behaviour rather than traffic ‘furniture’, signage or road markings.
Vision for the future
Watling Street (A2) will become a central Town thoroughfare as development spills over to the south, and a key aim of the Neighbourhood Plan will be to pursue schemes that re-purpose the road and footway layout to reflect its new role, accommodating more north-south pedestrian and cyclist movement and providing a more pedestrian-friendly environment. To relieve pressure and conserve the Town’s heritage, the Plan will build on the growing perception of the need for change, not least, using cars less so we can enjoy the townscape more.
The Walking Town
Removing the barriers
Clean air, less noise