Initial designs for the long-awaited Valley Gardens redevelopment were revealed this week, and are set to be discussed by councillors on Tuesday.
The £10.2 million scheme for the roads surrounding Valley Gardens – the green space stretching from St Peter’s Church to Victoria Gardens – aims to ‘simplify the existing highway network’ for all road users and pedestrians.
The new vision for the area would see ‘general traffic’ on the east side of the gardens, travelling both north and south, and buses and taxis on the west side, as well as vehicles seeking access to the North Laine area.
The west side would be easier to cross according to the council, and would result in the green spaces being better connected to the city centre and Royal Pavilion Gardens.
The Valley Gardens scheme has been on the council’s agenda for some time, and was first developed by the former Green administration, before being taken on by the now leading Labour group.
£8 million funding had been secured by the government for the scheme, but there was a bump in the road for the project, when an independent review of the scheme found more traffic modelling should be done to take into account changes to the Edward Street/Eastern Road and Lewes Road.
Concerns were also raised by Brighton and Hove Buses boss Martin Harris, and campaign group Brighton Area Buswatch, as revealed by the Brighton & Hove Independent in July last year.
He said the scheme could result in years of traffic chaos and congestion, with substantial delays for drivers and bus passengers if the highway plan was not properly trialled.
Cllr Gill Mitchell, the chair of the environment, transport and suitability committee, agreed to delay a decision on the scheme, and said that further traffic modelling would take place.
At the time, she said: “A better designed Valley Gardens offers an opportunity to significantly improve the whole area for everyone and the urban realm aspects of the scheme have never been in doubt. However, we have to get the highways and transport aspects right and keep the city moving.”
After the latest plans were revealed this week, Mr Harris said: “The planning and design of the Valley Gardens project is still very much a work in progress. The council has delivered on its promise to maintain consultation with us and others to help inform the design decisions and I am sure that commitment will continue so that the best possible solutions for the project area itself and the associated solutions needed for the wider area this affects can be concluded in the best interests of everyone concerned.”
Andrew Boag, chair of Brighton Area Buswatch, said he ‘welcomed’ the latest plans, but still had doubts.
He said: “The scheme should make the green spaces much more attractive to pedestrians and there are clear benefits for cyclists too. Unfortunately, the benefits for road traffic are less clear and buses seem to gain very little. The last road scheme in this area was introduced about 20 years ago, so if and when Valley Gardens is implemented it can be expected to be in place for a similar length of time. It is therefore essential to get it right. The present arrangements contributed towards a big improvement in bus use around the city, such that we now have the highest bus use per head outside London. We must not lose this achievement.
“It is essential this scheme provides further improvements for buses which have been getting slower around the city over the past few years. This increases costs for bus companies which have to use more buses and employ more drivers to maintain the same service levels, which in turn leads to higher fares.
“The problem is not unique to Brighton & Hove; all over the UK buses are suffering from increased traffic congestion for a variety of reasons. Other cities look to Brighton & Hove for public transport based solutions and we must continue to lead. This scheme needs include some innovative solutions to ensure buses are not delayed by other traffic.
“The decision by the city council to delay implementation by one year provides a good opportunity to develop new ideas to improve the bus flows. We have a number of detailed concerns about the scheme as it stands which we want to discuss with the council and bus companies over the coming months.”
The officer’s report set to go before the council’s environment, transport and sustainability committee next week said that traffic modelling shows that the new road layout could increase journey times for some. The results of the modelling showed that for the ‘main eight general routes’, under the new scheme half would see an increased journey time, and half would have a quicker journey.
However, the overall average difference in journey time for all eight journeys was an increase in just two seconds.
The aim of the scheme is to simplify traffic routes and reduce the impact of vehicles in order to radically improve the environment, and make it a more inviting green space.
But council officers won’t begin to design the plans to revamp the green space until the highways plan has been given the go ahead.
Cllr Mitchell said: “The scheme has the potential to create a much more pleasant city centre park from a large traffic island currently surrounded by a sea of vehicles. The proposal also seeks to improve access for sustainable transport such as cycling and walking. We will be working closely with the bus company to ensure the scheme also suits their needs.
“It will be crucial we keep up a dialogue with everyone who has an interest in order to bring the greatest benefits to the greatest numbers.”
The £10.2m scheme is mainly funded by government money which can only be spent on Valley Gardens. If approved the project is expected to start in 2018, and be complete by late 2019.