7 August 2010

Its a 'lack of vision' thing..........

Anyone who has considered the development history of the Bancombe Road Industrial Estate might be forgiven for thinking that its been undertaken in a rather haphazard manner. From my own (limited) knowledge, the estate was established by District or County in the late 1970s and (factually) the original estate (and the only existing portion of public highway) extended to the third turning head from the Bancombe Road (just outside Somerton Glazing).

Based on hearsay, Canvin Concrete (or something similar) was based at the original estate which was, most probably, how ex-Local and current District Cllr Canvin became involved in ownership. From the documents that I have seen, Canvin was buying land in the area in the mid to late 1980s, and developing the estate in an entirely piecemeal fashion, an approach which continues today.

Whilst it is probably an unfair comparison, it is informative to have a look at the Solstice Business Park, off the A303 in Wiltshire, to see how a business park is developed by professional developers with a vision.

That development was undertaken by Amesbury Property Company Ltd and was planned at a strategic level in close coordination with Wiltshire County Council. The difference between Bancombe and Solstice is marked. Where Bancombe is haphazard, unplanned and plug-ugly, Solstice is well laid out, coherent and, importantly, the infrastructure was put in place before commercial users moved in. In fact, a large part of the development's infrastructure, and probably the single biggest part of the development in investment terms, the road interchange with the A303 and the internal service roads, was entirely funded and completed before the business park came into use.

The location for Solstice was chosen a) because of its relationship to established transport links and b) because of its position near but apart from established residential communities. The size of Solstice, at 160 acres, means that it will take some years before it reaches capacity which will allow the strategic authorities to plan any future development and integrate it at that location or seek another suitable site.

In comparison, the Bancombe Trading Estate never enjoyed that level of consideration. If you believe the signs that are displayed as you come into Somerton, Bancombe, at 40 acres, is one quarter of the size of Solistice. On a 'pro rata' basis, would it be fair to expect Bancombe to have attracted 25% of the infrastructure budget spent at Solstice? In fact, the only infrastructure investment that I know of was the widening of Cartway Lane which was made a planning requirement when Canvin sought permission to develop the northerly end of the trading estate.
On the wider planning front, no-one can deny that Bancombe is the established industrial focus for Somerton and it is a reflection of Canvin's complete lack of vision, that, when it suits him, Canvin does not seek to extend the existing site (utilising existing infrastructure) but seeks to open up a new location to the south of Somerton. This new location has no effective road infrastructure meaning that the taxpayer will be required to fund the widening and expansion of existing roadways. This development will also cause a fragmentation of the commercial use of the local road network in that there will be, over time, two commercial locations set relatively far apart from one-another.

There is another significant and negative impact arising from the haphazard and uncoordinated development of Bancombe and that is the steady erosion of the commercial centre of Somerton.

West Street, which, in days of yore, was the recognised retail core for Somerton, has been steadily undermined as businesses either moved to Bancombe or started up at Bancombe. In this regard it was interesting to note that when Canvin offered an industrial shed at Bancombe for use as the proposed health centre, the planners rejected the idea. The reason cited for the rejection was the inappropriateness of the location and the loss of commercial activity from the established commercial core of Somerton itself.

I can only speculate as to why smaller as well as larer scale businesses have been encouraged to move to Bancombe but there is one significant physical reason - the width of West St and its continuing two-way use. Behind Berry was widened, almost 30 years ago, to offer the opportunity of a one-way system being introduced to include part of West Street but almost 3 decades later, nothing has been done. Anyone driving along West Street knows that it is hard to avoid clipping pedestrians with your wing-mirrors so the argument is made, the 'bypass' has been created and West Street remains two-way.

The benefits of one-way working to the commercial units on West St is undeniable. Servicing those units would make it easier for business to function and it would make West St far more comfortable for pedestrians. Which makes the lack of action in this regard difficult to understand.

In the final analysis, it probably comes down to property values. Property on West Street is worth a lot more in residential use than in commercial so the local property speculators are probably quite happy for West Street to be as uncomfortable as possible for commercial users. Bancombe serves as the perfect 'alternative location' for commercial use of all sorts allowing the heart of Somerton to suffer a slow death as a mixed use location.

So Somerton is being ghettoised. All possible commercial uses will have been moved or have gone to Bancombe/Badgers leaving the core of the town an empty husk. At the same time, the town will have commercial and industrial uses to the north west and to the south causing commercial traffic to crisscross the town looking for coherent routes to other places.

Of course, we might expect our revered District Councillors to work hard to obtain a coherent development strategy for the town. But, upon careful consideration, its easy to understand why they don't.

Till next time, I'm still Niall Connolly