Fantastic image of Ashford from North Street, copyright Iain Crump but licensed for further reuse, available at http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1142576
Dear Ashford Future
We really appreciate the role that you are playing in developing our new home town to accommodate 29,000 new households in the next 20 years. This is a massive undertaking and we’ve now seen the overview plans that you have put forward to develop the town. It’s good to know that there is an overall vision as so any towns see not to have one.
We’ve not yet had a chance to read in detail the town centre plans that have apparently just been approved, but suspect that they are linked closely to the overall plan we’ve seen and on which these comments were drafted.
We don’t know whether you intend to keep consulting on individual aspects of those plans or whether you intend to give residents a chance to comment on the overall shape of the plans.
Either way, as recently arrived resident who intend Ashford to be our home for the foreseeable future, we’d like a chance to share our views with you on some of the key elements.
Highspeed train – this is a fundamental in us being able to live here – commuting for even longer every day would make it almost impossible for both of us to work in London and also handle the childcare arrangements.
Please do keep on at southeastern trains about train timings – every half hour is pretty good (a six coacher every 15 mins would be even better!), but the preview services were standing room only at some times of day and with new arrivals like us using the service daily, and at over £5000 a year, that’s a lot of money to stand at 140 mph… Timing of the trains getting back in the evenings is frustrating too – there’s just not quite enough time to get to the nursery without being at risk of a fine. Is there any consultation or consideration of these things when timing the trains?
We’ve read your car parking strategy. Yep, sometimes even the X Factor or Dancing on Ice doesn’t give a thrilling enough Saturday night. We noted that you pretty much intend to phase out town centre carparking and have Park and Rides. Having lived in towns like that before, we’ve bought a house within walking distance to the station. Just one light against you, or traffic jam, and you’ve lost the time advantage you might’ve hoped to gain.
We noted too the comment that the station car parking needs consideration. We’ve considered it – and again that’s why we’re moving to the town centre and not the prettier villages – the chances of parking near the station in 5 years time are looking remote. Commuters are likely to want to live not just at Cheeseman’s Green and the like but in existing villages too – so what do you have planned for them?
We’re in favour of SmartLink. Shiny blue buses do not of themselves a mass transit system make - and the website publicity focuses on the wrong things: the ability to buy tickets from a machine before boarding and nicely landscaped routes are not really the point when assessing whether the scheme is fit for purpose.
As far as I can see the main questions are actually whether the tickets will be affordable (no more than a pound anywhere and with timed tickets rather than just single or return journeys), available as a season pass, on a smartcard which should be interoperable with Oyster and the rail system, the frequency, how and where exactly the dedicated bus lanes will be established, plus why, if you are intending to phase out the town centre carparks, you’ve not considered a Kennington route for SmartLink. On this last point, when I asked I was told that was because there was high car ownership in Kennington but as SmartLink is designed as a mass transit system and as part of the greening of Ashford, that’s a bit illogical.
The new plans for M20 Junction 10A seem pretty good (do we really think though that it’ll allieviate traffic at Junction 10 by convincing traffic from Park Farm to join the motorway one junction further from their intended direction of travel? That’s not in line with human nature…). But the proposed lorry park, to be sited between Evegate and the substation at Sellindge really concerns us.
Which road are you intending they use to get there? The A20 between proposed juntion 10A and Evegate cannot cope with a lot of extra lorry traffic without disturbing the main route out of the surrounding villages, negating any time benefit that they might derive from the building of 10A. Plus the projected traffic flows for the area suggest that space for 3000 lorries would not actually allieviate Operation Stack in any case!
And why build it there at all? Surely the solution is to increase the size of the existing lorry parks at Ashford and at Folkestone which are surrounded by wasteland. And if it’s cost as well as lack of space that’s the reason so many lorries end up parked around the market at Ashford, then lower the cost of using the lorry park and clamp down on the illegals – I think I recall that fines can be pursued cross-border these days?
If you are going to build 29,000 new homes, there’s a serious case for making these eco-friendly. Park Farm may be built to high eco standards and as we’ve a new build ourselves we know that the insultation etc. needs to be second to none. We were pleased too to hear about high quality builds in Victoria Way.
But what an opportunity this town expansion presents!
We feel you should only be granting builders permission to build these new homes if they are truly sustainable – are you going to be requiring greywater or rainwater harvesting systems for saving water (this must surely be a priority in this drought-prone area of the world)? What about solar panels on the houses, or possibly wind turbines?
If you’re concerned that this would be difficult to achieve for lots of new homes individually, what about a communal requirement for each new estate or block of flats?
Unless these things are required, we risk saddling ourselves with a huge housing stock requiring individuals to invest in a way that is difficult in a recession, but is much easier if the cost has been absorbed into the price that you can get a mortgage on.
We’re also a bit concerned at what seems to be a focus on building flats. Who is it that Ashford is intending to attract? What’s the future profile that is in mind here? If we’re looking at young people that work locally, then my own family provides a good example. My cousin and her boyfriend were school leavers with jobs locally – but they were not after a flat in the town centre when for only a little bit more they could get a house on one of the new estates, with a garden.
Ashford has not to date been the sort of place you aspire to live in the centre of. What is intended to attract people to live in town centre flats? There’s precious little outdoor space, nor nice places to go out to in terms of chic little restaurants and wine bars to support this city centre approach to living. And are the flats to have parking? If not, then there’s even or reason to require things to do in the town centre.
Update: my husband reminded me that I also meant to make a point about the need for commuter-friendly housing near the station. If Ashford is looking to attract incomers from London, again they are unlikely to be looking for 2-bed flats.
Charter House is frankly an eyesore. We’ve seen that the plans are to fill it with a mixture of residential and retail and offices. The point is that Charter House looms in central Ashford and we’re not clear what could be done to make it look better. Tall buildings are not a problem per se, but Charter House is surely beyond redemption. Why not find someone to flatten it and build something inspiring, glass and steel?
The thing is, we’ve lived in flats. It’s normal in towns in the rest of Europe and it’s normal in London. Our last flat had a roof terrace, and quite a big one, not just a balcony. And it isn’t enough – you still feel boxed in and end up hanging your socks on a rack over the bath to dry.
The thing that flat builders elsewhere in Europe get right is the common green spaces. If you’re building flats, you need to give people a decent amount of common outdoor space nearby. There’s a human need to get your shoes off and feel the grass under your feet, to sunbathe, to picnic, to have a kickaround with your toddler or go for a bike ride.
Funnily enough, that’s something that the Victorians in London actually got right – the parks and commons really are the lungs of the city. At the moment, other than the tiny memorial garden or Victoria Park which really isn’t up to much, Ashford does not have much in the way of common land in the town centre area. At the moment, it’s easy to say that the countryside is not far off and it’s easy to reach green spaces. But, if you are expanding the town, that green space gets further away. And sympathetic landscaping is just not the same thing as a bit of wild yet safe land.
Surely either Dover Place or Vicarage Lane car parks could – instead of both being handed over for retail – be given over to a beautiful green space?
And don’t get me started on the river. The nice leaflet identifying a kind of chain-like link of grassy areas along the river doesn’t really hold up in reality (I guess that’s the proposed Stour nature park?).
But where are the riverside restaurants around the Stour? There’s a stonking great Hitachi rail depot on one side, and the Stour Centre carpark on the other… come on. Natural assets like a river frontage should be positively exploited rather than act as if we have our backs to a rather damp inconvenience.
Retail, Food and Drink
Practically every new development says that there will be retail, offices and housing. That’s great.
But you’ll have all these new houses, and all these park and ride schemes and very little for these new people to be doing in Ashford.
The designer centre is a great place to start, but there’s a few stores that would really be welcome there which you can find at other outlet centres: Monsoon, Banana Republic (in Gap) and Charles Tyrwhitt. But now that Waitrosehas arrived (albeit in the wrong place if that survey in town the other day is anytihng to go by), and Debenhams has made such a difference to the town centre, can a John Lewis be that far behind, especially with plans for County Square expansion? And what’s going to be done to attract something other than poundshops to Park Mall?
Ashford’s food and drink is somewhat underwhelming. I know we’re starting from having come from the gastronome’s delight of Northcote Road but a choice of four MacDonalds is not my idea of diversity.
So please, in the new places being built at the station let’s have a Pain Quotidien, or a Paul (it is Ashford International, after all). And an M&S food – they seem to be compulsory at London stations these days, and putting one in at Ashford International would really help commuters who’ve dashed past all the fabulous shops at St Pancras or Stratford to bag one of the few empty seats on the high speed train home and forgotten the milk they promised to pick up.
What about a Giraffe child-friendly but nice cafe in the town centre? We’d love that – or Carluccio’s? How about a Jamie’s Italian? What about Strada? Or a Nando’s? I’m not asking for Michelin three stars, but I can’t help thinking that it’s all very well these companies eyeing up the likes of Canterbury, but it’s Ashford that’s got the population to support them. I know a lot of the decent shops and restaurants have gone to slightly-posher looking Tenterden, but that’s o reason for Ashford town centre to miss out.
Schools and childcare - what are the plans for new primary schools and secondary schools? With so many new households, the schools are going to come under serious pressure. It’s already hard to find the right sort of childcare to handle the commuting lifestyle.
That said, resist the pressures and keep the grammar schools. They’re a major selling point for us people moving into Ashford from elsewhere (because of course we all believe our child will pass the 11-plus with flying colours) but they’re also good for social mobility and they give a chance to people who might not have had one otherwise in a segregated-by-address schooling system.
Europe’s best placed?
We are also particularly interested in what plans you have for the European side of Ashford – attracting business to the town from Paris, Lille and Brussels, and beyond. We’ve already seen one attempt at sidelining Ashford for that build-it-and-they-will-come upstart Ebbsfleet (surely only there for the convenience of Bluewater?) by Eurostar, so how are you going to attract visitors and investment? The town and wider region would suffer greatly fro loss of that link, so creative ideas (like the Calais metro train proposed for 2012) need to be brainstormed as well as the more serious planning.
I’m not going to go on about recycling here, as you can read it in a separate post on this blog, but surfice to say this really needs sorting if Ashford is to be carbon neutral and all the other things we can surely aspire to if we have a regeneration/ development agency with the word “Future” in the title…
As you can tell, we’re genuinely interested in the future of our new hometown, and would love to work with you on making it happen. Do get in touch and let us know what you’ve got planned next…