Farnham Infrastructure Programme: Why it’s vital you tell us what you think...

Thursday 4th August 2022 6:00 am
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This image was part of the public consultation
(Farnham Infrastructure Programme )

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It was good to meet residents at the Farnham Infrastructure Programme public exhibitions. There have already been many interesting points of view raised, some new ideas and a full range of perspectives on the two town centre options being consulted on, from love it to hate it.

The first option for the town centre is principally based on widening the pavements in Downing Street and Castle Street to improve the pedestrian experience in our main shopping area.

The second option, which could be done either with or after the first option, widens more pavements including through The Borough on the one-way section and changing the traffic flows in our town.

This will make some of the existing roads two-way to eliminate the need for traffic from some directions having to go all the way through the town centre like a giant roundabout, and narrows the remaining one-way streets to a single lane to allow for wider pavements and improved pedestrian safety and experience.

The consultation includes more information and can be accessed via https://farnhaminfrastructure.commonplace.is/

The consultation gives you the chance to say if you support the option or not, or aren’t sure. It also gives you the opportunity to provide feedback on the proposed options. Hard copies of the consultation can be obtained from and returned to the Farnham Town Council office.

We need the people of Farnham to engage in this consultation. Tell us how you use the town and contribute your local knowledge. Individual perspectives are critical to ensuring we find the solution that the majority will support to make the most of the funding and support that Surrey County Council is investing to improve our beautiful town.

The consultation also covers the A31 corridor from the Shepherd and Flock roundabout, through Hickleys Corner, the Firgrove Hill bridge to the Coxbridge roundabout. Upgrade of this strategic route has been on the Department for Transport’s (DfT’s) list for a while as it is a strategic east-west route.

The A31 ‘bypass’ clearly doesn’t bypass the town – in fact it splits the town in two, creating severance between southern areas and the railway station, and the central and northern areas of the town, for road users and pedestrians alike.

It is also, as we all know, prone to heavy congestion.

The programme team have worked with Atkins to put three options forward to the DfT. All three have the same layout changes, additional traffic lights on some approaches, lane widening and better facilities for pedestrians and cyclists at the Coxbridge and Shepherd and Flock roundabouts.

However, each of the three options has different solutions for Hickleys Corner and Firgrove Hill. Which option would you support and why?

Option 1: Underpass

An underpass underneath Hickleys Corner to separate local and longer-distance traffic. The crossroads would be replaced by a roundabout to take the local traffic, while the A31 would be able to run freely underneath.

New slip roads will connect the A31 to the roundabout, Station Hill and South Street. There would also be a new priority link along Station Approach to connect the A287 and A31. This would be supported by improved facilities for walkers and cyclists and a new bridge at Firgrove Hill.

This is the highest-cost option and takes the longest to execute, with the associated impacts on the town during the construction phase.

Option 2: Hickleys Corner and Firgrove Hill improvements

This option has been developed as a new option and will take some of the pressure off the Hickleys Corner junction by providing additional connections to and from the A31 at Firgrove Hill-Station Approach with new roundabouts.

The Firgrove Hill bridge would be upgraded so it can take extra lanes on the A31 and would be supported by improved facilities for walkers and cyclists. This option should reduce the congestion and improve air quality on Station Hill.

Option 3: Improving the existing junction

This option widens the A31 in both directions with additional lanes. There would be the opportunity to upgrade Station Approach, and no change would be necessary to the bridge at Firgrove Hill.

Additional lanes would allow for a dedicated left-turn lane towards the station which would allow more queuing capacity. This is the lowest-cost option and would take the shortest time to execute but doesn’t improve the connectivity issues across the A31 nor does it address the Firgrove Hill bridge which will need replacing later.

There is no guarantee this will receive funding from the DfT but a decision will be known before the end of the year.

Please visit the consultation website and have your say on the A31 options and the proposed designs for the Coxbridge and Shepherd and Flock roundabouts as well as the town centre consultation.

By Cllr Catherine Powell – SCC councillor, Farnham North, Cllr Andy MacLeod – SCC councillor, Farnham Central, Cllr Michaela Martin – SCC councillor, Farnham South, Cllr Peter Clark – WBC councillor, deputy leader of WBC, Cllr David Beaman – FTC and WBC councillor, joint leader of FTC

Councillor John Neale believes the plans don’t go far enough though.

In last week’s Herald, Farnham’s three Surrey councillors – backed by a Farnham and a Waverley councillor – said pedestrianisation in Farnham town centre “simply cannot be delivered”.

I have been involved with the Farnham Infrastructure Programme (FIP) since the outset; no-one at Surrey County Council has ever expressed that view.

We all know there are difficult challenges, but there are many things that can be done to progress to pedestrianisation, so long as the community and the councils have the will and determination.

When we set up the FIP, Cllr Tim Oliver (Surrey County Council leader), Jeremy Hunt (our MP) and I, as town council leader, believed there was a desire for pedestrianisation (broadly meaning freedom to walk without general traffic) within the Farnham community.

We also recognised that our town centre was in urgent need of revitalisation and must tackle its air pollution problems as a matter of priority.

The town council supported the programme by producing two policy statements that were incorporated into the FIP Vision and the Optimised Infrastructure Plan.

All these documents support the pedestrianisation objective and discuss ways that it can be achieved. The town council’s formal policy has not changed.

What has happened recently is that the county councillor representation for Farnham has changed and the careful work that was being done by the FIP team has been undermined. Without support from Farnham councillors, SCC is reticent to go ahead with the ambitious plans that we set out on.

The reality is a visionary transformation of the town centre is possible, within the current constraints, so long as a carefully designed set of measures is progressed.

If we don’t keep the original vision in focus, it will be lost forever, because every year that passes makes the challenge more difficult.

The winding back of the vision also means that determination to press for improvements to the major surrounding roads (eg western bypass) is abandoned.

That also applies to the desire for a link to the Upper Hart car park from Castle Hill – another sensible proposal.

My view is that whatever we do in the short term should be part of a road map to what we aspire to for the future.

The words ‘trials’ and ‘experiments’ are screaming out, together with the political will to bring all the community with us.

This should not be put off until the indefinite future. Farnham’s community and businesses need a much better town centre in the near future, just like other towns and cities across the country are achieving.

If you are interested in expressing your views please take part in the survey at www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/DS7JZTN and also respond to the FIP team at www.bit.ly/farnhaminfrastructure

By Councillor John Neale, Farnham Firgrove ward, Farnham and Waverley councils

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