Hale Community Trust welcomes the Council’s initiative to develop and deliver a Village Place Plan for Hale. It’s something that we have long felt was lacking and we are pleased that the Council has responded to our suggestion to put a plan in place. The timing is not a moment too soon: economic changes in the country as a whole, changes in social and retail behaviour, and other local and regional developments make it imperative that public, private and third sector organisations work together to protect and support our community that inspires so much passion.
Having expressed our support in principle, we are however concerned that the draft plan does not appear to fully address issues raised in the project brief or by the public during the previous stage of consultation or by other surveys. In addition, we believe that some of the survey results may be misleading due to methodological flaws. Our detailed comments follow below.
Hale Community Trust is a community group and registered charity with the aim of making Hale a vibrant place to live, visit, shop and work. An effective plan that meets the needs of the community is very much in our interests.
We are pleased to be acknowledged in the plan as the driver of the new Library and Community Centre in Hale and it’s good to see that the scheme is considered a keystone of community development, embracing all sectors of society including families. It is pleasing that Trafford Council is committed to this community-led initiative and of course the project has the benefit of being in progress and self-funding.
Referring to the Council’s brief for this project (summer 2019), we note that the objectives include (but are not confined to) identification of
We are not convinced that all these issues have been satisfactorily addressed in the draft plan.
Parking is the main issue that has been raised repeatedly by members of the public and by local businesses, as is evident from the findings of the autumn consultation, and feedback at consultation meetings, to Councillors and directly to the Trust.
The consistent and overwhelming view is that there are not enough parking spaces and parking charges are seen to be expensive and/or unfair.
We believe that the parking survey carried out in September is misleading because the methodology was flawed: some roads were omitted from the survey and the study did not take account of the proposed extension of the residential permit scheme. Anecdotal evidence is that parking is a problem that deters people from shopping in Hale and detracts from the environment. Demand for parking will naturally increase as and when vacant business premises are reoccupied and the redevelopment of the United Reform Church is complete. The number of public spaces at Brown Street will not be reinstated at the same level.
We believe that proposals in the plan for extra on-street parking on Ashley Road will have minimal impact and will not solve parking problems.
The plan does not make any suggestions about modernisation of car parks to increase capacity; nor is there any proposal about pricing strategy that would stimulate economic activity and create fairer conditions. We would like to see further work on this issue.
As there has been no consideration of the return footfall and occupancy of vacant shop units, it will be necessary to undertake an impact study on parking once Brown Street has been developed and phase two of residents’ permit parking has been established.
We appreciate that the suggestions regarding transport are guided by the Development Plan of TfGM and we likewise support the increased use of public and other sustainable forms of transport.
While the plan is correct in saying that Hale is served by a number of public transport links, services are not frequent. Evidence that only 3% of people use public transport to reach the village demonstrates that services do not match needs, especially for people accessing the village from outlying areas.
The plan offers a paucity of suggestions about ways of improving public or private transport, such as dial-a-ride, shared vehicle use and encouragement of electric vehicles. More cycle parking places would be an asset but they need to be coupled with the introduction of safe cycle routes.
We would like to see more specific short and long term plans put in place to support the desired transition from single occupancy of private cars to more sustainable methods of transport.
Traffic flow is a problem cited by many people. It is exacerbated by the lack of parking spaces and by the frequent closure of the barriers at the level crossing.
The plan makes no suggestions on this issue, such as introducing a one-way system.
We were shocked to read that only six businesses out of 110 responded to the business survey, albeit some may have responded to the community survey. This must have given a false impression of the state of businesses in Hale. We feel that more effort should have been made to collect systematic evidence to inform plans. We are pleased to learn that the Federation of Small Businesses is now taking an active role in facilitating communications. It is evident that healthy businesses are a vital component of a thriving community by providing employment and stimulating other retail and services.
The Hale Village business health check does not quantify the reduction in footfall and consequential loss of income to businesses. Our anecdotal evidence is that business is suffering from lack of parking, especially at the clock end of the village due to the Brown Street development. We hear of a decline in footfall up to 30% and business closures. Even when the Brown Street development is completed, public parking spaces will not be reinstated at the same level. We are not convinced that development of a “village square” would be sufficient to address these pressures and suggest that further work is carried out on business requirements throughout the village.
The plan does not appear to address the issue of air pollution which the Clean Air Network reports is particularly bad in the vicinity of the level crossing.
We are interested in the idea of focal points such as the “village square” and “village green”. We appreciate the intention to revitalise the area around the clock but have concerns about how this could be reconciled with smooth and safe traffic flow, particularly as this is a relatively small area.
We are much more supportive of the idea of creating a “village green” adjacent to the Community Centre. We understand that artificial bowling surfaces are available and recommend that an investigation is carried out with the participation of members of the Bowling Club to find out whether this approach would be acceptable and sustainable. A multipurpose surface would have the benefit of creating a safe space for a variety of activities away from the road but with adjacent parking. This would be very much in line with our expressed ambitions for the environment of the Community Centre. We also support more trees, planters, seating, play and creative spaces here and throughout the village.
We support the idea of encouraging sympathetic design throughout the village, including signs and shop fronts; however we wouldn’t like to see Hale preserved in aspic but believe there should be room for sensitive modern design.
We note that effective partnerships are perceived as an important factor in developing and delivering the plan, however we feel that, to date, this approach has only partially been fulfilled. As pointed out above, more work needs to be done to engage with businesses, and the same applies to community groups, faith groups, schools etc.
As mentioned above, one of the principle objectives of the plan was to identify development opportunities. While this may turn out to be intractable, the issue is scarcely addressed in the plan. In our view, the Ashley Hotel remains the main opportunity for repurposing and improving the visual environment in a sympathetic style. We appreciate that very few opportunities remain for further development in the village. The remaining car parks should not be considered as potential development sites.
A further omission is the development of more truly affordable housing for people of all ages which we would also like to see addressed.
In summary, we welcome the initiative of the plan and its aspirations, which are in accord with our own organisational goals. However, it is not wholly clear how the “objectives in detail” will be delivered and to what extent they will deliver the vision.
We feel that the evidence derived from surveys and assessment work - especially around parking, sustainable transport, traffic flow and business viability - is weak and these areas need further examination and discussion. They are regularly cited by individuals and businesses as major issues for the future viability of the village and need to be addressed in genuine partnership with all parties.
Consideration should be given to providing additional parking which could be reserved for sustainable electric vehicles.
We support measures suggested to improve the environment, such as planting and streetscape, but not as a substitute for addressing the topics mentioned above.
The plan fails to consider development opportunities and affordable housing.
We envisage that the new Library and Community Centre will be a major catalyst for Hale’s economic growth and expansion. Hale Community Trust would welcome the opportunity of working with the Council on further development of the Hale Village Place Plan in order to address the issues raised during this short consultation.
We are happy for all or part our response to made public.
On behalf of the Trustees of Hale Community Trust
10 February 2020