Tenison Road

This article was published in 2014, in Newsletter 113.

Tenison Road – artist’s impression.
Image as described adjacent

The continuing intense development of the station area is resulting in increasing transport demands on the surrounding streets – and in particular on this ‘rat run’ between Mill and Station Roads. Half a million pounds have been allocated to make the best of it – but if no one comes forward to lead on a strategic vision the opportunity for a step change in the streetscape will be lost.

Plans for the area were originally put together by architects Hamilton-Baillie Associates. Their ‘Poynton Regenerated’ scheme in Cheshire transformed a busy cross-roads and high street. Pedestrians previously imprisoned behind barriers on narrow footways, waiting for their turn to scuttle across the road between parked cars, were set free. The total domination of motor traffic was removed. It worked by de-emphasising the boundary between people and vehicles and removing street clutter. Arguments about its merits continue but these sorts of ideas are finding a home in the future of urban street design.

The architect’s plans for Tenison Road look like watercolour paintings. Gone are the line markings – no double yellows, no zigzags, no white lines. The road rises to the same level as the footway at junctions and zebra-crossings. Traffic signals are removed, the road surface is the same colour as a sanded wooden floor. It all looks really inspiring. But that was five years ago, the people involved have changed and the architectural practice is no longer closely associated with the project.

I represented the Campaign at a meeting of local residents with the county Highways Officer on a cold and wet morning at the end of January. We discussed the proposals as we walked from the junction of Lyndewode Road/St Barnabas Road to Mill Road. The county councillor did not attend and that said a lot. It was a rather unsatisfactory experience because with no one to defend the radical thinking behind the merits of the shared-space proposals, they all got washed away.

Tenison Road.
Image as described adjacent

Should we keep the traffic signals at the intersection of Tenison, Lyndewode and St Barnabas roads ? The radical ideas advocates say get rid of them – because green lights give motorists a licence to kill anyone who dares to cross when it is not their turn. The counter arguments say they should be enhanced – because currently there’s no help for pedestrians at these lights. Pleas for such facilities to cater for the young and old are hard to resist. The timings at these lights are very favourable for cyclists riding between Lyndewode Road and Devonshire Road because that is an important cycle route between the city and south-east Cambridge. So I argued that we’d like to keep it that way.

Two members of the South Petersfield Residents Association presented the scheme at the Campaign’s well-attended February monthly open meeting. There was a great degree of scepticism about so-called ‘shared-space’ in Tenison Road. Most of the points made suggested that cyclists should not be forced to share limited space with motor vehicles, and there was concern that the current proposals would do exactly that. To me, the overwhelming point was that without the presence of a design champion the shared-space ambitions for the project would be lost. That point formed the opening line of the Campaign’s feedback about the proposals to the highway authority.

The contrast between the original watercolours and the highway engineers’ scaled plans is stark. The fine details in the latter are perfectly suited to help with implementation and costing but they are highly technical and don’t help people to visualise the changes and the potential of the project. I should think that if the original vision has any hope of surviving it will need urgent backing up by the sort of material of the quality we’ve seen recently in the proposals for Huntingdon Road.

The scheme will soon be reaching the public consultation phase. My expectations have shrunk to it containing just a bunch of relatively minor alterations, which is a shame. I hope that something will happen to re-ignite interest in the project because a successful scheme implemented here could help increase acceptance of the 20mph limit and have a follow-on impact for the streets of Petersfield and Romsey.

Simon Nuttall