Faversham – a town under attack from within

Tim Stonor for Faversham

The great appeal of Faversham – to those of us born here as well as those of us who have chosen to make this our home – is both its immense historic beauty and its wonderful people.

Yet both Faversham’s good looks and culture are under attack – and, however unwittingly, this town council is leading the charge:

– defacing Faversham’s historic landscape with yellow lines

– removing benches so we have nowhere to rest and to talk to each other

– proposing to replace a pedestrian friendly zebra crossing with a car friendly pelican crossing

talking about banning cyclists.

What evidence is there that any of this is needed? What real evidence exists? And what kind of a town will be created if all of this happens?

I was, as you might imagine, most disappointed to read in the minutes of its last meeting that the Public…

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The urgent need for a post-implementation assessment

I believe it’s worth noting that the choice of road markings, if any, is a matter of judgment. There is certainly guidance on best practice and the choice of yellow lines is, in most situations, the default choice. They are a common solution to a common need – but there are no absolutes. As with the Building Regulations, the guidance given in official documents is, exactly what it says, guidance. This is why it is possible in historic buildings to design solutions that vary from the standard guidance. 

So, if much of Faversham’s historic building stock can comply with legal requirements in non-standard ways – then why not its historic streets and spaces too? Well, the same principle can indeed be applied to the design of the built environment. Yellow lines are not a requirement; other solutions are also possible as the briefest of internet searches will reveal.

For example:

http://www.historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/streets-for-all-2-parking-restrictions-without-yellow-lines/

Nevertheless, there is a view that further painting is required in Faversham’s historic town centre to complete the plans set out in the April 2014 Traffic Order. But again, it’s worth understanding why the lines were part-painted in the first place. That decision was made as a direct result of last year’s popular Yellow Lines public campaign which was supported by over 1500 local people as well as internationally recognised experts in public realm design. As part of this campaign I held discussions with Brian Planner of Swale BC and Laurence Young of the Faversham Enterprise Partnership a few weeks before the lines were painted. I used this meeting to point out the risks of painting on the historic stones of Middle Row, which would absorb the paint and make it extremely difficult, if not impossible to remove it in the future. These are the oldest laid stones in the town. Clive Sherwood’s guidance was extremely helpful, including his reference to a pamphlet on the street stones of Faversham, which I picked up at the Fleur de Lys.

I also pointed out the historic importance of the Guildhall and its role in “anchoring” the image of Faversham to residents and visitors. To encircle it with municipal paint would, I argued, be to reduce its status significantly. Finally I requested that the yellow lines should not be painted over the narrow brick panels that run across Court Street, in between the larger panels of granite setts. (At some point in its recent history, great care was taken to create a high-quality public realm design for the town centre. I used to use this in talks I gave as a rare example of a town centre that was free of road markings. Faversham was celebrated internationally for bucking the trend. I can no longer give that talk.)

Each of my requests (no paint on Middle Row, no paint around the Guildhall, no paint on the Court Street bricks) was accepted and I was assured at the time that a post-implementation evaluation would be undertaken before further painting, if any, took place. Likewise, I was told that paint was to be used that could easily be removed should the decision subsequently be made to “de-paint” the lines. 

Temporary paint was indeed used, as can be seen by the heavy weathering of the lines. I do not believe though that a post-implementation assessment has been undertaken and I have not heard of plans for one to be carried out. Yet this assessment is, in my opinion, a necessary and urgent next step. As I remarked in my question to the March meeting of the Town Council, this should include a survey of parking behaviour and a review of alternative approaches.

Such an assessment would generate evidence of fact to set against the evidence of opinion that currently prevails. It would help address key questions:

Are the yellow lines working? 

And, if not, precisely how not? 

The assessment should, in my view, form the basis of any further public realm works in the town centre. This would follow good practice in public realm design. Anything less will be worryingly inadequate.

What next for the Yellow Lines? A suggestion…

I think it is clear to many, if not all, that the yellow lines have not worked. They have not affected parking behaviour in the way that was attended, if at all. And they have had a visually damaging effect on the historic town centre. In their current, fading and dilapidated form, I think they look equally terrible as when first painted. How they must look to a first-time visitor, I don’t know. What sort of statement do they make about the overall quality of the town? Not a good one I think. How would you know where you should or shouldn’t park? Are the faded yellow lines even safe?

Saying all this is one thing and demonstrating it with evidence is another. And I believe we need to demonstrate it with evidence in order to be able, as the next step, to marshal an alternative strategy, which is likely to require funding – that will require evidence to be granted. 

What we need therefore is a proper evaluation of the effects of the yellow lines since they were put down last year. On the basis of that evaluation, a plan would be formed to implement an alternative strategy – one that would accommodate parking in the town centre without requirement for the visually damaging impact that the yellow lines have had. And, of course, a strategy that would actually work. 

In other words I see the yellow lines being removed and replaced with either more sympathetic parking signage or with no parking signage at all.

Above all, I feel strongly that we need to take independent, expert advice from a practitioner with direct experience of working in a sensitive, historical location to create parking arrangements without recourse to yellow lines. 

Who will decide if the lines are needed? “Not us!” says Faversham Town Council

I asked the following question at this evening’s meeting of Faversham Town Council: 

“I am concerned to read in the minutes of its February meeting that the Public Realm Group is considering the encirclement of the Guildhall – Faversham’s architectural centrepiece – with double yellow lines, as well as the repainting of the now-fading and largely ignored lines that were put down last year. 

Before it goes any further with what I consider to be a folly, will the Town Council commit to properly evaluate the effects of last year’s actions, which the large majority of popular opinion considers to have been so very poorly taken.”

The question wasn’t answered so I asked it again. Second time around, Cllr Willcox said that it would be for the next Council to answer…

Yellow Lines – you vote!

A campaign to rid Faversham of the yellow road paint that damages its visual beauty and economic performance.

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