TIME TO BE TRANSPORTED TO THE FUTURE ?
There has been much media commentary recently about how the impact of the current crisis will result in a different world emerging when we start to put the coronavirus behind us. It is anticipated that, globally, new ways of thinking will emerge with a stronger emphasis on community and on sustainability. What does this mean for Rye?
The Rye Conservation Society is a community organisation that aims to conserve the best of the past but always with an eye to Rye’s future through taking an interest in our unique town within its wider setting. So this seems a good time to consider how we can better work together to maintain and develop Rye as a thriving market town through this time or rapid change.
When it comes to future aspirations, Rye is not short of plans. These include the almost street-by-street detail of the Rye Neighbourhood Plan, at district level we have Rother's Spatial Strategy and draft Environment strategy. East Sussex Council has a suite of planning and transport stategies at county level, whilst the nascent Transport for the South East is working on a plan for the entire region.
There is a common thread running through all of these plans, a declared commitment to promoting ‘good’ growth supported by ‘sustainable’ infrastructure and transport (that’s walking, cycling and public transport). These apparently aligned plans, combined with Rye’s rich array of community, natural and built assets, should mean that we are in a great position to see the town adapt in a post-Covid-19 world. But to move beyond just plans, we need clear leadership and a lot of collaboration between the various authorities and stakeholders.
Evidence suggests, however, that opportunities have been missed. Only last week, Rye News reported on the missing links in the around England coastal path. Here, increased investment in both business units along Rye Harbour Road and the new Discovery Centre at the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve will combine to generate additional traffic. However, the junction at Rye Harbour Road which is already hostile to pedestrians and cyclists, will get busier as a result of these developments. As the multiple agencies involved have not so far collaborated, no improvements are planned for this junction so it will become increasingly hazardous to all. Rye will therefore be an obstacle rather than a gateway to the new costal path as well as to all accessing the Nature Reserve.
Parking is another issue that has held the town in thrall for some time. The local authorities have been at odds with some stakeholders over the best means to control and supply parking space. On control, Civil Parking Enforcement (CPE) is set to be with us soon. As for parking space, this may be a matter of better management and collaboration between authorities as much as as it is about supply as Rye News has already reported. Rye will certainly continue to rely on well managed parking, but perhaps the time has come to think beyond where we store our cars. There is an opportunity for this coming up in the form of a ‘Transport Review for Rye’ that has been promised by East Sussex County Council. Work on this Transport Review is planned to follow the introduction of CPE, due to be introduced later this year.
So, if not only parking, what should a wider transport review cover? We would like to see greater consideration of mobility for all, including our ageing population and the many households in Rye do not own a car. We would like also like to see sustainable travel considered as part of Rye's visitor offer. This is where Rye really could excel. We already have a compact and attractive town centre with fairly good local and regional public transport access. With some targeted investment to connect-up existing sustainable transport links, eg paths, we could revolutionise access to Rye and the surrounding countryside. Imagine day-trippers arriving by train to pick up a hire bike at the station to cycle to Camber Sands for the day, perhaps with time to stop off for a meal in Rye on their return. Imagine a family holidaying for longer, but leaving their car at Gibbet March for the week whilst they use the local path and cycle network to access the numerous attractions and hostelries the area has to offer.
Critical to realising such a vision through this Transport Review is how it will engage stakeholders, local and strategic, in order to generate a clear vision on how to achieve sustainable transport aims. What measures might a transport strategy for Rye include? We wouldn’t be starting from scratch as there are already some good ideas, for example, in the Rye Neighbourhood Plan and its list of 'community aspirations’. Examples include
-a new bridge over the Brede to connect with Rye Harbour and one over the Tillingham to connect residents with schools and leisure facilities;
-transforming station approach from a vehicle racetrack to a gateway to welcome both bus users and rail users; and
-finding a happy compromise between vehicle and pedestrian coexisting along the High Street.
None of this will be achieved without a concerted community effort to co-ordinate plans and to make compelling cases that will attract external funding. The Rye Conservation Society, along with many other local stakeholders is looking forward to seeing what happens next.