Friday 31st January 2020
Bordon and Whitehill are two linked communities in East Hampshire situated midway between Alton on the A31 and Hindhead on the A3 and south of Farnham.
The area is one of ten demonstrator sites in the Government’s Healthy New Towns programme. Launched in 2015 the programme aims “to explore the development of new places which provide an opportunity to create healthier and connected communities with integrated and high quality services”.
Two years before that accolade the area had already been earmarked for special treatment, probably reflecting its links to the MoD over many years. In 2013 “eco-town funding” enabled residents to enjoy three new circular bus routes around the town and to communities on its fringe numbered appropriately enough EC1-3.
Operated by AMK (“Liphook’s leading coach hire company”) running a twenty seater bus using “the latest diesel technology” with the Mayor of Whitehill declaring it being “a much needed local service and I hope that residents find it useful”.
Sadly they didn’t and the plug was pulled after five years of the minibus trundling round carrying very few passengers and soaking up a huge amount of “eco-funding” in the process. By way of replacement the three routes were combined into one anticlockwise loop with fringe areas abandoned and the contract awarded to Stagecoach in February 2018; route 28 was born.
Meanwhile plans for the redevelopment of the former Prince Philip Barracks (on Budds Lane on the map above), now rechristened Prince Philip Park got underway.
Prince Phillip Park is “one of the most exciting and innovative and largest regeneration projects in the UK. The development will provide sustainable growth taking a community of 14,000 people to one with 23,000 people. Our vision is to make Whitehill & Bordon one of the most desirable places to live, work and play in the region”…. that’s according to the Developer so may be a tad biased I guess.
Their successful Planning Application granted in 2015 includes an impressive shopping list of developments for the ‘Healthy New Town’ including 2,400 new sustainable (naturally!) homes, a new town centre, new six lane swimming pool in a new leisure centre, 3,000 new jobs, a new secondary and expanded junior school, health centre, GP surgery, extensive open spaces, play areas, allotments, a new relief road, footpaths and cycleways network, arts and cultural centre.
The Developers reckon they’re going to invest “a total of £54 million for the benefit of the existing town and its new residents”. As well as the aforementioned shopping list, the good news for transport is a commitment of “£4.5 million to enhance the existing bus service, as well as the creation of bus stops and shelters to the new development and local area”.
This all sounded very welcome and befitting of a Healthy New Town. Except my eye was caught the other day by news of Hampshire County Council ending ”the number 28 bus service which is no longer financially viable for the bus operator to run” in Bordon and Whitehill.
Councillor Rob Humby the Deputy Leader of Hampshire County Council and Executive Member for Economy, Transport and Environment explained “the 28 bus route was originally set up to serve people living in planned new housing. The service was funded initially from a central Government grant with the intention that it would subsequently be financially supported by contributions from housing developers while passenger numbers increased to make the service commercially viable. However, only a small number of residents are currently using the bus service and housing growth levels have not yet reached the trigger point to release developer contributions”.
So it seems the £4.5 million is not in play yet, and like eco-routes EC1-3 before it, route 28 is on the ropes. Its £53,333 annual cost (paying for a bus running anti-clockwise round a loop every half hour, eight times in four off-peak hours) has been funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (that’s the beauty of being a ‘Healthy New Town’) with Hampshire County Council also subsidising every passenger trip at a cost of £5.67.
Route 28 runs for the very last time tomorrow. From Monday it’s being replaced by a new ’28 Taxishare’ which will bring the annual costs down to a maximum of £37,440 so this eeks out the Government’s money a little longer.
To travel on Taxishare you have to register as a user beforehand to receive a membership pack and crucially must book a journey by 4pm the previous afternoon before the day when you want to travel. There is a fixed timetable and fixed bus stops remain, but the beauty of a system of ‘pre-booking only’ is if no one has booked, the journey doesn’t run and marginal running costs are saved.
But it’s hardly a great way to encourage public transport use in “one of the most exciting and innovative regeneration projects in the UK”. It’s also clear it’s a service for residents rather than visitors to the area like me, so not sure how I’ll get to travel around and stay connected and visit my pals who might move in to Prince Philip Park.
I couldn’t let route 28 pass into the history books without taking a ride and having a nose around the area, so I headed off to Farnham this morning from where Stagecoach run an hourly route 18 down to Bordon and Whitehill to take a look.
Stagecoach customer research has recently told them passengers would be attracted to travel if things were less confusing but I was able to fairly easily work out the smart looking Gold branded bus for route 1 was the one for me on the 18 and took a ride.
It dropped me at the stop known as Bordon Forest Centre which is the community centre for the area including a bus only link to prevent through traffic. Nice.
I spotted the bus stop on the other side of the road already had a timetable for the new Taxishare on display …
…. and on the flag a number 18 was displayed even though that route doesn’t stop there in that direction – that’s the kind of thing that causes confusion Stagecoach!
Before long the 28 arrived and my circular exploration began.
A lady was already on board who’d got on at Tesco and travelled virtually the whole circuit (see map above) to alight at Whitehill Turning Circle which is just down the road from her boarding point.
A mum and her two children including a non collapsible pram and small bike (good luck with those next week on the Taxishare) boarded just ahead of me and asked for ‘one stop’. Just as I was thinking that‘s a bit on the lazy side (Healthy New Town and all that), she stayed on the bus as we drove past the next stop and I realised she was travelling to the One Stop convenience store further along the route by Bordon Camp!
No one else travelled so it gave me time to take a look at the house building and conversion of the many former army buildings particularly along the north side of Station Road where potential customers for the Taxishare may move in later this year; if they don’t mind organising their trips into town the day before and being taken around a one-way circuit.
It was noticeable those already in residence seemed to have a car in the drive.
The site of the proposed new town centre on Budds Lane is pretty much untouched since the army lads and lasses moved out, save for many metres of hoarding and wire fencing to keep prying eyes like mine well back.
The hoarding and bunting has been up for so long it’s now looking distinctly tired and past its prime.
I found the new secondary school further along Budds Lane so that gets ticked off the list of jobs done.
But there wasn’t much else that would bring custom to route 28, yet.
Even the community coffee shop with displays outside encapsulating the vision for the future on sustainable wooden planter things ….
…. in a former army building now rebranded as the Coffee Pot was padlocked and closed.
I’m left wondering how much house building has to take place before some of the Developer’s promised £4.5million for improving local buses is triggered. And exactly what those improvements will be.
And once that glorious vision for a new town centre is realised what will happen to the existing ‘centre’ which currently and poignantly has Coral and Job Centre Plus as the key draws on the main road junction.
Work in progress is the best I can say about Prince Philip Park. I doubt it’ll be finished and the Vision realised for His Royal Highness to still be alive to cut the ribbon though.
And a sad end to bus route 28 tomorrow – seen passing that Town Centre of the future site with no passengers on board.
And from next week don’t forget to book your replacement ’28 Taxishare’ by 4pm if you want to travel to or from your dream home the following day.
I used to run a bus company but in retirement enjoy Britain’s splendid scenic delights travelling by bus and train, and commenting along the way.