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.
The sad thing is that, if the Developer’s contribution is time-limited and earmarked specifically for a commitment (eg provision of an Eco Bus route), if the deadline expires and the money is not spent, it cannot be drawn down later. It’s gone ! Kerrching – the money goes back into the developer’s coffers. If he was prevented from completing the housing, or sales were so slow that it wasn’t viable to build subsequent phases of houses, Kerrching it’s money saved – and no transport benefit to the community.
In this location, some distance from decent rail connections (to a variety of destinations around the compass), there’s little to encourage new residents to give up their car, especially when the bus alternative is so fragile.
After all, I expect the military moved there many years ago precisely because it was far away from everywhere ! Enough said.
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All those people moving to Bordon will no doubt be attracted by it’s cheaper housing than say Farnham or Guildford and trundle up the A3 every day. There was talk of reopening the line from Bentley but that looks like it’s on the back burner. So it’s a new town without any real public transport provision. No change there.
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Blimey it reminds me of the Prisoner – you are number 6 !
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The whole point of “Developer funding” is to stop people being car reliant, and, as we have aired many times before here, converting a fixed route to DRT merely makes that job harder. One really doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry when hearing of these well meant schemes of building new towns in “desirable” areas, this time in rural Hampshire. Do the Planners actually think that ladies in pretty summer dresses and permed hair, with a wicker basket on their arm, are going to be skipping on and off buses on a daily visit to the shops as per the 1950s? The stark reality is that virtually nobody would even consider living in these developments unless each family member over 20 had a car. Thus we see the depressing sight of once quiet small towns and villages turned into “car movement nightmares”, with endless characters looking like extras from “Eastenders” rolling in and out of their vehicles to frequent what is possibly the largest Coral betting shop in the south of England. So if Governments/Developers/Town and County councils really MEAN what they spout, a little stronger action to improve bus services is required forthwith.
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Yes, it really is essential that “developer funding” goes towards getting buses into developments as early as possible. Locally to where I am, we have a huge new estate on the outskirts of Crawley that is only served by a half hourly bus double running into the very edge of the development. So, of course, all the newly moved-in residents have cars – probably several per household. Local Authorities are promoting these developments as “eco towns”, and the statutory local plans go out with all the right wording about the developments being connected to good quality public transport so that car dependency is minimised, but it just doesn’t happen. Does the fault lie with developers or local authorities? In the case I mention, the road network looks as though public transport access was the last thing on the planners’ minds.
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I cannot let this post go by unremarked.
There was some research done in north Oxfordshire decades ago that concluded that, after buying a new house, buying the car is the next biggest lifestyle purchase (no s**t, Sherlock!). But the underlying point is that people have to make this ‘second’ lifestyle decision when moving house as they adapt to their new environment. If the bus isn’t there, the second, third, etc., car is bought and, as they say, the rest is history …….. I’m sure that you know this already but what it means is operating the new bus service as close as possible to the site of the very first houses is essential so that it’s there when people move in and not a day later. This could be supplemented by a ‘new residents welcome pack’ containing PT information and free ride vouchers for a reasonable period.
That would be investing in a sustainable and healthy community!
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When Bordon was a thriving army camp it brought good business to the Aldershot & District Traction Company (the Tracco). The town also housed the married quarters for the neighbouring RAF Oakhanger. In the 1950s the Tracco financially contributed to the lowering of the road under Wrecclesham railway bridge so that deckers could be used on the Aldershot – Bordon – Petersfield service. Bordon had regular services to all the surrounding towns – Farnham/Aldershot, Haslemere, Liphook, Liss/Petersfield, Alton.
During the latter part of the twentieth century the decline of the army and RAF locally was accompanied by some new civilian house building and population growth, but the shape of the town changed little. An attempt was made to create an artificial town centre, called the ‘Forest Centre’, a depressing place, the highlight of which was a small Somerfield (now Co-op) store, and in 1984 Alder Valley’s local ‘Bordhill Bus’ was introduced to serve it. Since that service’s demise there have been numerous unsuccessful attempts to run a sustainable town service, all of them propped up by council, developer, retailer or specialist funding. None of them have attracted healthy loadings. Hardly surprising; there has never been anything in Bordon to keep anybody there, the ‘Way Out’ sign being the most reassuring feature of the town.
Potentially all this could change. The army and RAF have now completely gone and a massive house building programme is underway, accompanied by many associated new roads, including a Bordon by-pass/spine road. There is to be another attempt to build a town centre from scratch. It will probably be more successful than the Forest Centre, but I suspect that there will still be a continuing and indeed growing demand for travel to neighbouring traditional towns, for work, education, shopping and leisure. There is an opportunity here for Stagecoach to significantly improve its current offer, in terms of network, routings, frequency, span of operation, and fares. If it was me and I had a bit of money that I could afford to gamble on a good risk, I would be looking to get what council and developer funding and bus priority measures I could from the earliest possible date, but ultimately take a flyer and lay down the services from the outset, with a view to securing incremental growth over a period of time.
Over the past twenty years there have been various plans to reopen the closed railway branch line to Bentley but none have ever looked like happening. The nearest rail station to Bordon is Liphook, on the Portsmouth – Waterloo direct line. In addition to Portsmouth and London this line serves what will probably be important destinations for new Bordon residents, including Petersfield, Havant, Guildford and Woking. Between 1996 and 2009 South West Trains ran a (Stagecoach operated) seven days a week early to late hourly Rail-Link service between Bordon and Liphook, including through fares available on bus to/from railway station destinations. Whilst the revenue SWT allocated to the service did not fully cover the costs of operation (and latterly SWT needed to fund a hefty premium payment to the Government), the service did build up substantial loadings. This is probably something that could usefully be revisited in light of the major growth and changing composition of Bordon.
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Many thanks for that fascinating background and assessment.