Tuesday 11th January 2022
First of all a reminisce about how Braintree’s Bus Park (to use its former official term) used to look until its closure for a full rebuild in March 2020.
In particular its ‘back-in-time’ original 1930s glorious waiting room complete with boarded up authentic fire place and wonderful wooden bench seating all around the walls in dark black wood….
… together with empty display cases on the end wall.
Next to the waiting room were toilets and an office originally overseen by the District Council who ran the Bus Park for parcels and travel information but later changed to just an ‘Enquiry Office’ and overseen by Eastern National until they pulled out of the arrangement – and pulled out of the bus station completely for a time to avoid departure charges. This enabled the District Council to convert the eastern side into a car park.
The Bus Park latterly had three drive through stands with wheelchair accessible shelters on an island alongside each. The eastern stand alongside the car park had two bus stops, one behind the other.
It was all rather civilised if a bit basic and a bit short of space.
Blog reader, twitter follower and local resident, Nigel, contacted me when he spotted I was in the area and sent me a fascinating series of articles he’s written about the history of the Bus Park from its construction for just 4,910 pounds and 10 shillings during the winter of 1931/2 up to the the 1970s.
Interestingly it shows at one time there were 12 departure bays accommodated on the site as well as layover spaces as the diagram and table below courtesy of Nigel confirms. Of course in those days there were no easy access islands from which to board buses, just white lines painted on the road surface.
Fast forward to more recent times and there was a space for out of service buses to park at the rear and down the eastern side.
With grateful thanks to Nigel, here’s a Google street view image showing the bus station as it was in 2009 with the car park on the east side where the bus station once extended and that lovely 1930s waiting room on the west side….
Over the last few months that ninety year history has all been swept away and Braintree Bus Park has become Braintree Bus Interchange in a £1.6 million rebuild.
The new ‘saw-tooth’ stands are located on that former car park on the eastern side of the original bus station (outlined in red on the above aerial view) while the western side and the larger car park on Manor Street have been given over to new development which has presumably funded the new build.
The new bus interchange is part of a much wider £30 million transformation of the adjacent area known as the Victoria Square development featuring new flats, a ‘Livewell’ health hub, pharmacy, 70-bed Travelodge, café/restaurant, public toilets and a two storey car park replacing that small surface level car park.
This wider development is still under construction although work is well advance towards its finish, but the bus interchange opened on Sunday 2nd January enabling the temporary arrangements in neighbouring streets while construction was taking place to cease.
The new ‘bus interchange’ – so much more 21st century than ‘bus park’ – now includes nine bus stands, eight of which are drive in and reverse out.
Those extra stands have been trumpeted by Councillor Kevin Bowers who’s the Cabinet Member for Housing, Assets and Skills at Braintree District Council: “we’ve built a bigger and more modern bus interchange with added capacity which will improve public transport and support the future growth of bus services. The regeneration has transformed the look and feel of the area and it’s turned it into a much nicer place to wait for travel connections. We’re excited about the improvements, but as we transition across to the new interchange, we suggest that passengers allow extra time for their journeys until they are familiar with the new bus stands and layouts.”
i think Kev may be a little forward in his “nicer place to wait” assertion as although it’s lovely to see brand new pristine clean paving, it’s still very much work in progress not withstanding last week’s opening. For example as of this weekend just gone, a week after opening, there’s absolutely no timetable information available with only a poster placed in each shelter at the head of each bay numbered 1-8 advising where to catch your bus in Braintree, including the bus interchange bays.
And in an about turn to normal arrangements these have been placed at an ideal height for anyone using a wheelchair or a child, but not so good for the average height adult to read the infromation.
The individual shelters themselves must have looked good in a brochure of wooden bus shelters with glass panels and no doubt the Council got a discount for a job lot of eight, but I don’t think they going to offer as much protection as the old style shelter with all four sides closed in save for an entrance/exit.
These are completely open on two of the four sides and will be quite exposed if wind and rain beats down at an angle. All the more so if you sit on the bench, albeit a rather smart bench if you like sitting on ridged wood.
It wasn’t clear where timetables will be sited as there’s no obvious place to attach a case.
All the more so for departures from Bay 2 – the free route 900 to the retail hub of Braintree Village to the south of the town which Nigel tells me hasn’t operated since Lockdown in March 2020 with the Council seemingly not worried about the Section 106 agreement with the “Village” owners enabling the service.
Bay No 9 used by DRT and community transport operated routes located on the approach road hasn’t been designated with markings or a flag yet, and there didn’t seem to be any room for a shelter.
The space was being used for layover buses on my visit.
I appreciate space is restricted by the construction work still continuing on the adjacent flats and hotel but for a so called “bigger and more modern interchange with added capacity” it did strike me as already being a bit tight on layover spaces.
So much so that one bus had to use Manor Street used to access the bus station and already quite a narrow road to negotiate for arriving buses.
I arrived into Braintree on a Stephensons route 38 from Witham. The bus uses the first drive on bay from the access road, bay 8, and it was noteworthy how the driver struggled to line the bus up with the nearside kerb such is the sharp angle to turn in particularly with a bus parked on the access road and not helped by hoardings alongside the new flats on the far side.
Perhaps it will be easier when the works are completed and drivers can use the full width of the access road – assuming a layover bus isn’t parked there.
Councillor Lee Scott Cabinet Member for Highways Maintenance and Sustainable Transport at Essex County Council reckons “this new interchange will make bus travel simpler and more attractive” I wonder if he paid a visit since it opened last week to check it out. However, I’m reluctant to knock a new bus station even if this one is rather lacking any character, as it’s very welcome to see a town of Braintree’s size (population 42,000) retain a bus station, let alone build a new one.
There’s been a lot of other work taking place recently to transform Braintree’s town centre into a pedestrianised paradise. The town centre was last subjected to reconstruction in the 1990s with High Street and Market Place given special treatment with ‘Tegular setts’ installed on the roadway as it’s within a conservation area. Although these roads were restricted to buses, blue badge holders and deliveries that surface deteriorated.
The roads have now been given another makeover and I have to say make for a very pleasant area to wander around. It’s just a pity many retail units are vacant giving a rather unloved feeling to the town centre.
In some ways this is not surprising as Braintree was one of those towns that embraced the craze for ‘Outlet Shopping’ with a vast complex called ‘Braintree Freeport’ – more recently renamed ‘Braintree Village’ – on the southern edge of the town. It also includes warehouse style units for all the major national retailers. A more characterless and soulless location I cannot imagine but no doubt popular with many shoppers who no longer bother with the town centre for their major shopping purchases. (As an aside, the adjacent Greater Anglia station called Braintree Freeport really now needs a rename to Braintree Village – rather like Bicester – bur it would be sad to see the only Freeport disappear from the rail network.)
Hopefully a regenerated and refreshed High Street with the new bus interchange and surrounding development nearby will help Braintree prosper and Councillor Bowers’ excitement about the improvement is well placed for the town’s future, especially if someone gets some timetables displayed soon.
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Next blog, Thursday 13th January 2022: Banking on an upgrade.