Braintree’s new bus interchange opens

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.

Looking north
Looking south

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.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu.

Next blog, Thursday 13th January 2022: Banking on an upgrade.

33 thoughts on “Braintree’s new bus interchange opens

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  1. Thanks Roger as ever for your timely review. I was there on Wednesday 5th to cover it for the Essex Bus Magazine (Essex Bus Enthusiasts Group) and echo your comments. I was very concerned that there is no enforced segregation of buses and pedestrians, with lots of examples of people walking across the bus apron, some oblivious to the obvious dangers. Indeed, if you come in to the bus interchange from the south, the obvious route is to walk over the apron, not via the pavement – poor design at its best! We must hope that no accidents result. Drivers were also confused as the stand numbers are not marked on the roadway, so for example making it difficult to distinguish between stands 4 and 5 in the middle – although in my couple of hours there, two even couldn’t work out 1 or 8 at the extreme ends! Oh, and the real-time info screens have yet to be installed and like timetable cases, it’s not obvious how/where they will be.

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  2. Just across the border in Sudbury they are planning to do away with their bus station and have the buses terminate at random stops around the town. Where buses will lay over who knows and how that will work with the complex and large one way systems who knows

    A more sensible approach would be to terminate the buses at the rail station which would create a transport hub as called for in the Bus Back Better legislation. There are plans as well to extend the rail line from Marks Tey to Colchester town

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  3. Where are the barriers to prevent a runaway bus from ploughing into waiting passengers? I say this as a resident of Chippenham in Wiltshire, which has the only remaining bus station (not “park” or “interchange”) in the county.

    Back in the 1990s most of Chippenham’s bus station was given over to a car park. Buses pulled up alongside the waiting room out of sight of waiting passengers with no marked bays. Passengers had to walk in front of the buses to try and find the one they wanted.

    After a bus runaway in Bristol bus station the HSE did an audit of all bus stations. As a result Chippenham got a proper platform with shelters, marked bays, signage, concrete crash barriers, and railings with gates separating passengers from the bus apron.

    https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/944285

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  4. Pedestrian safety was my worry too when I first heard of the proposal. Perhaps if drivers report too many near misses, then buses might again start to be withdrawn from the bus interchange (a misnomer anyway it’s more than just adjacent bus stops, surely).
    Do the people who design/approve these things ever use a bus? From the rent-a-quote, obviously not.
    Perhaps that the same route 40/40A to the same destination leave from adjacent stops is indicative of the thought given to the proposal. I suspect buses will pull in to any convenient stand. Passengers will just have to get used to it,as usual.

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  5. Shillings and still sticking with the 12 hour clock ⏰ on the opening times?Yet the bus timetables will use the 24hr clock, sensibly there being 24 hours in a day not 12, although perhaps not for much longer with Sir Boris Johnstone and Sir Jacob Rees Smog at the helm and wanting to bring back imperial measurements.

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    1. You would be surprised how many people still do not understand the 24-Hour Clock, despite its widespread use these days.

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      1. Yes and they are running our government and Royal Family! Knighting motorcrat Sir Lewis Hamilton and worrying about Sir Tony Blair!They all understand the 24 hour clock but just pretend not to because it suits their bumbling fuddy duddy imagine.Same with the USA,granted they don’t seem to understand Celsius ,and I’m guessing Kelvin too,but their military use the 24 hr clock and civil craft must as well although the departure boards are in the 12 hr clock at US airports therefore take up a lot of space.

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      2. “You would be surprised how many people still do not understand the 24-Hour Clock”

        I’ve had middle-aged people (i.e. a little younger than me) complaining about it being “new”. Telling them that it was introduced nationally way back in 1964 gets you more than a few dirty looks.

        More amusing are the student age yoof who complain that they don’t understand it (or indeed timetables), which I’m afraid generally gets a reply along the lines of “How are you going to cope at uni when you can’t be bothered to understand something as simple as a clock or a timetable?”

        Perhaps I’m just a curmudgeonly old person.

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  6. Sorry, my mistype, 40/A should be 42/A in my previous post. They provide a co-ordinated Chelmsford service, though leaving from adjacent bays

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  7. I would be concerned as a bus user about the apparent lack of lighting especially at stands 1 to 8. I assume that buses serve Braintree in the early mornings and evenings when it is dark? Curiously, there is lighting at stand 9 with the lamps shining over the pavement. Could it be that electrical works for lighting and real time information have not been completed and that the trenches for the cables are behind the barriers shown in the photographs?

    When the Galashiels Transport Interchange was being built in 2015, the Engineer in charge of its construction specified that as it was a prestigious gateway project, only screens should be installed to display bus departure times at each stance, as he considered printed timetable displays being old hat. Fortunately, he was eventually persuaded that timetable cases should be erected, which was fortuitous as the screens were frequently out of action for a variety of reasons.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I hope that they’re not going to follow the example of Wisbech bus station. A relatively modern construction, but completely devoid of any information, supervision, timetables, signposting, etc.

    Nothing, nowt, zilch.

    Dreadful.

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  9. Re JD’s comment I can confirm that there is lighting but it is very dim.

    The issue of buses for Chelmsford leaving from adjacent bays is because they reflect the routing out of Braintree rather than the final destination.

    Ironically the passenger information screen in the High Street was left in place when it was pedestrianised. Although it has now been turned off, it did continue to display times for about a year after the road was closed. bustimes.org thinks that a couple of routes still go that way as did the Essex County Council essexbus.info site until recently.

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    1. As well as reflecting the routing out of Braintree (70A and 133 both use Rayne Road) there would be a potential congestion issue if 70 and 70A used the same stand. 70 departs for Chelmsford at xx09 and xx39 while 70A arrives at xx14 and departs again at xx21. It only needs the 70 to be running slightly late and 70A to arrive slightly early for them both to be in the Bus Park at the same time.

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  10. I liked Councillor Kevin Bowers’ warning “as we transition across to the new interchange, we suggest that passengers allow extra time for their journeys”; maybe he should have also warned the bus operators to add in extra connection time in their timetables… Obviously Cr Bowers is not a bus user. Was it Curzon who said – on using a bus for the first time – “Belgrave Square, and make it snappy” ?

    Seriously, whoever designed, or acted as consultants for this bus station, has made some serious errors; would it be a good idea for the bus industry, or perhaps Bus Users UK, to pro-actively circulate city/county councils with some points of best practice, or to offer to act as consultants – before any more poorly laid-out and fitted-out bus stations are set in concrete?

    Having grown up in the Tonbridge/Tunbridge Wells area, I’ve never been sure that bus stations are really necessary; has here ever been any formal study of the benefits/disbenefits?

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  11. Excellent review Roger. When we asked the question a few months ago (as we were reprinting some timetable leaflets) were advised by ECC that the new site was going to retain the ‘Bus Park’ title and indeed that entry had been retained on Naptan etc. so that’s how we refer to it still!

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  12. Seeing the comment from “Bill”, I wonder if he has an explanation of why the timetable (dated Jan 2nd) of Stephensons Service 38/A on Essex Council Council’s essexbus.info website
    shows a half hourly service from Braintree to Witham but the operators website has an hourly service.

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  13. Bus Service Improvement Plans

    So far I have yet to see a plan that fully complies with the legislation. They are nearly all the vague type of plans councils come up with

    Retirements of Legislation for plans

    Set Target for Journey times and reliability improvements

    Identify where bus priority measures are needed

    Set Target for passenger growth and satisfaction

    Set out plans for fares , ticketing and model integration

    Consider impact of roadside infrastructure

    Consider how an integrated network should serve schools, health, social care employment and other services

    Bus Service Improvement Plans will need to explain

    How current service fall short of expectations

    How Improvement will be delivered

    The LTA’s and Operators Investment plans

    The financial support the LTA will be providing for public subsidised bus routes listing the route numbers and mileage supported

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      1. The road builders are also trying to undermine the Bristol to Portishead railway by proposing a bus way instead but I can’t figure out if they mean the whole line from Bristol or just the end bit from Pill to Portishead? Either way would be bad but the last would commit Portishead to yet another parkway and anyone without car might as well get the bus all the way rather than get off at Portishead Parkway as no doubt it’d be called and then wait for a train .

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  14. Sorry Nigel, where are you getting info from? For me the ops website shows both 38 to Bocking and 38A to Halstead combined giving a half hourly daytime service between Braintree and Witham, with the hourly 38A extending to Halstead, which seems compatible with the national database.

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  15. The whole issue around BSIPs seems to ignore the issue of viability, which underscores everything. All the issues are I am sure addressed by LTAs and operators, a dialogue that perhaps too often does not obviously include the passengers, but that doesn’t mean they are disregarded. They aren’t. They are at the heart of everything the industry does. Bringing it into the public domain is a laudable aim.
    But if the answer is, we’d love to, but we can’t afford it; then what?
    No one makes a rod for their own back, or a rope to hang themselves. To think otherwise is fanciful

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  16. Essex Smurf,
    Sorry, I should have been clearer. Stephensons website is, I believe, correct. However Essex County Council runs essexbus.info which has timetables on it for all services in Essex. That shows a half hourly service over the whole route which it used to be until some time in the autumn. It appears that ECC are behind the times!.

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  17. Sorry I wasn’t clear either, though I suspect the half hourly throughout is the “permanent” timetable, and the shortened version a covid adjustment. But who knows, anymore.
    ECC are probably using antiquated tech, so it doesn’t update from the national dataset. But I suspect the real scandal is they couldn’t care less, like a tart with her slap as long as it looks good.

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  18. As is so often the case, so near, yet so far! I was particularly taken by the line of buses alongside the kerbline, with fleet No 505 prominent. I wonder how long the kerb edge street lights will last when drivers apply full steering lock to pass a bus ahead of them!

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  19. BSIP’s are supposed to be a plan but most are not. Most just state they will grow passenger numbers by x% but dont say how they will achieve that, THey are supposed to engage with passengers but few have

    They are supposed to come up with a plan to improve services and the funding to do that but most just pluck a figure out of the air and ask for that with no detail at all as to how they arrived at that figure

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  20. I just know that someone will be sitting in front of that “Where to catch your bus” poster when I want to look at it.

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  21. Wonder how long it will take for the new hotel guests and residents of the adjacent new flats to complain about noisy buses over the road? Perhaps that’s why there also isn’t a lot of lighting, so it doesn’t annoy the neighbours.

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  22. That would only be the case if those who fit floodlights and streetlights had the brains to think about those with whom they are sharing their light pollution.They don’t think about it and if they did they don’t care

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