18 June 2014

Kingston Society Public Meeting: RBK issues and challenges

The Kingston upon Thames Society Public Meeting in June saw Viv Evans, the recently appointed Head of Planning and Transport at the Royal Borough, give us his views on current issues and priorities.

After a good and well received talk he then spent a lot of time answering the many questions from the floor. There were some arguments over some of what he said but there were none on his knowledge, honest statements on how we saw things or his willingness to engage with the audience. It was an excellent session, even if we did not always like what he said.

What follows is a mix of stuff from the talk, the Q&A and my subsequent thoughts. None of this is attributable to Viv, RBK or the Kingston Society. The mistakes are all mine.

Shopping

Kingston wants to remain a top retail destination. It is currently one of the top thee retail destinations in London and one of the top ten in the country. It faces threats both from new centres, particularly the Westfield coming to Croydon, and from the ageing and tired looking parts of Kingston, e.g. the Eden Walk Shopping Centre. Doing nothing is not an option while other centres, e.g. Guildford and Woking, are making improvements.

There are several major opportunity sites that are due to be developed in the next year or two and most of these are close to Kingston town centre. RBK is trying to address these as one programme under the Kingston Futures umbrella.

Consultations on Ashdown Road (The Old Post Office) and Eden Walk are due to start in a few weeks.




Transport

Kingston is dominated by the car. This means that busy roads bisect the centre and that pedestrians and cyclists are always given a lower priority. This makes it harder to move around the town. This despite the fact that cycling is more popular in Kingston than it is generally across London, though this may be distorted by the presence of Richmond Park.

Mini-Holland is bringing in a minimum of £30m to improve cycling facilities across the Borough. Most of the attention has fallen on the proposed pontoon, which most people hate but I like, but it is important to remember that this is just one of many schemes in the project.

A major traffic and transport study is under-way.

Planning policies and procedures

Some town plans are getting out of date, the are around 6 years old and a lot of changes have been made nationally in that time.

RBK has no policy on building heights and does not have a dedicated conservation officer, though some staff have had training in this.

Housing

RBK aims for 60% affordable housing, usually gets 35%, sometimes only 16%.

Most of the new student accommodation is used by students who commute to universities in central London. Some people seemed to find this troubling but that is to ignore the fact that most of the family housing in Kingston is used by people who commute to jobs in central London.

My view

My view, which I put at the meeting, is that Kingston is continuing to push two main themes; large prestigious retail developments that pull in shoppers from far and wide plus more housing and transport to get people to live here when they work elsewhere. What is missing was much consideration of what sort of Kingston is being built for residents who spend a lot of time here not working or shopping.

Kingston needs public spaces (the refurbished Ancient Market helps but we need much more) and more leisure facilities (not just cafes!), and these all need to be easy to get to and between on foot and bike.

Lots of European cities show what can be done, e.g. Hannover, Antwerp, Bremmen, Malmo, to name just a few, but I am not convinced that Kingston is heading in that direction.

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