Category Archives: Transport

“PARKLINE” . . . could Trams come to Sutton?

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Light Rail has seen unprecedented expansion in the West Midlands. Trams bring many benefits: non-polluting, high capacity, flexible, but as a downside especially in City Centres they are expensive to build. This BLOG explores applying the benefits of Tram Systems to the Sutton Park Line, and make a case for onward assessment of viability and VFM.

2040 Plan for Metro and Rail in the West Midlands: this is a notional Plan prepared by the Elected WM Andy Street’s Office in February 2020 showing a comprehensive rail transport network including a revitalised Sutton Park Line

It seems more likely that pigs would fly than new and expensive Tram lines be brought to Sutton Coldfield. After all Sutton already has an excellent well-used passenger railway the Cross-Town Line, linking to Birmingham City Centre. But there is another railway, the Sutton Park Line which occupies a significant swathe of land from Walsall in the NW to Water Orton in the SE, which with imagination and the application of new technologies could become the West Midland’s own Crossrail. This would be a vastly more economic project than London’s exorbitant and delayed programme, one that would strategically and flexibly link across the fast developing WM transport network. A new “Parkline” if you like.

And whilst there are already aspirations to bring the line into use, including (as illustrated) a 2040 Plan for Metro and Rail in the West Midlands prepared by the Elected WM Andy Street’s Office in February 2020 showing a comprehensive rail transport network including a revitalised Sutton Park Line, what is clear is that this remains an un-programmed long-term objective. Meanwhile the principle of a large new township at Langley comprising up to 6K dwellings has been incorporated in the Birmingham Development Plan (BDP). The absence of a programmed passenger rail-link makes sustainable transport planning for Langley problematic, and increases the strong likelihood, despite the fine words in the BDP, of a fundamentally vehicle-driven township.

Langley has all the makings of a classic dormitory suburb heavily reliant on multiple car use. PARKLINE could offer compelling alternatives for residents.

The benefit of Parkline can be summed up in one word: capacity. The Sutton Park Line linearly occupies a large area of valuable real estate, and moreover acts in a negative way as a physical barrier between the Town Centre and Township expansions along the A38, risking a new Township dislocated from its environs and traditional Centre. Whilst this important infrastructure link does provide a route for occasional freight traffic, there are much greater and more significant passenger capacity benefits to be utilised.

The wide open spaces of the Sutton Park Line in contrast to a typically congested A38, this disparity of capacity makes no sense; surely there is a way to bring the Sutton Park Line into passenger use to the benefit of ALL travellers

And let’s not forget the additional traffic arising out of Langley. Langley is an aspirational suburban township linking directly onto the extensive West Midlands Road Network. Incoming house-owners will most-likely enthusiastically commit to the national trend for bigger and heavier vehicles or SUVs. This will not be fertile ground for changing behaviours away from cars to public transport. Be realistic: it simply will not happen. And new bus routes with – in the short to medium term – diesel powered vehicles, will occupy the same squeezed, polluted and congested highway as all other vehicles. Within easy reach of Langley are Tamworth, Litchfield, Birmingham Airport and (likely) the new Solihull HS2 Station. And whilst the local and under-utilised A38 may have capacity, the onward connections fundamentally do not. Expect severe overloads especially at peak times on Kingsbury Road and links to the M6 and beyond, resulting in intensified vehicle-borne pollution and impaired health and diminished economic efficiency for the WM. This scenario is not a Planning solution. Frankly, it represents an absence of Planning, and significantly does nothing to address the Global Climate Emergency impacting on the WM . . . and meanwhile the Sutton Park Line drifts on as a transport backwater . . .

There is a strong likelihood of a dislocated Langley Township. As a flexible, clean movement system, PARKLINE would reduce this risk

And so, what can be done to shift the moribund Sutton Park Line to a sustainably vital Parkline? The answer quite simply is in thoughtfully applying innovative but tried-and-tested Light Railway battery technology. In China the Nanjing Tram System employs a wireless system, powered by lightweight Li-ion batteries. Batteries are charged via a pantograph at stations and terminals, and dynamically during acceleration. Charging time is reported to be 46 seconds at stations, and 10 minutes at terminals with 90% of the line catenary-free. These figures look impressive, and on this basis, there is great potential to assess the application of Li-ion technology for a catenary-free Sutton Park Line.

A further innovation would be to apply (if proven) “Riding Sunbeams” track-side PV technology to boost the localised power grids at stations and charging points. This would be especially applicable to PARKLINE where much of the route is non-urban with open skies to collect solar.

The starting point of the Hexi Tram line is located at the Nanjing Metro Line 2 Olympic Stadium East Station. The other terminus is located in Hexi, 7.76 kilometers (4.82 mi) away. The Tram stops at a total of 13 stations.

The innovative “Riding Sunbeams” scheme aims to demonstrate that solar can safely bypass the grid to provide a direct supply of energy to Britain’s railway’s traction systems without disrupting train operations – a UK First

There is another advantage: flexibility. Because the Sutton Park Line is freight-only there are no traditional stations requiring expensive adaptation. As with Metro expansion elsewhere in the region, Station infrastructure would be modest and economic, with a short run of pantographs to quick-charge Tram Cars at stations and stops. Significantly Trams could actually leave the existing rail line at key locations to connect directly to local Centres, say: at Walsall or Sutton Town Centres, or Langley Centre or further south at Chelmsley Wood; where, subject to detailed assessments, there is potential to integrate with the eastward Metro expansion through to Birmingham Airport. This is important, because the aim here is not to add to an already congested New Street Station infrastructure, but rather as with Crossrail in London, create and connect to new strategic hubs, in this case the Airport and HS2 Hub in the SE.

In principle battery powered Trams could flexibly descend from the PARKLINE and loop around Town Centres before returning to the pre-existing rail route . . .

And as elsewhere with Metro expansion a revitalised Parkline offers significant economic and regen gains, but ones which compared to the relatively cumbersome and expensive expansion of City Centre light rail infrastructure, would utilise existing track, meaning a potentially higher VFM leverage of benefit to investment.

To conclude, through the pro-active utilisation of new technology, connected by Park & Ride to WM Communities, this proposed extension of the light railway network would help to significantly reduce congestion and vehicle emissions in the West Midlands, whilst at a stroke providing the sustainable rationale for an economically advantageous eastwards expansion at Langley and Peddimore; and one firmly rooted in an expanding, sustainable and integrated movement system.

LINKS:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trams_in_Nanjing

https://www.networkrail.co.uk/stories/pioneering-trial-for-solar-powered-trains

https://www.citymetric.com/transport/mayor-west-midlands-has-released-map-his-15bn-transport-plan-and-it-s-so-so-beautiful-4925

http://www.railtechnologymagazine.com/Rail-News/west-midlands-andy-street-transport-plan?dorewrite=false

Sutton Coldfield Gateway Project / Eco Sutton Response to TfWM

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Background to Sutton Coldfield Gateway: Sutton LOOP Concept

Eco Sutton presented details of its Sutton LOOP concept to TfWM in March 2019 – the concept summary is as follows:

  • The concept extends the anti-clockwise contraflow for buses that already successfully operates on Queen Street and Lower Queen Street.
  • Bus doors always face towards the Town Centre Island making access and egress safe and convenient. The removal of buses from South Parade radically opens up the comprehensive regeneration of the declining RRC.
  • Four Stops on the Bus LOOP are shown. These are: (Sutton) Station, (Sutton) Park, South Parade, and Victoria Street. Brassington Avenue remains on its present highway alignment but the curves are adjusted at either end both to reduce vehicle speed and create larger pockets of pavement for the Park Stop and also to enhance the URC.
  • The secondary vehicle (non-Bus) relief-road LOOP utilised the existing Lower Reddicroft and Reddicroft highway as a one-way loop linking via a refashioned roundabout in front of the Town Hall to Anchorage Road with a returning incoming one-way route via High Street and Mill Street. An advantage being better paved connectivity between the Old and New Towns helping to revive both.
  • The different characters of the Old and New Towns are reflected in the scale and design of the two new housing developments. Station Environs reflects the traditional scale of the Conservation Area, whilst the RRC / Markets Renewal is higher rise and contemporary in appearance.
  • The combined Hotel / MSCP on Brassington features a high-level walk / cycle-way linking to an improved Station. New access and egress ramps through the new Station CP on Brassington could be shared with the Gracechurch MSCP freeing up land and simplifying vehicle flow.
  • The Bus LOOP and RRC / Markets Renewal would be developed first and together. The HS2 C&BF Bid would justify some pump priming funding of the RRC Renewal. Station Environs and Brassington stages would follow on as confidence and funding dictated.

SUTTON LOOP: Benefits of Concept 

  • Because the WHOLE Town Centre is the Interchange: this provides for more flexibility in moving and stacking buses . . . especially longer buses such as Sprint.
  • Whilst it is envisaged that smaller P&R buses would be fully electric significantly the LOOP concept disperses diesel engineered buses around the LOOP reducing the concentration of vehicle borne pollution and making the Centre a healthier place to be.
  • By increasing the number of stops around the LOOP (four are shown on the plans) opportunities emerge to make outer fortress wall of the RTC more permeable; and the “Hop On / Hop Off” LOOP Approach helps break down the current fortress walls of the post-war Centre.
  • The key RRC / Markets Development Opportunity is given an additional regenerative boost by having its own front-door bus stop. This is important because as in London and other major centres it is proposed to have limited car parking for the two new housing sites.

At a subsequent meeting with TfWM it was clear that the Combined Authority were concentrating on their preferred concept for a new interchange on a site on the corner of Park Road and Brassington Avenue. No informed rebuttal of the Sutton LOOP has been received and Eco Sutton continues to propose the benefits of this and other imaginative highway, transport and public realm improvements for the town. Eco Sutton also considers the LOOP to be economical, flexible, and supportive of Town Centre regeneration.

Eco Sutton has responded with a detailed Report of Response to TfWM of which details are included below:

 

 

 

If this option is accepted then Eco Sutton would like to see a high design and eco sustainability standard, and included a number of suggestions in its Report of Response.

 

However Eco Sutton remains strongly opposed to the creation of two bus stations, on Brassington where 80% of bus movement would occur, and on Lower Parade where 20% of bus movements would occur. The continuing presence of buses on Lower Parade stymies new housing regen on the Red Rose Centre / markets sites. Eco Sutton wishes to see the Gateway Interchange thoughtfully integrated into an imaginative but implementable Masterplan for the Town Centre, with a fresh approach to traffic, movement  and public realm.

 

 

It is the quality of the Town Centre as a vibrant place for people to live, work, shop, associate, keep fit, relax, and chill out that is the priority according to Eco Sutton. Gateway and other initiatives bring welcome investment but are only a means to an end.

Eco Sutton will continue to collaborate with Birmingham City Council, the Combined Authority, the Royal Town Council and others to agree practical and sustainable solutions for the Town Centre.

 

Summary of Briefing to Birmingham City Planning Chair

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Scope:

The purpose of this informal meeting was to provide an overview of Eco Sutton Community Planning activities.

Central to this was the intrinsic link between the major new developments at Langley / Peddimore and the regeneration of the Town Centre.

The slides below feature some of the key themes: the three Sustainability Pillars, Streets for All, Integrated Green Transport, Air Quality, Town Centre Masterplan, new models of living and movement, community vision based on localism principles, eco innovation and green technology, finishing off with the key issue of engagement and community empowerment.

For further details please contact Eco Sutton Group.

Slide One: Cover Slide


Slide Two: Short description of Eco Sutton’s mission from our website


Slide Three: Eco Sutton’s Community Planning is based on the three pillars of sustainability and the illustrated examples: Town Centre regen (economic), Langley Community Development Trust (Social), and Peddimore Micro Grid (Environmental)


Slide Four: Streets for All initiative is illustrative of Eco Sutton campaigning for a less car dominated public realm


Slide Five: Green Transport . . . Eco Sutton is involved with Transport for West Midlands and others in campaigning for integrated transport . . . not simply a take it or leave it means of movement such as fuelled vehicles or buses


Slide Six: Air Quality . . Eco Sutton is facilitating air cleanliness monitoring to raise awareness challenge behaviours and improve standards and health


Slide Seven: Eco Sutton is developing a Community Masterplan to revive the Town Centre . . .this activity arose out of Langley / Peddimore as Eco Sutton believes the two issues are intrinsically linked


Slide Eight: details of the 2009 and 2018 Studies for the Town Centre that Eco Sutton is building upon


Slide Nine: more details of the innovative LOOP and the associated Town Centre regen


Slide Ten: images of new Town Centre Housing adjacent to the proposed new interchange reflecting new models of living and movement


Slide Eleven: a new Community Hub as part of Metro Housing on the site of the Red Rose Centre / Markets which would be central to reviving the Town Centre’s fortunes


Slide Twelve: Eco Sutton’s vision for Langley is firmly community-based citing exemplars such as Marmalade Lane Co-Housing in Cambridge and Derwenthorpe near York


Slide Thirteen: for Langley Eco Sutton proposes a comprehensive range of sustainability innovations based on its experience with the Witton Lodge Community Association


Slide Fourteen: none of this can happen unless there is more community engagement . . . Eco Sutton is working locally to make this happen

A Future Sutton that is Distinctively Green

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Across the Country Town Centres are struggling. We can see this happening now in the Royal Town. Rather than becoming despondent, we should see these current misfortunes as an opportunity to revive the Royal Town as a place that is distinctively green.

A new Bike Hub integrated with improved Transport Connectivity would prove to be a huge asset for the Town Centre

Sutton has many advantages that other Centres don’t have. A fantastic Park on its doorstep. Excellent and improving public transport. A high-speed rail network a few stops down the Cross Town Line (if all goes to plan). A compact Centre with housing close-by. Proximity to the second city as well as marvellous countryside. History and heritage.

Imaginative ideas for integrated movement interchanges – examples here are at Chester, Moor Street and Clapham Junction

A Town Centre has a place in the community’s heart. The House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committees 2019 Report on the High Street and Town Centres of 2030 drew attention to the importance to the community of a vibrant Town Centre. Shopping is part but not all of this focus. We need to reshape our ideas for what makes a successful Town Centre.

People want to meet. To gossip. To have a cup of coffee. To exchange news. To make a contribution. Or simply to browse. It is people who make a Town not simply rows of shops.

Vibrant Market-style Eateries and EV Charging could help make Sutton distinctively Green

And a green Centre for Sutton would be distinctive. It would be special. It would act as a green urban counterpart to the Park. With more cyclists and provision for bikes. Waste and recycling Exchange. U3A, clubs, religious association, pubs and hobbies. Pop-up shops, cinemas, self-help, keep fit. The sorts of uses that have migrated away from the Town can be engineered to come back. All that’s needed is vision and imagination.

And more new trees planted, green walls, sedum roofs (maybe with rooftop allotments?) to the large deep-plan shops. A gradual softening of the 60s retail led vision. And underpinning all of this, sustainable green transport and metro style living. New people living in the Centre bringing vitality, money, interests and vision.

Green walls and sedum roofs look good, and improve air quality and biodiversity.

And the new citizens of Sutton won’t need cars to clog up the streets. A bike, train, or bus will whisk them away to where they want to be. The future of mobility (the new buzzword for transport) is flexibility. Rather than large chunks of metal passively occupying valuable urban space for 95% of the time, innovative pooled Electric Vehicles (EVs) and lift-shares can be both more convenient and significantly less damaging to our health and wellbeing.

This is a future for Sutton that is distinctively green.

 

Royal Town Centre Vision

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This is a summary of the Town Centre masterplan strategy developed by Eco Sutton Group. These proposals arose out of the Group’s response to the Langley Sustainable Urban Extension (SUE) and the risk of a dislocated SUE. The aim is to revitalise and regenerate the Royal Town Centre (RTC) by integrating an imaginative new transport interchange “Loop” linked to the associated development of two sites for housing, and a separate Market and Community Hub as attractors.

In place of slow decline and store closures the regenerated RTC would feature new social and mixed-tenure housing to help enliven and transform the Town. . . perhaps intermixed with office and workspace units with the HS2 and Housing Infrastructure windfalls placed in a common pot to help pump prime the complex demolitions, infrastructure and development packages. There would be TWO RTC opportunity sites: Station Environs featuring new low-rise commuter mews-courts (approx. 150 dwellings 2-5 stories) adopting the character of the old town, and the Red Rose Centre / Markets Renewal featuring medium-rise apartments (approx. 200 apartments up to 8 stories) with associated landscaped spaces. The aim is for a whole-life housing demographic linking the RTC to Langley / wider Sutton: young people could occupy low-cost apartments, then move to family housing at Langley, finally moving to as retirees to compact Mews-Court houses conveniently situated next to the Station.

A new Hotel with adjacent Multi Storey Car Park (MSCP) on Brassington Ave and linked to the Gracechurch MSCP would compensate for the car parking lost to new housing whilst providing easier access to the high-level Station platforms via a new elevated walkway. The aim is to maximise the RT’s connectivity to the HS2, achieve a better local development-led dividend and realise the RTC’s potential as a vital destination.

In the Parade occupying the Red Rose Centre (RRC) frontage a new street-level Library with a RT Museum, Local History Archive, RTC Offices / Community Meeting Places & Facilities to would serve as a Community Hub. Close-by a distinctive new Market Hub food court drawing people into the revitalised RTC. The Market Hub would occupy a vacated deep plan retail store no longer commercially viable, and provide space for cultural and artistic activities: music, pop up stalls / cinemas, art exhibitions etc. A flexible approach to retail leases within the envelope of former deep-plan retail units would reflect the national changes impacting on large retail stores and emulate the sort of dynamic specialised retail seen in places like Boldmere. A further opportunity site would be the new Dog Pound Walk opening off the Parade and featuring places to eat and associate with friends. This new Public Space would have level access to the new Community Hub.

The Development vehicle would be a Community Development Trust (CDT) or Community Development Corporation (CDC) with discretionary compulsory purchase powers, this community body would own the evolving Masterplan obo the RT. In addition to developing the Interchange gateway the HS2 dividend would be used to pump-prime key early stage infrastructure provides thereby providing a more compelling Business Case by thoughtfully integrating public transport within an overall regeneration based Programme.

The RTC would own the project obo the RT Community, Birmingham City Council (BCC) principal statutory and property-owning partner together with  the Business Improvement District (BID), M&G as Gracechurch Centre owner represented on CDT / CDC as deliverer / plus other owners, commercial, community, and environmental stakeholders, with WM Mayor as wider Regen Champion. The vision would be for a conjoined regeneration partnership having a positive impact on West WM Regen & Growth with Sutton attracting more people to live and work in the WM, also increasing footfall to the RTC and Sutton’s attractions: Sutton Park / Cinema / Birmingham Road pubs and eateries . . with more  visitors coming into the Town to spend money and enjoy its attractions . .

Town Centre Renewal

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Eco Sutton has been working with others to help kick-start new ideas to renew and revitalise the Royal Town Centre (RTC).

In the Parade a new street-level Library would serve as a Community Hub. Close-by a new Market Hub would act as food court drawing people into the revitalised RTC. Both would occupy vacated deep plan retail stores no longer commercially viable, and provide space for cultural and artistic activities: music, pop up stalls / cinemas, art exhibitions etc

Residents from new housing would increase footfall and 24/7 vitality. The age demographic would shift downwards. Cycling and pedestrian provision would be substantially improved linked to the revitalised transport / HS2 link and strengthened networks. In line with other major cities other than for special needs RTC housing wouldn’t include resident’s car parking.

The Passenger Interchange would encircle the now more accessible “fortress” of the TC with the shelters and stands at the top of the Parade closest to the Station using land acquired by the double loop roads and widened Mill Street but with additional stops and standings (as needed) around the Loop. The bus stands would adjoin a now enlarged and more attractive Town Square. This innovative approach to the design of the interchange would minimise and more easily disperse vehicle-borne pollution resulting in a cleaner and healthier Town.

The overall Project Objectives are to avoid a fragmented Langley – and then apply the impact of the Suburban Urban Extensions (SUEs) as a positive lever for change to knit the revitalised community into a regenerated and sustainable RTC. The consequence of linking the fortunes of Langley to RTC is compelling as if the RTC declines then the dislocation of Langley becomes more likely which in planning terms would be a huge failure for the WM.

The result is that Langley becomes a truly SUSTAINABLE urban extension and integral part of the Royal Town through its impact in securing the revitalisation of the RTC.

Community Planning Initiatives / Langley Fully Electric Park & Ride

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A key part of the Eco Sutton response to Birmingham City Council’s Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) for the Langley Development was the provision of a green Park and Ride Facility. Eco Sutton’s vision is for fully electric shuttles to run from Langley via a new passenger station on the Sutton Park Railway Line in Walmley and then onto the Town Centre.

There would be two major benefits:

1. Avoiding a dislocated Langley and instead ensuring it was connected by green public transport to the Sutton Town Centre.

2. Avoiding the pollution and congestion of additional traffic on the already congested highways and instead providing clean non-polluting electric vehicles.

Community Planning Initiatives: Reclaiming the Highway

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Eco Sutton is campaigning for streets that belong to all users not just drivers. For example: through properly designed and managed crossings that cater for all ages and abilities, and with 20 mph speed limits to residential and community areas because being hit by a vehicle at 20 mph means you will probably survive but at over 30 mph it means you may not. So 20 mph streets are miles safer!

Eco Sutton believes that by changing behaviors in favour of pedestrians and cyclists we can all share a pleasanter greener and safer place to live.

Community Planning Initiatives: Greening Future Car Use

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As part of the Reclaiming the Highways initiative Eco Sutton is championing the use of Electric Vehicles (EVs) in the Town. Eco Sutton is also working with the Town Council and Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) for EV Charging to be integrated into the proposed Transport Interchange. EVs reduce vehicle borne pollution and make the Town a cleaner and healthier place to live.

Community Planning Initiatives / Langley Garden Suburb

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Langley Garden Suburb was an Eco Sutton Community Planning initiative for the Langley Sustainable Urban Extension to help make the new development greener and having a similar character to the Royal Town.

Langley SUE would be planned from the outset on garden suburb principles as a natural and green extension of existing local suburban and arts and craft forms.

The plan would be generated from what was appropriate and right for the locality rather than working backwards from artificially imposed targets for housing growth.

On this basis it should be much easier to get local support behind the approach.

Whilst the Community Development Trust (CDT) proposal also adds weight to this Community Planning narrative.

As can be seen by these images The Royal Town has at least if not more charm and character than the other cited Garden Suburbs – both existing and as proposed

The principle of development in the Green Belt has been legally determined but this does not mean that the targeted numbers and densities are appropriate or justifiable

The Royal Town should determine for itself the level and character of development that best suits the defining characteristics of the locality and seek to develop a Langley masterplan modelled on Garden Suburb characteristics

This will help better ensure the true development and integration of a sustainable community at Langley