A better future for Keynsham?

A multi-storey car park and link to the 'Big Brown Elephant?'

A multi-storey car park and link to the ‘Big Brown Elephant?’

The forthcoming public consultation exhibition very sensibly brings together a number of issues concerning the future development of Keynsham over the next 15 years.

 The ‘placemaking’ operation which fleshes out the aims and ambitions of the Core Strategy and the Draft Transport Plan are key among these, but air quality management and the euphemistically named ‘conservation area’ strategy will all get an airing on 15th September at the Key Centre.

One document you probably won’t see there is called ‘The Heart of Keynsham’ but it is well worth getting your hands on a copy before you visit the exhibition or respond to the council consultation.

It has not been produced by B&NES officials or expensively recruited consultants, it has been written by local people who have witnessed the changes of the last two decades and considered the potential challenges for the future from the inside looking out.

Author Terry Edwards lives in Mayfields and over the last 18 months has consulted with local residents and organisations, as well as wearing out a considerable amount of shoe leather walking around the Keynsham town centre and periphery to see if a better future could be imagined with just a little more courage and foresight.

The result is NOT a simple wish list or an uncosted string of demands.  It is an invitation for those who are ultimately responsible for making the decisions which will affect Keynsham’s future to consider the wider picture. Currently the B&NES Council Core Strategy looks forward as far as 2029 and forecasts a minimum 20% population increase. The Draft Transport Plan includes no infrastructure investment and a raft of suggestions which the report acknowledges will have only a minimal impact.

Significantly, The Heart of Keynsham calls itself a CAN DO, rather than a CAN’T DO document.  It doesn’t use acronyms and technical jargon but rather affectionately refers to key elements such as the Civic Centre as the Golden Temple and the Riverside block as the Big Brown Elephant.

At 30 pages, it’s a bit of a tome and the space constraints of our own publication limit the detail of a report. But as the title makes clear, Terry Edwards’ concern is the heart of Keynsham – how best it can survive as a community rather than simply a shopping destination.

Keynsham station link to Somerdale?

Keynsham station link to Somerdale?

Connectivity for pedestrians is a vision he shares with B&NES’ officials but he has rather more radical suggestions on how to achieve this. Take the railway station, for example. Much has been made of the increased reliability on public transport and the development of over 600 homes and a retirement village at Somerdale. This report looks at the raised embankment opposite the station on the edge of Somerdale and questions whether this is perfect terrain for a tiered car park and bridge across the road to link with the station footbridge.

Then there is Bath Hill.  B&NES’ Draft Transport plan highlights the volume of traffic which accesses the town centre up Bath Hill.  So why not head it off at Bath Hill East with a multi-storey car park and level pedestrian link across to the Big Brown Elephant – sorry, the Riverside, once redeveloped.

With the fire station due to move to Hicks Gate, why redevelop the Temple Street site as the Fire Brigade HQ? Can’t that go to Hicks Gate as well? And why not move the ambulance station in Park Road for that matter to free up valuable space for housing. Rather than another office block between the Civic Centre and the redeveloped (presumably for housing) Riverside, why not something which would draw people in and be part of the Keynsham community? A Bath Guildhall style market, for example?

The Heart of Keynsham makes many ‘what if’ suggestions, which would have severe consequences for businesses like Kwik Fit and organisations such as the Scouts.  It is for this reason it must be emphasised it is not a blueprint, just a discussion document. It will be too easy for bureaucrats to scoff and ask where all the money is coming from but that would detract entirely from the aims of The Heart of Keynsham.

B&NES Council has a shocking record when it comes to infrastructure investment in Keynsham. Its own Draft Transport Plan identifies the biggest problem as the volume of through traffic which has to cross the town. While the Ashmead Lane bypass has been talked about for over 10 years, the report dismisses that idea as too expensive and long term. Let’s not forget either that while the Civic Centre has been sold to us as the catalyst for Keynsham’s economic regeneration, it is first and foremost a cost effective means of re-homing council departments.

Nothing in The Heart of Keynsham will ever come to pass without the intervention of local and central government, as well as the support of commercial developers. While public consultation is a necessary part of any council project these days, many in Keynsham will have reason to believe this is usually of the ‘tick-box’ variety and that the views of residents are seldom given serious consideration. If The Heart of Keynsham is at least read in the corridors of power and some of its recommendations considered further, the people of Keynsham may for the first time, feel they have had some input into the future of their town.

Download The Heart of Keynsham here