Friday 17 March 2023
Three of the Midlands Connect team made their way to Worcestershire this week to understand more about the pressures that our partners are under when it comes to scheme delivery in these times of financial constraint.
As well as looking at the here and now, Worcestershire are a shining beacon on how to look to the future. With the knowledge that in the next 20 years over 90,000 people are likely to move to the county, something needs to change. The incoming population will demand homes, jobs and connectivity. How can this be provided without depending solely on private vehicles? Worcestershire think they have found a way, their plans for growth and regeneration based around rail connectivity, show how more people does not have to lead to more car journeys.
Our first visit took us to Worcestershire Parkway – which opened in February 2020. With the station already operating at 2030 levels of forecasted patronage, it is clearly a recipe for success. The Council recognise that in a rural county, accessing a station by car is inevitable – however access to the station ensures that the substantive part of long-distance journeys is made using a more sustainable mode, a big bonus for both congestion and decarbonisation.
But this is not the final plan, a new settlement is planned, one which will bring the station from a Parkway to a community hub. The site will incorporate over 5000 homes until 2041 and 5000 homes after 2041, as well as providing over 50 hectares of employment land – all with direct rail access to Worcester, Cheltenham, Oxford Birmingham, London and others.
Meanwhile, in the City Centre, the focus switched to urban living in the much-maligned Shrub Hill Quarter. At the moment the site seems distant from the bustling high street and the cultural attractions that Worcester has to offer. We were granted access to the space underneath the station to see how a station could be re-opened to create a real gateway to the city; at present there are poor service levels, poor accessibility and therefore rail provision is a poor offer to visitors. Even on a grey and drizzly day, we could see the potential of Council’s plans to create a boulevard linking the 2 stations in the city, incorporating new housing, retail, business opportunities (in some beautiful industrial heritage buildings), and providing rail-based City Centre growth and regeneration.
Finally, I can’t mention the day without talking resilience, on the day of our visit a closure on the M5 caused chaos in Worcester City Centre, Bromsgrove and on the A38. The county also must deal with the impact of floods from the River Severn. Any plans for local infrastructure need to take account of how it may have to cope with the impact of problems on the road and rail network.
To provide this regeneration and growth, a council needs investment, and it needs to be able to integrate this with a vision and an understanding of the needs of the people already living in the County and those it wants to attract. Worcestershire had this vision and this understanding and is raring to go.
Sarah Spink is Strategic Partnerships Lead at Midlands Connect.
External Affairs Manager
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