Letter in last week’s Herald re MSCP in #Haslemere

This letter appeared in the Haslemere Herald on 7th January 2014

Sir,

The MSCP proposal has become a runaway train.  It threatens to fatally rip into the heart of Haslemere with a building that at 160m long would be large enough to contain two and a half Boeing 747 jetliners end to end.  Going with a begging bowl to Jeremey Hunt’s colleagues in cabinet for a public subsidy to support a project which has been financially and contractually unviable since the first consent was given flies in the face of market economics.

Developers will be rubbing their hands with glee as finally they can market their greenfield sites within driving range of Haslemere as ’with parking’.  With Haslemere advertising itself as the car park mecca of the three counties, for all these new commuters it will attract, at no benefit to the town, there will be standing room only all the way to Waterloo for existing season ticket holders.  That has to be an election losing policy in this part of the world.

Haslemere is such a unique gateway to so many beautiful scenic and cultural treasures.  The crystal air of Hindhead, the commons, the wooded valleys and streams threading their way down from Hindhead to Haslemere.  The deliciously richly coloured brick buildings, Bargate sandstone, ironstone cobbles, and the secret valleys and coombes are deeply embedded in my bones.   My family moved to the ‘Little Switzerland’ of Hindhead when I was three years old.  The M3 was being constructed at the bottom of our garden in Farnborough.  We moved back to Haslemere in 2000 and we love it here and when I come home to Haslemere by train on a beautiful late spring evening I sometimes feel we are entering the gates of heaven.

So I do not want to come home on a summer’s evening to all the light of the sun blotted out by a visionless MSCP carbuncle on Platform 1 at Haslemere Station after a hard day’s work.  I do not want to mourn for the lost views up to the tree studded escarpments to the north and south of the station.  I do not want to see that gentle curve of the vale that defines the gateway to our beautiful town defiled by a vast light and air polluting concrete bunker, stamping down on all that is sacred to the character of our deliciously rural market town.

For all the beguiling minutiae of car parking figures garnered from the streets and car parks that are occupy every spinney and common in the vicinity of the station it is clear to me that this myopic cash of statistics ignores the broader trend in development and more specific future growth in demand for commuter traffic, station by station, which in my view make the provision of an MSCP in Haslemere completely redundant.

Petersfield and Liphook have and will continue to be faster growing settlements.  Unlike Haslemere, these towns are projected to grow and to grow quickly.  Haslemere will always be geographically constrained.  These are the locations are where most growth will occur locally in housing and consequently rail demand.  So, why should we propose an MSCP to allow commuters to drive to Haslemere when they could get on an improved rail service further west, where they will actually get a seat on the train and where the land is flat and much cheaper to develop?  In Liphook alone, there are already very large flat sites primed for development close to Liphook Station.  Haslemere’s developments sites all lie within 5 to ten minutes’ walk from the station. So an MSCP would be of no benefit to these.

My experience at BR in the late Eighties as a landscape architect designing and building station interchanges in the South west Region and Western Region suggests that SWT or any future operator will simply respond to the broader demographic changes in Liphook for example and will design the timetable and station interchange to provide services equivalent to Haslemere should the demand require it.  Indeed, it’s perfectly possible that services in Haslemere may have already actually reached a historic plateau in comparison to future expansion of stations further west as these populations grow.

I have also designed and built city centre schemes with multi-story car parks.  MSCPs belong to cities and large towns and shopping centres like Brent Cross, not in a chocolate box rural market town.

Those proposing and promoting this badly thought through project have absolutely no experience in development or urban design and consequently no real understanding or are in denial regarding the catastrophic townscape and visual impact of such a mono-dimensional 160m building in Haslemere would bring.

An MSCP and its associated increase in take up from commuters using Haslemere as a convenient car park will rapidly condemn existing commuters to standing every working day all the way to Waterloo.  Nobody wants that, so we need to find a more balanced and nuanced approach, which means managing our existing car parking more effectively using the existing levers and resources we have.

There’s already a surface level car park next to platform 3 which lies empty night and day apart from one or two bus layovers and is owned by Waverley.  Haslemere station can simply be modernised as a transport exchange, firstly by creating a double sided station having two-way set down for buses and integrating taxis and set down for kiss and ride all within a two sided station forecourt.  Let’s also remember cycles and access for those with disabilities.

Streets historically from the time of the Romans are incredibly flexible spaces.  Streets are meant to be driven on and yes, parked on too!  That seems revolutionary in Haslemere, but the rest of the world gets by doing just that quite happily without an ongoing chorus of disapproval that diverts so much valuable energy and intelligence with endless vexed correspondence.

The elephants in the room here are four simple but deadly fundamentals of a commuter MSCP; greater traffic congestion; standing room only on trains to London in the morning; a catastrophically large urban and alien scaled structure in the centre of the town and the floodgates to green field development.  This will simply destroy the town’s aesthetic and historic value and ruin any prospect of regenerating tourism.  Nobody wants the same ruinous townscape impacts that have destroyed the once beautiful centre of Woking, to happen here.

So let’s drop this idiotic scheme and focus on developing some real benefits for the town.  Many more people are coming to visit Hindhead with the closure of the A3 over the restored heathlands of Hindhead.  The seeds of change are happening.  Let’s plan to regain Haslemere’s historic character and reputation as was achieved by those who were enlightened enough in 1895 to create the National Trust, which is quite simply Haslemere’s greatest legacy to the country.

Let’s also look forward and innovate and develop this great asset along with the South Downs National Park and build a beautiful new legacy, new jobs, upgraded hotels, a network of guest houses, restaurants and cafes, walks and rides, rural low and high tech industries, film locations and indeed a strategically revived tourism industry and make Haslemere once again an internationally sought after destination.

Yours,

David O’Brien