SUNDAY 349 BUS TO BODIAM CASTLE – IT’S BACK!
After an absence of three years, the 349 Sunday service run by Stagecoach out of Hastings has returned – and not just for summer!
The route connects Hastings with Sedlescombe, Cripps Corner, Staplecross, Ewhurst Green, Bodiam (Castle and Steam Railway), Sandhurst, Hawkhurst and, on Sundays and Bank Holidays, Cranbrook. It crosses the county border between East Sussex and Kent at the Kent Ditch, just north of Bodiam with a whole string of visitor attractions and beautiful places and country walks en route. The first Sunday bus ran on April 16th with virtually no advance publicity and amazingly, among the passengers, were two men going to work in Hawkhurst…
Attempts to reverse this bus service cut began in July 2016 with an initial meeting with ourselves and Pauline Wall, manager of the National Trust property at Bodiam Castle. The rationale included the significantly increasing numbers of visitors to the castle – approaching 200,000 – with a 28,000 increase over the previous year. Most of these came by car along the lanes of East Sussex and Kent, ill suited to large and growing volumes of traffic.The bus just had to have a role.
A further meeting in September drew in other partners willing to explore the possibilities of restoring the service and securing funding. These included: 1066 Country Marketing (tourism potential and rural business promotion based at Hastings Borough Council), Bodiam Parish Council, Rother Transport Action Group. We were tasked with getting quotes from potential bus operators and in due course Compass Bus and Stagecoach each produced figures. Stagecoach was the chosen operator and we thanked Compass for their work in assessing their figure.
Support was canvassed up and down the route and potential sponsors sought. Every public house offering Sunday Lunches (seven in all) supported the principle and agreed to advertise the service if restored; Pestalozzi International Childrens’ Village were very keen, Sedlescombe Organic Vineyard, Hawkhurst Victorian Walled Garden Nursery, The Kino, Hawkhurst, The Hub, Bodiam, business park and glamping operation, and importantly, all Parish Councils and Hawkhurst Transport and Access Group gave letters of support, with some also offering limited financial support. Advice was offered by Rother District Council tourism officers and also Rother Voluntary Action.
Within two months and after two meetings with partners, funding had been secured to cover a limited summer service to run on Sundays that sat within the Bank Holidays, and each of the Sundays that fell within the school summer break. By the very early spring, both East Sussex and Kent County Councils had recognised the breadth of support and agreed to contribute to a partially restored summer Sunday service as a ‘pump priming’ action.
At the northern end of the route, Sandhurst and Hawkhurst residents had learned that the Arriva 5 service operating the Hawkhurst, Cranbrook, Staplehurst and Maidstone route was to be cut back to Cranbrook – isolating the villages. This led to further creative thinking on the part of Kent County Council: a restored Sunday 349 could run to Cranbrook to connect with the 5 service to maintain the link north. This resulted in a dialogue with Stagecoach that produced the current positive and pleasantly surprising outcome: a Sunday 349 running not just for summer, but guaranteed until March 2018.
Underpinning the relaunch of the 349 bus has been an effort to ‘spread the word’. On the basis that no-one who is a habitual car user would ever need to access public transport information, the traditional paper timetable has a role to play in creating an awareness of the existence of the bus. This led to a determined attempt to deliver to every household on the route in the two villages of Sandhurst (Kent) and Sedlescombe (East Sussex) a copy of the new timetable. This was completed with the final drop of 140 in Sedlescombe on July 10th. Sandhurst was ‘completed’ by the third week of June. Any increase in usage of the bus service will certainly be recorded by Stagecoach and we have asked for an interim report. All pubs between Hastings and Hawkhurst, plus many of the businesses along the route have been personally canvassed and have received copies of the timetable: the bus has also featured in a school assembly at Staplecross Methodist Primary school (see photo). Students heard of all the wonderful places accessible by bus and were very knowledgeable of the environmental benefits of public transport. They learned that the bus route crosses 13 geological fault lines on its way! And quickly reassured that the last earthquake was around 35million years ago.
The Hawkhurst Transport Access Group has distributed timetables to businesses in that village.The group has enthusiastically campaigned for public transport improvements over a period of time and includes representatives from the villages on either side – Cranbrook and Sandhurst. There is now a rail connection at Staplehurst via the Arriva 5 service (349/5 on Sundays and Bank Holidays).
Of course the publicity stemming from the re-launch of the Sunday bus can only benefit the weekday/Saturday service too, creating a greater awareness of the ‘bus offer’. All organisations directly involved in the tourism and leisure sector have been asked to include information about the bus in their publicity material – paper and electronic. We hope that the next reprint of the Kent and East Sussex steam railway brochures will include a mention of the bus connection at Bodiam.
WHO USES THE SUNDAY 349?
Caterers, pub and nursery workers, care workers, local recreational users (to Bodiam Castle, KESR, Sedlescombe Organic Vineyard, pubs for lunch), walkers, day trippers from Hastings, shortbreak visitors on days out from Hastings/Bexhill, foreign visitors (German, Romanian, Spanish), shoppers into/out of Hastings, a honeymoon couple – all these have been identified, gently canvassed and given a timetable.
HIGH WEALD AREA OF OUTSTANDING NATURAL BEAUTY (AONB)
Outside of Hastings, the route lies entirely within the AONB. Pictures vs Words? No Contest!:
WALKING – CYCLING – OTHER PUBLIC TRANSPORT – SAFER ROADS PARTNERSHIP
Following the government’s publication of its strategy to increase levels and mode share of walking and cycling in the transport mix, ESCC held a meeting for interested groups at Eastbourne Town Hall on the 11th July to consider its draft plans for Eastbourne, Hastings and Bexhill.
The local strategies and supporting measures are being put together by Sustrans in conjunction with ESCC and this first meeting was held to capture ideas and clarify principles that would be compatible with the objectives established in the government document. Given the lack of funds to actually implement relevant measures, Lisa Simmons (ESCC officer convening the meeting) appealed for ideas on sources of funding.
There were appeals from some of the (all male) attendees to link land use policies with transport policies – with reference to large scale Polegate and Hailsham housing plans – and I added in an appeal to review parking policy and tackle the ever present deterrent to walking and cycling of inappropriate, aggressive and intimidating driving styles – these witnessed by the failure to achieve reductions in ‘Killed and Seriously Injured'(KSI) casualties on our roads for the last 8 years.The last two months of recorded data are particularly worrying. (See previous post, Jan 2017, and the current Sussex Safer Roads Partnership website). Welcome to Sussex Safer Roads Partnerships | SSRP
I suggested that the evidence needed to justify providing major upgrades to walking and cycling infrastructure already existed and also that no-one should be growing up in a town where dangerous and threatening driving styles were tolerated and unchallenged, which is where we are now. Failure to challenge these issues – and in general, the primacy of the car – will reduce the ‘value for money’ of cycle/pedestrian networks as a whole. After all, streets leading to those networks all too often feature just those unacceptable standards of driving, and choices of non-car modes must exist ‘at the front door’.
I added my experience of accompanying a wheelchair user and a young mum with pushchair on two typical daily trips to ascertain the hazards – particularly through lack of route continuity via dropped kerbs – that they currently face. Of course such obvious issues are addressed in the draft strategy, but reinforcing the point seemed valid.
During discussions, other matters included: compatibility with the Hailsham – Polegate – Eastbourne Corridor Movement Study; and apprising councillors of options and ‘best practice’ examples, including consideration of signage along the lines of the Dutch/Belgian ‘Knooppunt’ signs where routes converging are shown with destination options nearby.
The matter of proposals for a major new A27 dual carriageway road between Polegate and Lewes was not raised though they represent an obvious threat which must be considered. Our views are reflected in this letter in The Argus, published on the 2nd of June 2017 (Link here: Argus A27 Letter 2 June
Pavement parking is a growing problem that must be challenged (obstructing pedestrians, pushchairs/prams, and wheelchair users), while cycles take up little space….
Some of the problems faced are illustrated in the photos below, including Katy,a young mum and baby Elliott travelling towards ‘Seaside Rec’and the sea along Whitley Road, Eastbourne, and Becky, a wheelchair user needing to get to the appropriate bus stop in Willingdon Trees for a trip to town:
Becky wants to go to town on the bus. She shares a house with two other wheelchair users……..
BUS SERVICES AND NEW RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPMENTS
With a nod to ‘Manual for Streets’ – The almost statutory guidance for planners, Stagecoach Bus has published a guide to planners engaged in planning new residential developments.The guide – ‘Bus Services & New Residential Developments’ – seeks to encourage dialogue at the appropriate stage in the planning process (i.e., before it’s too late) so as to ensure that the potential for the bus to play as full as possible a part in sustainably meeting accessibility needs of residents and visitors is met.
The guide is a useful start to a necessary dialogue around how to successfully challenge the primacy of the car, at and between both trip ends. With massive housing developments planned in East Sussex in the Eastbourne/Hailsham/Bexhill/Hastings areas, we hope that our planning and transport authorities are engaging with the issues presented in the Stagecoach document, and looking at the whole piece when it comes to all sustainable modes and how they can work together to improve accessibility – and quality of life for all sections of society. Link below:
*On 28th July 3 out of 4 bus stops in Sackville Road and Devonshire road (a major bus route) were obstructed by parked vehicles as the 99 passed through at around 5.00p.m. – a recurring symptom that needs addressing.
FURTHER DELAY TO HASTINGS-BEXHILL BUS LANES (See previous post)
The latest news is that the bus lanes construction will now begin in the autumn (ESCC answer to our enquiries). This means that at the earliest, the bus service will not be making its potential contribution to the transport needs of Bexhill/Hastings over two years after the Link Road opening. The ‘One year after Post Opening Project Evaluation’ report (POPE) will be published in autumn 2017, according to ESCC.
The authority’s own traffic projections showed that the benefits of congestion relief on the A259 would diminish after day one of the Link Road opening as traffic began to ‘grow back’, and stressed that the bus lanes were crucial to ‘locking in’ the benefits of the new road. The longer the delay to the bus lanes, the more congestion will grow back, and, the improved bus services timed to accompany the lanes, delayed – and impeded by the growing traffic volumes. The proposed new station at Glyne Gap/Ravenside – a feature in development plans for over a decade – would also have been a piece in the mosaic of interventions to give a high quality alternative to the car: Rother District Council and East Sussex County Council withdrew the station from their forward plans in 2014 – wrongly in our view.
The University of Brighton campus in Hastings is sadly leaving the town. We note that among prospective students, high on the list of criteria for choosing a university is the presence of ‘good transport links'(5th out of 21 in a list of choice criteria according to a recent study: ‘The Future of Higher Education in Hastings and Rother’ – Biggar Economics, 2016). These links include bus, rail and cycle networks – all requiring significant upgrade and integration, including with a whole range of policies other than just transport policies.Uni Attractors Hastings Report
We welcome the installation of the ‘Real Time Passenger Information’ (RTPI) signs already present in Bexhill and Hastings, but note the considerable delay to their installation at Hastings Station Bus/Rail Interchange, and further expansion across the towns.
TOURISM – OVERSEAS VISITORS UP 26% SINCE 2010
A report in The Observer (2.7.2017) quoted travel consultancy ForwardKeys’ figure of 7.8 million more overseas visitors to the UK in 2016 than in 2010, while Visit Britain noted a rise of 3.7 million visits in April 2017 – a up 19% on the previous year and the highest April figure since records began. Our strategic transport authorities should take a long hard look at bus and rail services where there are capacity problems and either poor services – or none at all. Improvements to better capture the tourism market would certainly benefit rural economies and communities which are isolated. The young, elderly and those trying to get to work need these links too, multiplying the benefits: the unrealised potential contribution of the tourism sector could quite possibly make the reinstatement of some public transport services viable. Just one example of a gap that needs filling: The National Trust property at Batemans, Burwash, has no weekend bus service: 110,000 visitors arrived in 2016, almost all by car, travelling down lanes unsuited to high volumes of traffic.
BRIEF RESPONSE TO PROPOSED EAST COASTWAY RAIL TIMETABLE CHANGES 2018 and HASTINGS AND ROTHER GROUPS’ SUGGESTIONS AND RATIONALEGTR Cons Response 7 17
JULY 26TH 2017 DEFRA ANNOUNCEMENT ON PHASING OUT PETROL AND DIESEL CARS
There were plenty of references to the logistics around exchanging these for electric vehicles, but little or no references to expanding the role of healthy, sustainable modes of transport and their role in improving air quality. Simply exchanging diesel/petrol powered vehicles for electric ones will do nothing to reduce road casualties (now static or rising), congestion, urban sprawl and car based developments, or sedentary lifestyles and their negative health consequences. DEFRA has already identified an important role for improved walking, cycling and public transport services in tackling poor air quality in its advice to local authorities (2015). Secretary of State Gove made no mention of this in the latest statement. And as in 2015, the Department for Transport has (so far) remained silent on these issues. Hopefully, politicians at all levels will engage with the issues in a more holistic way and it will be interesting to see how our new Sub-National Transport Body (Transport for the South East -TfSE) addresses opportunities to improve air quality. Chaired by Cllr Keith Glazier of East Sussex County Council, the authority covers an area from Solent to Kent and includes Surrey and West Berkshire. We are not clear how it will relate to the Local Enterprise Partnerships in the region.
AIR QUALITY – SUBMISSIONS TO DEFRA FROM CBT EAST SUSSEX AND BRICYCLES
This is what we and Bricycles sent to DEFRA in response to their consultation:
Bricycles Air Q Cons
…..and here is the map of the area covered by the ‘shadow’ TfSE authority: