ROSSENDALE CIVIC TRUST AND THE ELUSIVE BUS STATION STORY.
In 1937, the ‘Grand Theatre’, which stood opposite the Queen’s Arms Hotel in Rawtenstall centre, was demolished with the intention of building a bus station on the site with direct links to the railway. At the same time, a by-pass was proposed for Edenfield and Bury Road, going over the railway by a bridge so as to avoid the level crossing. They say it never happened because of the War. A ‘temporary’ bus station was put on the site of the theatre, which lasted until 1967.
In the 1950s a new bus station was planned for land opposite the Pavilion Cinema, (now the carpet shop) but again this never happened; by the early 1960s the M66 was envisaged cutting through Rawtenstall on its way between Manchester and Burnley, roughly picking up the route of the proposed 1930s by-pass and continuing through Crawshawbooth – but subsequently hived off through Rising Bridge. Also, Beeching’s axing of the rail line to Bacup and later withdrawal of the services to Manchester and beyond phased out both the level crossing and the dream of a bus-rail interchange. Yet in 1967 New Hall Hey Hall and half of Bank Street were demolished and a huge central island – the gyratory – constructed to facilitate what was even by then an outdated scheme, aiming traffic directly at Bacup Road without provision for suitable access to the alternative, Bocholt Way, which was created along the former railway line. The bus station was hurriedly relocated to Bacup Road.
At the same time, back-to-back housing between Bank Street and Bacup Road was being cleared under the 1957 Housing Act, and whilst the site was under consideration for a new shopping precinct to replace those lost on Bank Street and attract national companies, our MP Tony Greenwood commissioned Town Planners Matthew Johnson Marshall to propose a location for a permanent bus station. They came up with the land between Kay Street and Lord St. where the old Police Station stood, but this was Lancashire County Council’s land, and subsequently used for a new Police station instead; the bus station’s second ‘temporary’ site has thus lasted for fifty years.
But at last, the former Police station site has come into the ownership of Rossendale Borough Council following their purchase of the adjacent shopping centre and its recent clearance, coinciding with money to build being available from County.
Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it! But County’s plan for fitting the bus station across the site behind the former Town Hall was rejected by Rossendale Council in favour of demolishing the Town Hall and pushing a much bigger bus station up to the edge of Bacup Road, thus giving more room to develop the whole site between there and Bank Street. Unfortunately, nobody checked this out with Historic England, or reckoned on public reaction, and, having been declared a building of significance within the Town Centre Conservation Area, the Town Hall (or at least part of it) was reprieved. Yet the opportunity to look again at the site and how to fit a working, traffic -friendly bus station into it was not taken. The Bacup Road model was simply moved back into the cleared space behind the Town Hall, which it was not designed for.
Nor was the potential damage alleviated, as both sites severely compromised the flow of traffic from Kay Street back onto Bacup Road. Road closure applications for North Street and Lord Street are still in place at the time of writing, and no clear traffic plans have been put forward for this area, including re-routing of Royal Mail delivery vehicles to and from the sorting office.
The traffic flow on Bacup Road also stands to be interrupted by multiple traffic lights and new pedestrian crossings, causing congestion and adding to pollution.
Rossendale Civic Trust does not believe that the development of the bus station, as Phase One of this site, should begin until the traffic problems are fully addressed, consulted on and agreed.
Much has been said about the design of the bus station and the buildings proposed for Phase Two, the shopping and leisure zone of the site. Once again, the retention of the Town Hall should have been the key factor in determining this direction.
If we take design as the product of practicality, the question must be asked as to what purposes the buildings on the site are required for, and what they need to make them work.
Using the restored Town Hall for offices instead of having a second storey above the proposed bus station has thankfully reduced its size, but the sheer bulk of the buildings proposed for Phase Two – cinema and either hotel or apartments – is surely incompatible with the grain of the Conservation Area. Historic England quite rightly questioned this, and several meetings and changed drawings later, some agreement has been reached on stepping the rooflines of the buildings to make them appear smaller. But in practice, they will still occupy large footprints and will inevitably be of a fair height, with unattractive roofscapes when seen as they will be, from above.
Yet we in Rossendale Civic Trust still ask the question; whilst a cinema and hotel are needed in the town, is this the right place for them? Can their demands on access and dedicated parking be met? Can the spaces beneath them be filled with viable retail units, and can these be adequately serviced? Deliveries, particularly to shops backing onto Kay Street, or even facing onto Kay Street, look particularly problematical, whilst James St, will be hazardously cramped, with delivery vehicles vying for space with public parking. In planning for size, and servicing space demanded by the buildings’ function, is devising a suitable format/design for our town, modern or traditional, actually possible?
Which brings us back to the existing square. The re-siting of the bus station and the
footprint-hungry blocks has resulted in the square, which in its present format shows promise of taking on a life and character of its own, shrinking to what appears to be simply a wide pedestrian street, much of which will be in shadow for most of the day. Its use will be further compromised by its level having to be raised to meet those of Kay Street and Bank Street, and access from North Street (if that remains open!) by ramp or steps. As drawn on the current plans, its use will be severely limited.
In conclusion, Rossendale Civic Trust regrets that so much in Rawtenstall has been lost over the last 80 years in the name of a bus station; town centre space and buildings, but above all time wasted on failure to acknowledge facts and the continuing indecision. We do not believe that the present proposals address the needs of our town, and will in fact adversely impact on its future development, both visually and functionally. Our objection to the incompatible design of the bus station for the site and its resultant need to close roads still stands. The scheme proposed by County was much more simple and effective. We continue to be concerned about the indecision on buildings proposed for Phase Two, their visual appropriateness, adequate performance and viability. It has been said that the current proposals are quite likely to change if and when takers come along, and no building will start until they do. Given the problems that potential takers will have to negotiate, this will leave Rawtenstall with unfinished business for years to come.
A return to County’s more practical bus station plan and a positive decision to retain and develop the present open square for community use and events would give Rawtenstall a future to aim for and settle into, which is what it desperately needs to build confidence for its citizens and potential investors.