The Economic, Health and Social impact of a bridge
This last weekend highlighted how popular our town can be, and some of its problems. Tens of thousands of people came and enjoyed the River Festival, a huge success in terms of raising the profile of Stratford, filling the streets (and the shops and recreational venues – and all those economic benefits).
Never mind the road traffic (more later), one of Stratford’s two footbridges was overwhelmed by the numbers wanting to cross to visit the main Festival site. If Stratford could have a number of festivals of the size, popularity and on-going engagement of the River Festival – to go with all that is Shakespeare – then the visitor contribution to our town’s prosperity would be near year long and enormous.
As it is, think about other market towns which may have historical figures whose ‘antiquities’ bring one sort of tourist to a town, then have their own (noted) festivals – such as Hay-on-Wye – and you have a prestige which reaches world-wide just like Shakespeare does but with perhaps a more wide-spread but niche appeal to the readers of books, a proliferation of celebrities and then a town full of book shops.
The RSC has had and still does have ‘stars’ who are members of its actors’ roster but Nicole Kidman playing Cleopatra in a 2-3-4000 seater auditorium – alongside any other number of ‘Hollywood’ A-listers for months on end – this would create a star-spotting atmosphere which would attract a different type of tourist. There was just a taste of this when David Tennant was playing Hamlet around the time of his incarnation as Doctor Who but if you’ve any thoughts about a premise that the RSC isn’t being ‘commercial’ enough, they are just about the most respected theatre company in the World.
There is a difference – there are huge differences – between day visitors wanting generic entertainment, those who can (and want to) stay at least over-night, those who want a real quality experience for a short-medium period, those who want to be at the forefront of innovation, those looking for a purely retail experience. Never mind the weekly congestion that our town has at a weekend, the tens of thousands who came to the River Festival had to find somewhere to park, then work their way to the river, then cross it – and do the same returning back home. Some will not return because of their experiences finding parking and then moving around. Others will have a visiting ‘attitude’ that they only go to an occasion/event once, and that they then move on.
The BID, the District and Town Councils, the RSC and the Birthplace Trust all invest in special events which create a calendar for our town. There are commercial and community partnerships who add to this branding (think the Beer and the just finished Literary Festivals and the Stratford Triathlons), plus charity events such as the Marathon and the Raft Race. Every occasion creates an economic footprint from the number of visitors, how long they stay and what they spend money on.
This isn’t though forgetting all the Stratford Residents who attend or take part in all these events, people who probably walk to them when they know taking a car would be futile.
Creating physical infrastructure then maintaining it and managing it (through traffic control measures and payment for use) is the foundation of any economic footprint. The elements of health and social values are its partners.
You – those charged with doing so – can look at major campaigns such as say national cycle routes or (and in addition) break things down into micro models. Let’s take the Rec as one of these.
It is managed by the locality public sector but in reality it is owned by all of us, Stratford residents. It is our only major green space where whether there are visitors or not, we can go as an individual or group and enjoy fresh air and moderate exercise (if we so want) then return home or visit the facilities of the town. Our model – that of us as residents using its well made paths (accessibility for everyone) – it doesn’t need a second bridge.
Yes there are proposals for ‘relief roads’ and there will be new traffic controls in and around the Clopton Bridge – which may help with access to its car parks as well as weekday and weekend problems – but say for the River Festival and any other event which uses the area across from the Theatre, the playing field part of the Rec (the area past the playground and next to Stratford tennis Club’s tennis courts) can be used as a very temporary car park. That is a part solution were it not for the proposals that Stratford Sports Club are developing which would put all weather sports pitches in place of the grass. Improving sports facilities has a measurable health and social benefit, plus an economic visitor/tourism impact in that on a regular basis people from outside of Stratford would come and play or watch. This wouldn’t be the sort of numbers who come to something like the River Festival but then again, that event will change over the next few years.
We are a very beautiful town, situated in the Heart of England, so having our own marina is going to become a tourist attraction, If you haven’t ever visited the site, do take a look at some of the pictures below. It’s going to be for 250 boats (so its really a large lake) situated in a beautiful bowl of unspoilt countryside. Hopefully the little hills that frame it will never be built on and the land across the river is part of the flood plain so that will never be spoilt.
From the moment work begins, people will start to wander down the beautiful riverside walk to take a look at what is going on. It may take a few years for all the moorings to be taken up but in the ‘early years’ it could be an over-flow for river craft wanting to come to the River Festival. Once up and running (in any way) if it has a cafe that will be busy with people taking the healthier option (of distance walked) to go and see the boats.
People who take up moorings will know that there is a shopping centre just 500m walk from their boat. It will be the same distance to starting a tour of Stratford itself at Holy Trinity Church then walking into town through a far less congested route, perhaps eating at a restaurant that isn’t on the main thoroughfares. It’s easy to reach Hall’s Croft, Shakespeare’s School, The Guild Chapel, New Place – then of course to go to the RSC. This will all be easy for perhaps 1000 people (at peak times) as building an economic model one could assume an average of four people per boat.
This is the start of a micro model. You could go further and look at say the ‘wants’ of people who like to attend church. Staying at the marina in Stratford on a Sunday and Holy Trinity is just 10 minutes away (the same lovely walk if you are a Methodist). This isn’t the same size model as for a major event but it’s a consistent number of people who will benefit from access into the town … via Lucy’s Mill Bridge.
That is if it were a bridge for everyone.
There is the possibility of adding footpaths to Severn Meadows Road. There is the possibility of creating a pedestrian ‘add-on’ to Severn Meadows Bridge, just like on the Clopton Bridge. Both would have a negative health and social impact, never mind their cost.
There are plans/proposals/ideas for a new primary school next to Trinity Mead, and at the least a 6th Form College situated behind Rosebird, if not a school. Each has an economic and social impact and whilst they will cater for students (families) living South of the river (and so reduce congestion into our town), for those living on the Northern side of the Avon, and to the west, then foot or cycle access – via Lucy’s Mill Bridge – will connect them to new services.
Putting the marina as the lead on a new economic model, people just going to see it will pass by steps that could take them back into Stratford by a different route, This will affect those people who could nominally be ‘one-off’ visitors (remember back to earlier on in this post).
The bridge is there. There are footpaths already there heading North and South. They are well away from a busy road. The bridge – like any bridge – has a maintenance cost. We, the Friends of Lucy’s Mill Bridge, will do our best to show you all the options for this river crossing. They are – in principle – to refurbish the present structure, to replace it or to build an additional bridge.
That said, there has been work (studies) already done on these options. We will ask for and would very much appreciate if people would like to contribute with interviews or summaries (reports) of what has gone on before. We fully appreciate that finance is the key issue to any solution and that funding options now may well be very different to that of say 10 years ago.
In economic terms, and yes taking into account any sort of modelling that projects impact of 5-10-20 years, upgrading what we have is highly likely to be the lowest cost solution.
From a tourist marketing impact, Lucy’s Mill Bridge has been a river crossing for as long as its ‘sisters’ – if not longer. What happens to this bridge has a PR value but what The Friends would like to put forward is that right now, and not just thinking about the circumstances when huge volumes of people have to be catered for, there are historical numbers of local people who do use Lucy’s Mill Bridge – and a significant number who cannot.
Yes the bridge is a struggle for people with pushchairs and bikes, and for those who don’t walk as well as they used to, but for anyone with a wheelchair or a mobility device, they simply cannot cross the river. There is a cost to helping everyone have as near the same accessibility as everyone else. Its a commitment we, as a society, have prioritised. Lucy’s Mill needs to be part of this.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this post and that it has given you food for thought. It is ideas about how analysis of economic, health and social takes place – the background to what people think about. We’ve avoided as much ‘opinion’ as we can. If you would like to respond privately – or publicly (we are more than happy to give space on our web site for a response) – we would love to hear from you!