For a while, our county town has been working on setting out a new future. Shopping centres have been purchased. And an ambition vision for the future of the town is currently out for consultation. Our county town needs a vision. But one that works for all the county, not just Shrewsbury.
Rural bus operators I have spoken to are worried about the Big Town Plan. That plan thinks that Shrewsbury bus station, which must be one of the worst in the country, will be demolished. Rural buses will drop passengers off at the park and ride sites and passengers must wait for a bus into town.
This is a policy doomed to fail. It will drive people from buses into cars, onto trains or not travelling at all. It is an anti-bus strategy. It would not even be on the agenda if Shropshire didn’t want to sell the bus station for housing. Money!
Most towns of a modest or significant size have a modern bus station. Stourbridge, Wrexham and Chester are just three I that I arrived at by bus before the lockdown.
The owner of Shrewsbury’s bus station is Shropshire Council. It has failed to invest in the bus station, as did its predecessor Shropshire County Council. The bus station has become shabby and cold. The toilets are despicable. Bus passengers arriving in one of the most distinguished historic towns in England arrive at one of our country’s shabbiest bus stations.
Shropshire Council says it wants to relocate the bus station but does not say where the new location will be. Or if it will exist at all:
“Changes to the operation of the bus services in the town centre, through the cross-Shrewsbury routes and interchange points across the town centre reduce the need for layover.”
That’s jargon for people having to change buses at roadside stops, some without shelters, rather than changing buses at a new bus station that our county town and the entire town would be proud of.
There is only one reason for this. Money.
“Relocating the bus station will create the opportunity to redevelop the site and avoid the required extensive repairs to the existing structure.”
The bus station is real estate. The council wants the money and it does not want to pay out a penny to replace the bus station. A few bus shelters around the edge of the town will be all bus users will get. You will get off the bus and huddle in a bus shelter waiting for the next bus you need rather than waiting in a comfy bus station.
The news for rural bus services is bad:
“It is planned that the rural bus services will terminate at their nearest Park & Ride hub, enabling passengers to interchange with the more regular services to access town. To be effective, cost and time penalties will be kept to a minimum.”
So, take the 435 from Ludlow to Shrewsbury, a route that is popular enough not to need a subsidy from Shropshire Council, and you will be dumped at Meole Brace park and ride. Then you must get another bus. Pay another fare. The council is not promising a seamless operation or through ticketing. It says that to be effective, cost and time penalties must be kept to a minimum. Us bus users know that hasn’t been the case in England for decades. Long waits for connections. Steep fares that make driving into city centres competitive in price.
Our council leaders are out of touch with public transport. They don’t use it.
Shropshire Council has enough capital money to reconfigure the Pride Hill precinct and demolish Riverside. It must throw millions into the North West Relief Road if that project is to get off the ground. But there is money for a new bus station.
Bus stations don’t make money for councils. But sustainable transport, including buses, make silent and important contributions to the public purse.
People who travel by bus are more independent. Not trapped in their homes feeling vulnerable. Not struggling to keep a vehicle on the road they can’t afford.
Travelling by bus reduces traffic pressure on the roads. It reduces carbon emissions.
That keeps all of us and our planet healthier.
Bus stations should be at the centre of our town centres. They should be either places that are discreet and sit comfortably in their townscapes or bold gateways to a town.
Shropshire Council claims its Big Town Plan is a bold vision for Shrewsbury. It is certainly not a bold vision for bus users.
The Big Town Plan is wrong. There must be a signature bus station on the current site. Something Shrewsbury and the county could be proud of for decades to come.