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New concepts for Stratford's riverside to be considered by council

SCALED-back proposals for the development of Stratford’s riverside have been released, with the project’s backers saying there is now more emphasis on nature.

As expected, the new concepts for the £2m scheme have reduced plans for a 500-space car park off the Warwick Road, while a café/restaurant proposed for near Fisherman’s car park is also removed, as are other elements.

The new concepts were ordered by Stratford District Council and the Stratford Town Trust after concerns raised through a public consultation that the original ideas would bring about overdevelopment of the northern section, which stretches along the Avon from near the Crowne Plaza hotel to the caravan/holiday parks.

A map of the sites covered by the scheme
A map of the sites covered by the scheme

However, the council and the trust, which are both part-funding the scheme along with a £1.5m grant from Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership, have not made enough changes for the scheme’s opponents, who believe the new facilities would see an invasion of people and force out the wildlife (click to read 'Tourist-driven vanity project').

The new concepts are due to be discussed by the district council’s cabinet on Monday 17th May. Councillors will consider a report which describes the proposals as creating “a nature reserve to the north of the site, giving improved public access to nature” and will decide whether they should move to the next stage.

The concepts still include improved, accessible pathways and cycleways through the site, which the town trust says are along existing routes already used by people, as well as cycle storage, ponds with dipping platforms, picnic “islands”, a toilet block, space for a mobile café and a jetty for electric river taxis. The scheme would also provide improvements to the bathing area, although this would also be on the stretch of river where the river taxis would operate.

There are improvements planned to signage and information and a range of projects to “improve” the biodiversity of the area, such as the planting of new trees and hedges, the creation of a wildflower meadow, the reinstatement of ponds and provision for reed beds.

The car park extension in this version of the proposals is for 75 additional spaces (there are already 50 spaces at Fisherman’s car park) and would be “natural looking”, using a gravel system.

New signage would also encourage visitors to Stratford to use the leisure centre car park, where there would be electric charging points.

The council and trust say the new design takes on board public feedback, particularly in relation to protecting wildlife, increased accessibility and a reduction in the number of proposed parking spaces.

Sara Aspley, chief executive of Stratford Town Trust, said: “We are pleased that the new scheme is pared down from the original concept proposals, particularly in the reduction of additional car parking spaces.

“The revised concept design supports our priorities of reducing social isolation and providing opportunities to improve the health and wellbeing of young people.

“Warwickshire Wildlife Trust recognise that there is now greater emphasis on natural habitats and we look forward to working with them and other specialist organisations to create and deliver a sympathetic management plan for the ecology alongside accessibility, giving people more opportunities to get closer to nature.”

Warwickshire Wildlife Trust which has recommended that the site should be designated as a local nature reserve, said the new design placed greater emphasis on the important natural habitats found on the site.

Ian Jelley, director of Living Landscapes at WWT, said: “It describes that the species-rich flood meadow and ponds on the site will be restored, helping to create a wetland mosaic which improves the overall diversity of the site for wildlife. Consideration has gone into identifying existing paths that have been used by people over the years and how improving those can be done in a way which allows people to get closer to nature in a sympathetic way.

The Fisherman's Car Park (47186652)
The Fisherman's Car Park (47186652)

“This site has not been managed for wildlife for a number of years and as a result the overall diversity of species is in decline.

“The new vision sets out how habitats could be restored as part of a wider plan for the site and key to its success will be establishing effective management into the future. That management should prioritise the wildlife interest and ensure that public access is maintained in a sympathetic way.”

The management of the site was also a key ingredient picked out by Stratford Friends of the Earth.

Co-ordinator Janet Palmer told the Herald: “We are very pleased that a long-term management plan is being prepared so that the Lench Meadows can become a nature reserve, protecting an important site.

“The Lench Meadows area is of regional importance for conservation. It is a flood meadow and it is vital to have a wildlife-centred plan for this area. We support the work of Warwickshire Wildlife Trust in this respect.”

However, the group still has concerns about the car park and other facilities that would attract visitors – a concept that reaches to the very heart of the investment in the site.

“We are very much opposed to the planned extension of the Fisherman’s car park,” Janet said. “We feel that there is no justification for extra spaces given the capacity of the existing leisure centre car park close by.

“FoE members are also very concerned about what they see as unnecessary incursions into a wild space. An example given was the mowing of circles for picnics, when this would inevitably lead to damage to habitats around the mown circle.

“We feel that there is too much emphasis on trying to decorate the landscape with sculptures and dens, when in fact such structures can be vandalised very easily as it is impossible to guard them 24 hours a day. Why waste money on extra ‘attractions’ such as these, when a well-managed nature reserve is in itself the attraction?”

Results of the Stratford Riverside consultation
Results of the Stratford Riverside consultation

The concept doesn’t just involve the northern section: changes to the Recreation Ground are also included – indeed, one of the projects, the new adventure playground, has already been completed.

Others include improvements to the mini-golf course, a mile-long gym trail, space for a mobile catering firm and an activity area aimed at both adults and children which could include table tennis, table football, outdoor chess, musical instruments and, possibly, interactive play equipment.

Not everything will make it into the final designs. The £2m budget for the first phase would mainly be spent in the northern section on pathways/cycle routes and bike storage (£438k), an expanded car park (£260k), toilets (£60k), reed beds and boardwalk (£431k), replacement bridges (£115k), sculptures and art features (£61k) and improvements to the bathing area/river access (£81k).

South to the river, money is earmarked in the budget for improvements in the outdoor gym (£13k) and a new cycle training area for children (£70k).

Design costs along with surveys and management fees would total £230k – £108k has already been spent in this area.

The council’s report stressed the new design was intended to set a direction for the future of the riverside corridor and not all of the projects would be achievable with current funding. However, the council hopes a successfully delivered project will leave it in a strong position when it comes to future funding bids.

One of those may include funding for a road giving access to the leisure centre car park from the Warwick Road – a possibility being investigated by the council that could help deliver its aim of cutting congestion in the town centre.

The council’s report into the new designs concludes: “The proposal offers an opportunity to provide enhanced access to public open space, improve biodiversity and support the economy of Stratford-upon-
Avon and the wider area. The time limits on expenditure of the money are tight and the cabinet is asked to endorse these proposals so that they can be progressed in accordance with these requirements.”

Cllr Daren Pemberton, the council’s deputy leader, added: “The public consultation exercise has been a key step in enabling us and our partners, Stratford Town Trust, to refine our thinking to ensure the riverside project delivers significant benefits for Stratford and district residents while respecting and enhancing this valuable asset.”

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