I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to put Salisbury back on the map (in a good way), as it were, after its strange and significant setbacks in 2018, and I was rather disheartened by reports of the multi-million pound retail project proposed for the centre of city, which seems to me to lack vision and a sense of place.
Salisbury has many strong points, but it does not always do a brilliant job of making the most of them – there are beautiful parts of the city but they are not well connected with one another for pedestrians; there are dead streets created by poor town planning (especially, and most sadly in my opinion, New Street, half of which is just the back of a shopping centre and a car park when it should be a thriving street in its own right); and although the city lies in the heart of fantastic countryside it feels tragically cut off from it by the encircling dual carriageways and roundabouts.
There is one theme that unites these three things – in my view Salisbury is a city that has been designed in the last 70 years or so of its history rather too willingly around the needs of motorists and cars. Historically that’s fine – the twentieth century was the high point of the car – but I think that the future – even the very near future – will be different. Some European cities – like Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo, Pontevedra and Amsterdam – are leading the way in making their cities much less car-focused. There is also a pressing need to reduce carbon emissions as demonstrated by the recent IPCC report. If this is the way that all cities will eventually go, why not lead from the front?
I’m going to lay out some of my ideas and you can feel free to jump up and down with joy at their brilliance or else screw this up, put it in the bin and forget about it. Now I know that the future of Salisbury is not up to you, but I expect that you’re quite influential in talking to people about what that future might be and I’d like to think that some of these ideas are at least worthy of discussion and consideration.
Let’s do something truly visionary and daring to make not just Britain but the world take notice of Salisbury in a good way, attracting tourism and people from all over the country who want to live in the city. My suggestions:
- Make the centre of Salisbury predominantly car-free: increase pedestrianisation and cycle routes to connect key heritage sites and attractive spaces together, using the country’s best architectural and town-planning talent. Here’s a case study for a city of 90,000 people in Spain that did a similar thing: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/sep/18/paradise-life-spanish-city-banned-cars-pontevedra
- In this more peaceful, unpolluted and attractive city centre, it will be easier to make a memorable retail and restaurant experience for Salisbury that is different to other cities; and much more inviting than going to an out-of-town shopping centre like Hedge End.
- To complement the city centre changes and to encourage people to visit from surrounding areas, create an extensive network of mixed cycle and pedestrian paths that protect cyclists and pedestrians from traffic on the main roads – one to Old Sarum, the Woodfords and, ultimately, Stonehenge; one to Wilton; one to the Winterbournes; and one down the Avon Valley all the way to Ringwood. This will encourage exercise, wellbeing and tourism and reduce air pollution and carbon emissions.
- Promote electric bike use with cycle recharging points along the routes powered by renewable energy and sites for cafes/refreshment stalls.
- Use extensive, sensitively managed tree and wildflower planting along these routes to make them more attractive, promote biodiversity and the concept of eco-tourism.
- Promote cycle tourism and guided cycle safaris in and around Salisbury, creating jobs in the city.
- Improve park and ride schemes with better and faster – and even more entertaining (cycle rickshaws, electric tuk-tuks, free bicycles for instance) – ways of bringing people into the city – rewarding those who want to park outside.
- Consider a small-scale bike hire scheme along the lines of London’s Santander bikes.
- Ultimately consider introducing a light railway (electric monorail?) to connect park and ride with the city centre and even further afield to outlying villages and towns not currently connected by rail.
I realise that some of these ideas are way out there in terms of current thinking and financial feasibility but I think that Salisbury could become a far more successful city if it is ambitious in how it approaches the future.
Let me know what you think.