The first of the 1946 New Towns, Stevenage occupies a special place in urban planning folklore.
At the time of receiving the ‘New Town’ designation Stevenage was little more than a High Street off the London-Cambridge Road. Almost 75 years later, it has grown into a regional hub of almost 100,000 residents with further growth anticipated.
While 1946 marked the birth of an exciting new town that would be planned to meet the requirements of the age, it also represented a shift in the fortunes of the existing town, which instantly became ‘Old Stevenage’. As if to emphasise this, the High Street was ringfenced on three sides by dual carriageways to accommodate proposed expansion and a new train station and town centre were developed to the south.
Today, synergy between the activities of the new and the old towns remains limited and while the distance from the train station to the High Street is only 650m, the route for cyclists and pedestrians is torturous involving crossing car parks, underpasses and overpasses.
Perhaps owing to this containment, the Old Town has retained much of its original charm and character with a softer, more human scale than the surrounding context. A conservation area with a number of heritage assets, it is a desirable residential and business address and a popular destination for socialising.
In 2019, we explored the possibility of overcoming the various barriers to movement in order to connect Stevenage’s new and old towns. A presentation and an illustrative layout were prepared that considered the potential to join the High Street and the town centre through strengthening Ditchmore Lane and the A1155 crossing.
If viable, this would create a continuous route from the old Market Place to the train station linking a series of complimentary character areas and attractions. The ‘in between’ area from Trinity Road to the Forum offers the potential for a bustling ‘Creative Quarter’ at the heart of the town with the station, High Street, town centre and Millennium Gardens all within a 300m walking distance.
The study showed that with a little catalyst investment for public realm enhancement and a holistic approach, the potential exists to unite the various parts and create a stronger, more sustainable and diverse town centre offering.