Rayleigh Town Centre Area Action Plan - Issues and Options
1.1 What is an Area Action Plan?
1.1.1 An Area Action Plan creates the framework for development sites and planning policies in a specific area. It acts as the focal point for the coordination of other public policies and programmes and guides public and private investment in the area.
1.1.2 Planning Policy Statement 12 (PPS12) is Government guidance which explains what local spatial planning is and how it benefits communities. It also sets out what the key ingredients of local spatial plans are and the key Government policies on how they should be prepared. It should be taken into account by local planning authorities in preparing developmen plan documents and other local development documents. As set out in PPS12 (published June 2008), Area Action Plans should be used to provide the planning framework for areas where significant change or conservation is needed. PPS12 states that Area Action Plans should:
- Deliver planned growth areas;
- Stimulate Regeneration;
- Protect areas particularly sensitive to change;
- Resolve conflicting objectives in areas subject to development pressures; or
- Focus the delivery of area based regeneration initiatives
1.2 What is an Issues and Options Report?
1.2.1 This document forms the Issues and Options report for the Rayleigh Town Centre Area Action Plan The process of preparing an Area Action Plan can be divided into a number of stages. The first stage involves gathering an evidence base to identify the issues that need to be addressed by the AA P. The second stage is the preparation of the Issues and Options report that sets out the initial issues and options for the area in question and seeks the views of the public on them. Once the views on this Issues and Options report have been taken into consideration the Council will prepare a preferred options report and then progress towards submission of the AAP in line with the guidance contained within PPS12.
1.2.2 It should be noted that the options presented in this report are not mutually exclusive, rather they present a ‘mix and match’ set of options which can be chosen from. The preferred options will be informed by your comments and once prepared there will be a further opportunity for comment and consultation.
1.3 Rayleigh Town Centre
1.3.1 The focus for the Area Action Plan is the defined town centre boundary as illustrated on the current Rochford District Local Plan (adopted 2006) proposals map (Figure 1). The Local Plan seeks to promote sustainable development patterns that minimise land take and reduce the need to travel. The plan also designates Rayleigh Town Centre as a primary retail area in the district. The Local Plan is soon to be replaced by the Local Development Framework, within which the Rayleigh Town Centre AA P will sit. The Core Strategy is at submission stage: policy for Rayleigh Town Centre (policy RTC4) states:
"The Council will ensure that Rayleigh town centres role as the District’s principal town centre is retained through the production and implementation of an Area Action Plan which delivers the following:
- improved accessibility to and within the town centre;
- a safe and high quality environment for residents and visitors;
- a predominance of retail uses, including intensification of retail uses, which cater for a variety of needs;
- a range of evening leisure uses; and promotes provision of community facilities, including exploration of potential locations for a healthcare centre and, if appropriate, delivery of such a facility"
1.3.2 In many ways, Rayleigh town centre is already a successful and vital place. It is the largest retail centre in the district, it has a strong comparison and convenience offer, low vacancy rates and a range of unit sizes. However, some parts of the High Street suffer from unattractive infill, some of the gateways to the town are uninspiring and, despite regeneration projects that have already taken place, more still needs to be done to enhance the historic heritage of the town centre. Recent studies have also indicated that there is capacity within the town centre for further office uses, comparison shopping and leisure uses (Retail and Leisure Study August 2008; Employment Land study October 2008). The Core Strategy identifies Rayleigh as a top tier settlement within the District and also seeks to direct a proportion of the District’s housing requirement to the town.
1.3.3 Rayleigh has a relatively attractive town centre: the High Street is wide and money has been invested in the public realm, making this a comfortable shopping environment. With the exception of several unsympathetic infill developments it is lined with many historic buildings and generous public spaces. Holy Trinity Church and the Windmill are unique local landmarks.
1.3.4 The core of the town centre retail environment is located between London Hill and Eastwood Road. Moving south along the High Street beyond Eastwood Road retail uses continue, though the quality of the offer begins to fall away and there is evidence of higher vacancy rates. The quality of the building stock also diminishes: the Police Station and adjacent buildings do little to complement the historic heart of the town. Some retail uses also extend along Eastwood Road towards King Georges Fields. Like those uses around the Police Station they feel peripheral to the core area. However, this cluster of uses includes a relatively large Somerfield store, which generates movements to and from the main core and local car parking facilities. This store though presents a blank and unwelcoming façade to the street in what is an important gateway location between the town centre and surrounding residential neighbourhoods.
1.3.5 The recent Retail & Leisure study (August 2008) recommends that the emerging LDF adopts a supportive approach to further comparison floorspace within the town centre. It also notes that the centre would benefit from a greater range of leisure services, including cafes and restaurants. Equally, the employment land study (October 2008) notes that potential exists for the provision of new office space within the town centre.
1.3.6 On one hand, this Issues and Options report is concerned with the protection of the special intrinsic qualities in the town centre that provide its local distinctiveness and character, such as Holy Trinity Church, Mount and Windmill. On the other hand, there is a need to address potential physical interventions. Key opportunity areas, as this report will go on to discuss, include the challenges presented by the arrangement of buildings and spaces along Websters Way (Figure 6). This is the ‘back door’ to the town, lined with service yards, blank building facades and large areas of surface car parking. This represents a major contrast to the High Street.
1.3.7 The town centre has a partial gyratory system in operation, which sends a large proportion of traffic along Websters Way. Despite this, there are also often tailbacks along the High Street, particularly at the junction of Church Street and the High Street. Traffic here is controlled by a veritable forest of traffic signals. Scope may exist to rationalise the number of signs, poles and controls, removing street clutter, enhancing the quality of the public realm and setting of the Church.
1.4 Getting Your Views
1.4.1 Your views are needed to help develop the AA P. Please note that we are not just asking whether the correct issues have been identified but, importantly, we want your views on the options put forward.
1.4.2 In order to encourage discussion and consideration of the matters in this report we have presented questions throughout this report. These questions are meant to be thought provoking and there is no need to answer all the questions. Your responses to these questions and any other submissions will be taken forward to the preparation of the document
Throughout the document we present a number of questions that we want your comments on. These are presented in green boxes, like this, and each question has an associated reference number. Please respond to us with your views using these references where possible. That will help us to ensure your views are considered and will help us to identify a preferred set of options for the town centre.