Nuneaton and Bedworth Council (NBBC) have announced plans to make significant improvements to its leisure facilities including a new, replacement leisure centre in Bedworth, new facilities to the North of Nuneaton – and the enhancement of the existing Pingles Leisure Centre just south of the town centre. However, there are some aspects of the plan for Pingles that concern me – external aspects relating to travel to the centre.
I can only comment on the Pingles Leisure Centre in Nuneaton, so whilst the plan includes the other areas mentioned, I’ll be focusing my attention here. This will be a rather long post, so it’s broken down into a few sections:
- Background – about the Nuneaton demographics as detailed in NBBC’s report
- Car parking
- Cycling and Walking
- Public transport
With a new report titled ‘Nuneaton and Bedworth Council – Towards a More Active Future‘, NBBC notes that Nuneaton and Bedworth is the most deprived borough in Warwickshire and has “high levels of obesity, inactivity, poor health, low educational attainment, economic and social need” (p.1). It notes that across the borough, life expectancy for both men and women is lower than average; one in five Year Six children are obese; two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese; almost a third of the population is inactive; and nearly a fifth of children live in low income families (p.12).
In Nuneaton specifically, the prevalence of diabetes in five GP practices is higher than the average England rate. In one of the most deprived areas (Hill Top and Caldwell, to the south of the town and well within the catchment area for the Pingles Leisure Centre), 34% of people do not have a car, compared to a 25% average across the West Midlands (p.17).
Later in the report, community feedback highlighted ‘barriers to participation’ (p.24) including, obesity, mental health issues, lack of a clear physical activity participation pathway from early years to adulthood, and low incomes.
Pingles Redevelopment Plans – External
The report shows a map of the site as it is proposed to be developed (p.36) which I’ve copied below along with a Google Earth image showing the existing site. My prime areas of concern are with how the exterior area is planned to change with regard to car parking and cycling infrastructure.
As can be seen by comparing the two images, significant changes are planned particularly to the east of the site, not only with new outdoor leisure facilities, but also changes to the car park layout – and this leads me on to the first significant issue with this plan as it stands.
At present, the site has two car parks: a main one of about 118 spaces, and a secondary one of about 54 spaces. The proposal means that with the redevelopment of the leisure centre building, the existing main car park would lose spaces, although after reconfiguration this would only equate to the loss of 20 spots. It might be reasonable to say that these spots should be relocated but the plan goes way beyond that and significantly increases the amount of car parking available on the site.
It proposes three new car parks: two to the centre/west of the site adding a total of 64 spaces in addition to the existing 54 spaces already at that location; and a new larger car park to the east adding 82 spaces in part of the area currently taken up with green space/mini golf. This adds a total of 146 new spaces, and with the reconfigured existing car parks holding 154 vehicles, means the area will have capacity for approximately 298 cars – a major increase on the existing 118 spaces.
The problem is, this runs counter to the Council’s aims of getting people more active. If parking is easier because the facility is bigger, then more people will drive to the leisure centre. It makes more sense to enable active transport to the site where the journey itself becomes part of individual fitness routines. Want to get fit by swimming? Warm up by cycling to the pool. Want to use the gym? Cycle for real before hitting the treadmill.
Of course cycling and walking won’t be practical for everyone, but given that much of the catchment area is within 1-2 miles, it’s a journey that should be possible for many. Indeed, one of the more deprived areas of the town – Hill Top – is within that distance, and this is an area where 34% of people do not have a car. Increasing parking capacity does nothing to benefit people who can’t or don’t drive. Instead, it’s to their detriment with increasing traffic on already congested roads and the associated harm that brings to physical and mental health and well-being.
Cycling and Walking
That brings me nicely to the next point, and my favourite one, cycling infrastructure. The plan makes a point of highlighting cycle routes, but they don’t appear to be as good as what is needed.
As can be seen from the satellite image above, there are already shared path routes through the area and the proposed plan follows those lines closely. The existing north-south path is approximately 2.8m wide (as measured in Google Earth) so, the plan does appear to represent a small increase in width to 3m. However, this only meets the recommended minimum effective width for bi-directional shared use paths (LTN 1/12, 7.35). The map legend notes this as being a cycle path however, the plan itself suggests that this would in fact be a shared-use space, as it is now, with footpaths leading directly on to it.
This is a route that can get congested, particularly at school run times (there’s a primary school adjacent to the park, just north of the map on the other side of the railway line). Therefore, If this doesn’t change, it is a missed opportunity to create a high quality direct route for cycles, separated from pedestrians. Ideally, I’d suggest a bi-directional cycle ‘road’ with the effective width of 3m, plus a 2m footpath adjacent. With clear separation by level, this should improve the flow of cycles to and through the area particularly at peak times where congestion on the shared path can make cycling in the area difficult.
Another congestion bottleneck is the tunnel under the railway that connects the two halves of Riversley Park. This can be seen in the plan to the north, where it’s indicated that improvements here include new murals. It’s not clear whether this will be the extent of improvements, but this needs much more than new artwork. The tunnel is very narrow and quite dingy. It connects two shared-use paths at either end but asks cyclists to dismount (it even has a ‘no cycling’ sign on one side, but I question the validity of that since it’s not present on the other side). Whilst it would no doubt be costly to improve considering it runs under an active railway line, this tunnel access needs widening to remove the bottleneck, maintaining the same 3m effective width bi-directional cycleway plus 2m adjacent footpath. Not only will this remove the bottleneck that causes problems with even small numbers of people using the tunnel, it resolves an accessibility problem – not all cyclists can dismount easily, and nor should they have to.
The path running from the west to the north adjacent to the railway line was a similar issue regarding width, though in my experience this tends to be less busy. It might therefore be reasonable to accept a lesser provision here that remains shared-use. However, in this case, a 4m width would still be beneficial over 3m, reducing conflict between cyclists and pedestrians, dog walkers etc..
Remaining with the west-north route, it is also disappointing to not see a small adjustment to the entrance point. Recently, the large Coton Arches junction which is just off the map further to the west, has had its own significant redevelopment with new toucan crossing points being added in. However, joining those crossings from the existing site access point is awkward, requiring navigating barriers and a brief ride on a fairly narrow pavement before joining the crossing. With this proposed redevelopment, it would be an ideal opportunity to correct this so that the cycleway curves south slightly before leaving the site, lining up straight with the toucan crossing making the route easier and more accessible.
On a positive note however, returning to the route to the east of the site, the plan is proposing to better align with the pedestrian crossing that already exists on Avenue Road to the south. This is something I’ve mentioned before, where at present a shared use path that continues off the map to the south and the route shown do not join up and cyclists either have to use the traffic-light controlled road road (which doesn’t allow for rejoining the cycle path when travelling northbound) or technically, a cyclist would have to dismount and walk around to the pedestrian crossing, cross, walk around on a narrow enclosed pavement to the shared path, before continuing. If this goes ahead along with a crossing upgrade to a toucan crossing and some work to align the shared path to the south with the same, then this will be a good improvement, making the route significantly better for riders of all abilities and cycle types.
However, that north-south route to the east of the map isn’t without its flaws. If that 82-space car park goes ahead, it looks like it will be interrupted on three occasions by entrance/exit points to the car park and the map doesn’t indicate any priority for cycles. if that car park were to go ahead (much as I think it shouldn’t), it would be better to route the cycleway around the back, adjacent to the proposed footpath, creating a segregated, direct, safe and uninterrupted route to the main entrance.
With the plan as it stands, I would suggest that most cyclists of even moderate confidence levels probably won’t use it, where it requires them to give way on three occasions. If it did have cycle priority, I wouldn’t consider it particularly safe considering in my experience, some drivers pay even less attention in and around car parks than they do on the road. It’s therefore a collision waiting to happen.
Away from cycling and driving, a problem that exists with the leisure centre as it currently is, and one that doesn’t look like it’s being resolved in this plan, is access by public transport – there are no bus services stopping at The Pingles, nor nearby on Avenue Road to the south. So, again, the plan is to put significant infrastructure expansion in place for people driving by car, and is looking at small improvements (though limited) for people travelling by cycle, but for those who need or prefer the third option of a bus are left out.
The road layout shown in the plan as copied above does provide for a drop-off point for schools; a looped section of road going past the main entrance. This will presumably accommodate coaches and so, it would make sense to also incorporate a bus stop here.
A number of local bus routes pass close enough that it would make sense to adjust the routes slightly to bring them to The Pingles, loop them around and then head them back along their original routes. By adjusting local services 1, 2, 41 and 56, a large proportion of the south and west of the town would be covered including out to Ansley Common, Chapel End, Galley Common and Stockingford to the west; Hill Top, Red Deeps and Attleborough and Whitestone to the south.
As already noted, Hill Top is one of the more deprived areas of the town where a significant portion of people do not have a car. The bus may be an ideal link for them to leisure and fitness facilities but at present no link exists and none appears to be proposed.
The plan to improve the borough’s leisure facilities is broadly one to be welcomed, but when it comes to travelling to those facilities, this plan falls short at least as far as The Pingles in Nuneaton is concerned. The redevelopment of the site is car-centric; it makes a token effort towards cycling that, whilst improvements in some areas are to be welcomed, overall won’t make the route significantly better than now; and it makes no mention of improvements to access by public transport – despite one-third of people in a nearby area not having a car.
The road network around The Pingles is already significantly congested with frequent queues on Avenue Road (the main road to the south). Providing additional car parking facilities doesn’t help this. The Council must think again at how it can create best-in-class cycling and walking facilities that are direct, convenient and safe for all regardless of age and ability. It must connect important community facilities by public transport.
Nuneaton and Bedworth Council has to ask the question: does this plan work for everyone? Does it work for the parent with a young child in a tag-along or children in seated in a utility bike? Does it work for the five year old riding accompanied but on their own bike? Does it work for the person who perhaps cannot walk well but can cycle easily enough? Does it work for the pensioner who perhaps can no longer drive but still can ride a bike? Does it work for the people who cannot cycle or find the distance too far by foot or bike, but also cannot drive?
As it stands, the answer to the above is no. The plan works for drivers; it may partially work for moderately confident cyclists; it works for school children arriving by coach. But that is all. At a time when local authorities must be doing everything to discourage and reduce the use of private cars, this plan fails.
The timeframe for this is still someway off, between 2027- 2030; there is still time for Nuneaton and Bedworth Council to revise this plan and to come up with something better, something more appropriate, something not dominated by the motor car. On the flip side, small positive changes could and should be implemented now such as the slight re-routing of existing cycle routes to better align with crossings. It doesn’t make sense to wait on implementing logical small improvements that would make a big change to the usefulness of routes.
I hope the Council reviews its plan and makes the necessary changes for the better.