In the second of his two articles in preparation for the third Future of Sustainable Design, Mike Goggin considers how successful station design might contribute to the communities that they seek to serve

In my last article I focussed on the benefits that good stations can bring to the railway. These included how they can enhance the overall journey experience of the passenger as their expectations continue to rise and the ability of stations to bring valuable financial income to the railway to lower its cost of support to tax and fare payers. But a successful station has the potential to deliver much more for the community it serves than the functional operations aimed at benefitting the railway. Rather, a successful station should serve the railway, its passengers and its community in equal measure.

Stations have long been at the heart of their communities . Our Victorian peers understood their potential and planned their development in their communities as much as existing development and financial constraints allowed. Fast-forward to the present and stations today continue to play a pivotal role as gateways to the rail network, but I would argue their role and potential has increased even more over the last 30 years.

As the UK economy has moved away from traditional manufacturing industries and toward the service sector the demands of businesses and the population has changed. Gone are the mass flows to ship yards, steelworks, coal mines factories etc. Nowadays we live in a mixed society with a significant number of us working the 24/7 service sector. This has led to an economy that’s increasingly focussed on towns and cities where the efficiencies and productivity driven by locating near like-minded businesses can be realised. These ‘agglomeration’ effects help to create centres in towns where, for example, the professional services will orientate or where the higher quality retailers will collocate.

Our working ethic has continued and most people are now working longer hours though we have the benefit of being increasingly individualistic in our approach to our working lives. Flexi-time and working from home in businesses that are increasingly international have provided new options and created new patterns of travel. We value our leisure time highly and our expectations to be able to meet, shop, eat, etc. now extend in the evenings and weekends longer than our grandparents would have expected. As individuals with so many choices of where to work, live and play we have increasingly come to see our working and living locations as more and more important.

What does all this have to do with railway stations? It means that our stations and our rail network are key contributors to fuelling these centres of economic productivity. They facilitate access to a workforce but more than that the stations and their surroundings become a contributor to the choices people make about where to work and where to invest.

Recognising this broader contribution to the country, Steer Davies Gleave was commissioned by Network Rail last year to research the economic value of stations. Through the support of over 60 participants, case studies, an international literature review and our SpecTRA economic modelling we reported on the wider benefits of station investments (the report is available at steerdaviesgleave.com).

The case studies we used identified just what an economic catalyst stations can be. For example, Sheffield (pictured left) saw an increase in rateable values near its rejuvenated station which were three times the city’s average, whilst the redevelopment of Manchester Piccadilly has transformed a notoriously run-down part of the city with over 650,000 square feet of offices, a 33% increase in rent values, three new hotels and a station that now ranks highly as one of the nation’s most satisfying stations. Our conclusion was that the traditional transport appraisal techniques focussing on the first order impacts of investments could be undervaluing successful schemes by as much as seven times.

So stations can be great statements that stimulate investment. There is immense civic pride in a successful station and it is great to see the ambition of so many local communities and agencies to improve their stations, often in competition with their neighbouring town or city. However, the economic contribution and catalytic effect of successful station design is not the whole story.

I suggest that stations can be seen as value or wealth generators in a broader context. As David Cameron said before he became prime minister “Wealth is about so much more than pounds, or euros or dollars can ever measure. It’s time we admitted that there’s more to life than money, and it’s time we focussed not just on GDP, but on GWB – general well-being” (May 22, 2006).

An economist’s definition of well-being would suggest that it is a broad assessment of quality of life that encompasses not just wealth but also standards of living including health, education, the balance between social connections and relationships, the environment, citizens’ political voice and the governance of state institutions as well as personal security (which as well as crime, safety and security also captures economic insecurity too).

Stations and the railway have a role to play here. Stations are gateways to the network’s train services and thereby provide an essential form of access to health services, employment and education. Time getting to or from a poorly designed or integrated station is unproductive and time consuming which individuals can come to resent. Ultimately an inaccessible station or surroundings not only deprives the railway of patronage and income but also restricts individuals the freedom to grow and deprives the community from the rewards that their growth can bring.

In contrast a well-designed and balanced station that functions effectively, recognises and works within its context and preserves it’s valued heritage is a station that has the potential to positively impact on a community. Time spent at a station shopping or relaxing with friends in an adjacent public space is time that individuals recognise and cherish. This is time spent that people value rather than resent, thus the station is contributing towards their well-being.

I would therefore argue that we need to think in a broader sense about the two key values they can generate for the communities they serve – economic and well-being. Whilst traditional transport appraisal focuses on journey time savings a good quality station might encourage the user to pause, to ponder or to perform some other function. As hubs in our communities our stations can support more sustainable lives through encouraging the use of less damaging modes of transport or, better still, supporting transit-oriented communities who travel less since their needs are met in close proximity to their station.

As we meet to explore these themes further at the Future of Sustainable Design conference I suggest that a good station is good for health, good economics and good for the life of our communities and for us as individuals.

 

ABOUT FOSD

Mike Goggin will chair the third FOSD conference, supported by Atos and Garrandale, which takes place at London’s international conference centre Excel on May 25.

This year the conference focusses on the theme of transport hubs and will again feature a set of keynote speeches as well as interactive panel sessions that are a signature piece of FOSD’s informal, creative and challenging environment. Speakers include transport minister Norman Baker, Stewart Wingate, CEO of Gatwick Airport, and David Biggs, director property for Network Rail.

Passenger Transport readers can claim a 10% discount on delegate fees. When calling the booking hotline (01273 204200) quote our special promo-code: FOSD.PT2012


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