7 Accessibility

Introduction

7.1 The Area Action Plan aims to deliver improved access and movement by encouraging good accessibility for local people, the safe and sustainable movement of goods, and an integrated approach to the planning of land use proposals and transport measures.  In line with the aims of Planning Policy Guidance Note 13 (PPG13), 'Transport', these aims will be delivered through:

  • developing improved public transport services and facilities, particularly where it assists in reducing social exclusion;

  • focusing high movement generating uses in locations that benefit from good public transport;

  • enhancing facilities for pedestrians, cyclists and those with a mobility impairment;

  • ensuring good interchange within and between modes; and

  • ensuring appropriate car park management and provision in appropriate locations.

7.2 Improved public transport in particular is seen as the key to enhancing the overall accessibility of the area, thus helping to realise its full economic and social potential.  The evolving mixed-use nature of the area will positively contribute towards the management of car-based trips to, from and within Brierley Hill.

7.3 Many of the proposals for the Brierley Hill area have been proposed in previous work undertaken by Dudley MBC for the review of the Unitary Development Plan and through the Brierley Hill Regeneration Partnership.  These proposals have been developed in conjunction with the local community and all key local and regional stakeholders.  The results of the major consultation exercise undertaken by the Council during Autumn 2001 can be found in the supporting document, 'Brierley Hill Transportation Access Strategy - Consultation Report' by Oscar Faber on behalf of Dudley MBC (November 2001).  Further evidence regarding public transport in Brierley Hill can be found in the Merry Hill Centre Public Transport Strategy undertaken by Peter Brett Associates for Westfield MH Investment Ltd in December 2006.

Summary of Existing Conditions

7.4 It is important to understand the nature and quality of the existing transport network within the Brierley Hill area in order to place in proper context the proposed improvements that are required in transportation terms to assist the regeneration of the area.

Bus Services

7.5 Brierley Hill is served by a large number of bus services provided principally by Travel West Midlands (TWM), Pete's Travel, Birmingham Coach Company, Hansons and Ludlow Coaches.  These services originate across the whole of the West Midlands and the Black Country, including Birmingham, Walsall, Wolverhampton, West Bromwich, Halesowen and Dudley.

7.6 There are a total of 50 bus routes directly serving Merry Hill and the Waterfront. Of these, 34 operate at a frequency of hourly or better during Monday to Friday daytimes, 19 operate on Sundays and 16 operate during Monday to Saturday evenings.

7.7 Four weekday services operate at a less than Monday to Saturday frequency whilst a further 3 routes do not provide a service to Merry Hill in the AM or PM peaks. Eight routes operate only during Monday to Saturday evenings or on Sundays, although usually these services are variations of a weekday route designed to offer additional coverage at these times.

7.8 The bus route network around Merry Hill consists of a dense web of services within the area bounded by Dudley, Blackheath, Halesowen, Stourbridge and Kingswinford (referred to as the ‘core’ of the network), but beyond this reduced to certain key corridors to centres such as Bromsgrove, Birmingham, West Bromwich, Walsall and Wolverhampton.

7.9 Within the inner ‘core’ of the bus service network, most communities are linked by a frequent service to and from Merry Hill operating at frequencies of every 20-60 minutes and also providing links from these areas to main centres at Dudley, Stourbridge and Halesowen. A number of routes are circular, linking these three towns with Merry Hill and offering a myriad of journey opportunities to those living on these routes (services 247/247A and 248/248A are circular, as are 264/264A and 265/265A, 274 and 275 and 291 and 292).

7.10 This network has evolved as a result of the development of a series of minibus services formerly operated under the ‘Travel Merry Hill’ brand. Minibus services, operating at higher frequencies than on the key corridors, were designed to penetrate more deeply into residential areas and therefore offer services to a greater number of potential passengers. Although Travel Merry Hill has now been subsumed into the Travel West Midlands brand and many of the minibus routes are now operated by full-size buses, the dense network remains.

7.11 What this means in practice is passengers to and from the main towns can select from a considerable range of services, some of which offer high frequencies but slow journey times, whereas faster and more direct services operate on lower frequencies. Service numbers change in the evenings and on Sundays on many routes, adding to the relatively complicated network and resulting in a plethora of service numbers to the same potential destination.

7.12 The majority of the network is provided on a commercial basis by the region’s dominant operator, Travel West Midlands, who operate many of the high frequency services and many of the local services in the ‘core’ area. However, a number of other operators also provide services to Merry Hill, the most important of which is Go West Midlands which operates under the Birmingham Coach Company, People’s Express and Diamond Bus brands, and operates an expanding network throughout the Black Country. Smaller operators such as Ludlows and Hansons operate services to Weoley Castle, Bromsgrove, Stourbridge and Kinver, whilst Whittle operates the X95 weekly shopping service from Kidderminster.

7.13 Many evening and Sunday services in the area are considered commercially unsustainable and are therefore operated under contract to Centro, the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive, and receive financial support from them for this purpose.

7.14 Merry Hill Bus Station is served by up to 59 departures per hour during Monday to Saturday daytimes and 26 per hour in the evenings and on Sundays. Buses access the Bus Station via Times Square Avenue, which in turn is accessed from The Boulevard. The key route are ‘Showcase’ service 139, which operates via Halesowen and Quinton to Birmingham and operates every 12 minutes during Monday to Saturday daytimes (every 30 minutes evenings and Sundays).

7.15 During Monday to Saturday evenings and on Sundays, frequencies to the main towns around Merry Hill are considerably reduced, although in some cases the overall service pattern remains high. Dudley is still the best served location with up to 13 buses per hour, with Stourbridge served by 4 buses per hour, Birmingham and Halesowen up to 3 per hour and Wolverhampton 2 per hour. The frequency reduction to Halesowen in particular is considerable, as during Monday to Saturday daytimes 16 buses per hour travel between the two locations. The penetration into residential areas is also much reduced.

7.16 The Waterfront area is served by only three bus routes: services 266, 276 and 287. Services 266 (from Wall Heath and Kingswinford) and 287 (from Stourbridge) only operate in the evenings and/or on Sundays, in order to cater for the demand for access to leisure and entertainment facilities at the Waterfront. One of the principal barriers to bus services at this location is a lack of access routes through the complex and in particular the absence of a link between Waterfront West and Level Street.

7.17 Brierley Hill is served by low floor buses which enable flat ('at grade') access from the door to the passenger saloon, and are usually provided with space for pushchairs and wheelchairs.  A number of routes from Brierley Hill are served with low floor buses, including the 109/139 (to Halesowen and Birmingham), 247/8 (circular to Dudley and Stourbridge), 238 (to Blackheath and West Bromwich), 222 (to Dudley), 002 (to Halesowen and Weoley Castle) and 004 (to Halesowen and Harbourne).

7.18 Bus facilities across the area broadly consist of bus stops with bus lay-bys, shelters, seating and information.  The main bus interchange facilities in Brierley Hill are located on the High Street and at Merry Hill Bus Station.  Bus drop-off/pick up points allow direct and easy access to the busy shopping and market facilities on the High Street, which are an important element in the continued sustainability of this part of the area.  Further interchange improvements are proposed off Mill Street to integrate local bus services with the proposed Metro terminus in Brierley Hill.

7.19 The bus station at Merry Hill has been improved considerably since 1996, including through improvements to passenger waiting facilities and information provision.  However, the location of the bus station within the area means that it is less convenient for some parts of the surrounding area.  Merry Hill Bus Station currently has 7 stands, lettered A-G. Three of these stands each are located in two long rows whilst the seventh is situated at the far end of the facility and runs at right angles to the stands along the eastern edge of the Bus Station.

7.20 Buses have no priority within the complex and therefore are subject to traffic congestion, particularly during Monday to Friday peak times, all day on Saturdays and particularly during the approach to Christmas when considerable delays can occur and bus schedules are severely affected.

7.21 In terms of information provision, there is a Travel Shop located at the Bus Station which provides a range of timetables, bus maps and other information about public transport in and around Merry Hill, and the standard of information at the Bus Station is excellent although its appearance and format are rather tired.

Heavy Rail

7.22 Brierley Hill is located south east of the former Stourbridge Junction - Walsall railway line.  The line, which closed as a through route in March 1993, continues to serve the Round Oak Railfreight terminal via a double tract connection to Stourbridge Junction.  The line is currently mothballed and will be brought forward as demand dictates between Stourbridge Junction and Walsall as a through route for freight in accordance with the Strategic Rail Authority Strategic Plan (2002). The former trackbed between Brierley Hill and Wednesbury, which remains in situ and has not been built upon, will form a substantial element of the proposed alignment of the Midland Metro Line 1 extension to serve Brierley Hill.

7.23 Brierley Hill is located a short distance from the existing railway station at Cradley Heath on the Kidderminster to Birmingham Snow Hill line.  All buses that call at the bus/rail interchange facility adjacent to the station serve Brierley Hill and Merry Hill. Cradley Heath is both the most accessible station from Merry Hill with a total of 14 buses per hour to the station interchange, and with 6 trains per hour to Birmingham Snow Hill is the fastest link to the City Centre. It has an interchange facility which is located adjacent to the main station entrance on the north side.

7.24 Following the completion of the Line 1 Midland Metro extension, Brierley Hill will have a direct link to the national rail network through the interchange between metro and heavy rail at Dudley Port.  This will allow access to/from Wolverhampton, Birmingham and the West Midlands rail network.  Bus access from Brierley Hill to Stourbridge allows access not only to West Midlands local services, but also trains to and from London provided by Chiltern Railways.

Pedestrian Facilities

7.25 Pedestrian access to the Brierley Hill area is currently constrained in a number of locations by the steep inclines and level differences between the main attractions and footpaths.  The footways in the area, however, are in a generally good condition, and there are many footway crossings, but not all of these are at road level.

7.26 Over recent years there have been significant improvements for pedestrians in the area, including the provision of new or enhanced crossing facilities, dropped kerbs and tactile paving, footpath widening, and resurfacing on a regular basis.  The A4036 Merry Hill at its junctions with the A4100 Quarry Bank, and The Boulevard/Coppice Lane have had new crossing facilities installed for pedestrian and in general, crossing facilities are reasonable in most places.  The Embankment has also been improved through the provision of a stepped footpath that provides a direct pedestrian link to Merry Hill and the Waterfront via a canalside walkway.  Crossing facilities on the High Street (particularly at its junction with Mill Street and Moor Street) are however poor and need upgrading.

Cycle Facilities

7.27 Cycle access to Brierley Hill is currently constrained in a number of locations by the topography of the area, with the land generally falling steeply from west to east.  There are generally few dedicated cycling facilities within the area, and most cycling is therefore undertaken on the existing road infrastructure or along the canal corridors.  There is also limited parking provision for cyclists across the area, which currently leads to illegal parking at inappropriate locations.  However, cycle lockers have been installed at Merry Hill and the Waterfront.

7.28 The regeneration of Brierley Hill, along with the associated transport infrastructure changes (e.g. Midland Metro Line 1 extension, highway improvements etc.) will provide a valuable opportunity to improve conditions for cyclists throughout the area, including the provision of advance cycle stop lines, on and off-road cycle lanes and better cycle parking provision.

The Strategic and Local Highway Network

7.29 The strategic route network in Brierley Hill consists of two main north-south links in the form of the A461 Dudley Road/Brierley Hill High Street to the west, and the A4036 Pedmore Road/Merry Hill to the east.  These two routes are linked by a number of east-west links, viz:

  • Hurst Lane/Level Street/Bank Street/Pensnett Road;

  • Coppice Lane/the Boulevard/Mill Street/Moor Street

  • Quarry Bank/Mount Pleasant/Mill Street/Moor Street; and

  • Quarry Bank/Mount Pleasant/Delph Road

7.30 Access to the High Street is principally from the A461 (north and south), Pensnett Road/Bank Street, Moor Street, Level Street and Mill Street.  Dudley MBC as the local highway authority controls these roads.  Access to Merry Hill is principally made from Level Street, Central Way, Embankment and the Boulevard.  Central Way and Embankment are private roads owned by Westfield.  Access to the Waterfront is along Waterfront Way, Waterfront West, and Level Street.  Waterfront Way and Waterfront West and private roads owned by Westfield.

7.31 The highway network in the Brierley Hill area suffers from congestion at a number of locations, as a result of conflicts between through traffic and local access traffic.  This is particularly the case during the evening peak period.  The key locations that suffer adversely are as follows:

  • A461 Brierley Hill High Street

  • Pensnett Road

  • A4036 Pedmore Road/Level Street

  • The Embankment

7.32 Relief of traffic congestion will assist bus operations and pedestrian and cycle safety in the area.  This will have a positive impact on reducing social exclusion for local people who do not have access to a car.

Waterways and Canals

7.33 The principal water corridor in the Brierley Hill area is the Dudley Canal No.1, which traverses in a north-south direction between the High Street and Merry Hill.  The canal provides an important pedestrian route between the Waterfront and the Embankment, and between Withymoor Village/Delph and Merry Hill via the Delph Locks.  The central location of the canal within the Brierley Hill area combined with its flat nature result in it playing an important role in meeting local pedestrian and cycle trips.  Considerable resurfacing of the canal towpaths, particularly in the vicinity of the Embankment has been undertaken.

Parking Provision

7.34 Car park ownership in the Brierley Hill area is dominated by the private sector (particularly Westfield), with 10,083 spaces (equivalent to 95% of the total parking stock) provided around Brierley Hill, thus:

Location Number of Spaces Parking Type
Merry Hill 6,166 Long Stay
Waterfront 3,164 Long Stay
Asda 483 Long Stay
Moor Centre/Mega Bowl 270 Long Stay
Total 10,083 Long Stay

7.35 Currently, Dudley MBC control less than 5% of the total car park supply in the Brierley Hill area, viz:

Location Number of Spaces Parking Type
Bank Street 140 Long/Short Stay
Level Street 106 Long/Short Stay
Little Cottage Street 146 Long/Short Stay
Cottage Street 25 Long/Short Stay
Mill Street 38 Long/Short Stay
Chapel Street 34 Long/Short Stay
Total 489 Long/Short Stay

7.36 The predominant ownership by Westfield of the car parking stock within Brierley Hill provides a unique opportunity to bring the parking management regime in the area to a comparative level to the other centres within the Borough.

7.37 The total number of car park spaces in Brierley Hill is in the order of 10,572.  Charges are currently only incurred in less than 5% of the area although proposals are underway to introduce car parking charging at Merry Hill and the Waterfront.

7.38 The private car parks are all well located in terms of proximity to important destinations e.g. Moor Centre, Asda, Merry Hill and the Waterfront, but the public car parks are not so well located, for example only Cottage Street and Little Cottage Street car parks are close to a popular destination (Asda).

7.39 The quality of car parks varies from site to site.  For example, most of the private car parks are lit and monitored by CCTV in contrast to Dudley MBCs car parks which are of a poorer standard.  There is a distinct difference in the usage of the public and private car parks, which is predominantly due to their individual locations.  Dudley MBCs car parks average 25% utilisation, while some of the private car parks average close to 100% during peak periods.

Existing Schemes

7.40 There are a number of schemes to improve accessibility to and within Brierley Hill which are already progressing and which can be taken as given.  These are:

Metro

7.41 Metro offers high quality public transport system to complement the heavy rail network, giving greater choice to those wishing to use public transport including visitors, car users and existing public transport users. Light rail is known to be more successful than bus based modes at attracting motorists from cars and onto public transport. This modal shift would be beneficial in terms of reducing congestion. Light rail is known to be an attractive feature in metropolitan areas that encourages investment and is seen as a symbol of civic pride and status.

7.42 Working with the local authorities, Centro has been progressing the Phase 1 extensions and following provisional funding approval in 2000 the Transport and Works Act Orders were awarded for the Metro Phase 1 extension from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill, via Dudley town centre route in March 2005. 

7.43 The Wednesbury to Brierley Hill extension follows a currently mothballed heavy rail line from Wednesbury through to Dudley and then runs on street through Dudley Town Centre before reaching Merry Hill and Brierley Hill. This route passes through industrial, commercial major retail and residential areas and has provision for four Park and Ride sites at key locations. This route meets with the SRA and Network Rail proposals to regenerate this corridor for future freight services.

7.44 The proposed route of the Metro extension will play a key role in providing both improved access to Brierley Hill, and facilitating internal trips within the area itself.  Services will call at Dudley Town Centre, New Road, and Pedmore Road before reaching the Waterfront and Merry Hill (near The Embankment).  The line then continues to the terminus on Cottage Street close to the High Street.

7.45 The Metro extension to Brierley Hill will also provide a number of high quality links to other modes, viz:

  • heavy rail - provision of a direct link to the national rail network (West Coast Main Line) at Dudley Port;

  • bus - interchange with new bus facilities proposed at Mill Street and Level Street

  • cycling - cycle stands are to be provided at all stops, as per the existing Line 1 between Wolverhampton and Birmingham;

  • park and ride at a number of locations

  • walking - the stops at the Waterfront, Merry Hill and Cottage Street are proposed to have excellent pedestrian links to the surrounding areas

7.46 Whilst the provision of Metro will offer an efficient, attractive and sustainable internal distribution system between the key parks of the Brierley Hill area (i.e. the Waterfront, Merry Hill and the High Street), its more important role will be in providing essential, high quality public transport links within the Black Country and to other parts of the West Midlands.

Brierley Hill Sustainable Access Network

7.47 The Brierley Hill Sustainable Access Network project consists of several geographically separate elements focused on reducing congestion, improving access and through traffic movements, improving bus priority and integration with other modes of transport and delivering an improved environment, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists. The components of the scheme which are within the Brierley Hill area are:

  • A new route (PT11) which runs broadly parallel to the High Street, to the east, and connects to it south of Mill Street and to Dudley Road north of Level Street. The route will give local access to the Lower Brierley area and reduce the weight of through traffic on the High Street, facilitating local access improvements (including bus priority measures) and  environmental enhancements (including air quality; the High Street is an Air Quality Action Zone).

  • Extension of PT5 Waterfront Way to a new junction with Pedmore Road and adoption of Waterfront Way (part). This will provide an additional east-west link to that provided by Level Street encouraging through traffic to use routes on the periphery of the Brierley Hill area rather than travelling through its heart. This will facilitate future works to Level Street to achieve a bus priority route and central location for bus stops within Level Street Square.

The project will provide immediate benefits to the town centre and surrounding area by reducing congestion, improving air quality and the general environment in Brierley Hill.  It will also provide opportunities for future development and improved links to public transport.

Dudley Council entered into a partnership contract with Carillion in March 2005 to design the scheme and carry out the construction works.  Scheme design is now complete and following release of Government funding in December 2006, site work commenced in April 2007 and will take approximately 16 months to complete.

Key Accessibility Issues

The current transport characteristics of Brierley Hill identified above demonstrate that the area has a number of strong points to offer.  These are:

  • an extensive network of local and intra-urban bus services, serving the key parts of the area on weekdays and Saturdays;

  • generally good access to the area by car, despite conflicts at a number of locations in and around the area due in part of the mix of strategic and local traffic (particularly north-south verses east-west movements);

  • committed proposals for access by light rail to Brierley Hill through the extension of the existing Midland Metro Line 1; and

  • generally good pedestrian facilities, although some improvements would enhance the network further particularly between the High Street and Merry Hill.

Against this, there are a number of adverse features that need to be addressed through a revised access strategy.  These are:

  • a reduced level of bus service serving the area on Sundays;

  • a number of highway network 'hotspots' that suffer from adverse traffic congestion

  • some problems with bus reliability, particularly along the High Street, due to traffic congestion

  • no direct heavy rail access to the area, although close proximity to Cradley Heath and Stourbridge Junction on the Kidderminster-Birmingham Snow Hill line

  • a large amount of privately controlled free parking

  • generally poor cycle facilities across the area that would benefit from sustantial improvements

It is clear therefore where the main areas of improvement to the transport system within and around the area are needed.