Boscawen St. ‘experiment’ has not only failed, it’s bad for business and unsafe. End it Now!

Boscawen Street August 2021

The burghers of Truro in the late C18th planned that, by demolishing Middle Row in around 1790 – described by a later Mayor, Clement Carlyon, as ‘houses of very inferior description’ – they would create a broad arena for trade and commerce. At that time it was a main road – it later became designated the A39 – one of Cornwall’s two primary and very ancient routes.

Truro had been continually ravaged by riots as starving miners, hit by economic conditions and a series of poor harvests, came into town to ‘liberate’ stocks of hoarded corn. For some time, it became expedient to have a military presence. This led to the construction of Strangways Terrace with its accommodation for 180 horses in Barrack Lane.

When the 1796 Corn Riot occurred, the Worcestershire Militia were garrisoned in Truro. During the riots the Militia’s commanding officer wrote to the Home Secretary:

‘it seems that every individual in the mining area is involved in the riots and it is unsafe for any civil power to venture alone without the military. Rioters can only be taken at dead of night, as during the day they hide in the mines’. 

Having a broad street on which to parade and drill was useful. In our time, Remembrance Day could never be the same without Boscawen Street as it was.

As one of five Cornish Stannary Towns, Truro hosted a Stannary Court and also required that all smelted tin and copper be inspected by the Duchy Assayer (The Duke’s Man’). He would chip a corner of each ingot, the Duke’s ‘due’. As demand for tin and copper rapidly grew so space was required to facilitate this essential tax levy and quality control to occur. With the mining industry being driven to supply rampant industrial production in England, Truro quickly became not simply a stannary town but also a banking centre. By the late C19th Henry Rice, James Hicks, Sylvanus Trevail and others had taken the opportunity afforded by the creation of Boscawen Street to enhance it with landmark buildings – particularly banks.

By the late C19th Henry Rice, James Hicks, Sylvanus Trevail and others had taken the opportunity afforded by the creation of Boscawen Street to enhance it with landmark buildings – particularly banks. Cornish banking was a driving force behind mining and its fragmentation and loss of confidence, which led to most Cornish banks being subsumed by larger emerging national institutions in the late C19th, contributed materially to the decline of Cornish mining.

However, though Cornish banks were swallowed up, the new conglomerates – Barclays, Lloyds, National Westminster, Midland (latterly HSBC) retained their presence in Truro, and others, including Royal Bank of Scotland (now partnered with NatWest) and Santander – Boscawen Street remains a powerhouse of wealth management, with other institutions and providers all over town – we should not forget the eminent Cornish Mutual at Newham, in its bespoke building.

So, trade, taxation, investment, public health and law & order all weighed upon the Burghers’ collective mind as they demolished Middle Row and created what was to be dubbed ‘Boscawen’ Street – named after Admiral ‘Ned’ Boscawen (Old Dreadnought – after whom the playground donated by his descendants at Hendra is named (1711 – 1761)). Boscawen’s name was also given to the Boscawen Bridge and to the pub which stood by the bridge until their demolition in 1966-7 as part of the modern by-pass which took the A39 out of Boscawen Street. The poor old Admiral Boscawen disappeared up Station Hill!

When Truro by-pass was built it diverted the main road out of the town centre. It formed a major part of a comprehensive re-engineering of the town which held on to the street pattern and the vast majority of buildings – we lost the Fighting Cocks Inn (Dolphin Buttery) and, probably the greatest casualty, Boscawen Bridge. But we gained rear servicing to retail premises in the primary shopping area, a northern and southern distributor road with car parks (including two exceptionally well-designed multi-storeys), and a distribution ‘centrifuge’ on Lemon Quay for vehicles – this latter part required the demolition of the Fighting Cocks Inn (Dolphin Buttery Tea Room).

The result was a shopping centre capable of supporting national chains by hooking efficiently into distribution systems – loading at the back; selling at the front. However, we also saw a significant investment in business and commercial premises – not least in Lemon Street – and this provided a high level of daily trade and demand for a wide range of goods. Weekday Noon to 2pm remains a vital trading window for shops and services.

Those professions which support business – accountants, lawyers, architects, wealth managers and the like – meant that Truro has become a very efficient, attractive and energetic place to do those things that employ, develop and sustain people and places. Investing in the quality of conservation has been possible because the turnover has been there to support it, and there has been a locally engaged and quality driven level of authority in public authorities.

It is beyond doubt that Boscawen Street has been and continues to be one of the centrepieces of Truro’s evolving story. When we built the by-pass we didn’t say to anybody ‘You can’t come here!’ We reduced traffic significantly, and retained crucial accessibility. We have combined the principles of a safe and high-quality environment with accessibility and a cohesive consensus of vision amongst property owners, traders, public authorities, visitors and residents, the professions and commercial providers.

Today, the compelling drivers for change are value, safety and climate change. How we measure success, and how we determine that something is bad enough to need improvement, and how we calculate that improvement will enhance value, are the fundamental questions confronting anybody who wants to enhance or fine-tune the town.

 Society now demands a far greater and more forensically evidenced explanation of why public money has been spent than ever before. There is a finite amount of public money and a finely tuned balance between incomes, tax-take, spending and investment. Such a scenario requires that projects must show good justification for investment – a pothole is easy! It’s a hole that is dangerous, and must be repaired.

Commercial success relies on accessibility, and that is sustained by public investment, which derives from taxation, which comes from incomes generated by employment – in some ways it is a cycle; in other ways an equation:

Work + Income – tax = public investment/disposable income

However, when it comes to schemes to pedestrianize a prosperous, high value conservation and trading asset such as Boscawen Street, or to intervene with measures aimed at encouraging one sort of user whilst deterring others, then we must tread carefully lest we disturb every element of that equation.

A street like Boscawen Street is fluid – people drive through it, park in it, get on and off buses in it, walk up and down its pavements and cross over its road as they deem desirable and safe. Its wide vista, broad and flat, means that visibility is good. It is easy to evaluate personal risk and that is why there has been no road traffic accident there for quarter of a century. Looking at the movements of all kinds in Boscawen Street one quickly understands that it is both a focal point for the sort of transactions which keep commerce going, and a distributor out of itself to other parts of town.

The straight path of vehicles, the two-way (ie left and right) distribution of Lower Lemon Street, the bus stop – all enable people to come and go, to find their way safely. There is no doubt that a means must be found to assist people with disabilities to use the town equably and securely – but that is a fairly minor addition to the street, not the sort of wholesale cluttering up, re-orientation and confusion which the ‘experimental’ measures have introduced overnight, without consultation. Is this any time to be experimenting with the conditions of trade?

So! Why have we done what we have done to Boscawen Street? No matter how you come at an evaluation, you come back to that ‘why’! What was the problem which this is trying to fix? What is the justification for re-directing traffic, introducing containers, seats and very un-Cornish looking plant-life? Or for taking easily readable straight lanes and making them meander, congest and provoke uncertainty?

In providing a solution to a problem which didn’t exist, have we created a problem far greater than that which was imagined by a few to exist? Who evaluated this project and asked: ‘Is this value for money?’

I saw some authoritative person declare somewhere that we had to get the ‘main road traffic’ out of the town centre – the word ‘horrendous’ was used. But did we not do just that when we built the by-pass? And have we not just invested millions in improving journey-times through the Tregolls-Highertown corridor, which deters people from taking diversionary ‘rat-runs’ through the town centre (which they rarely did anyway!!)?

At no time in its history has Truro ever said ‘Don’t come here’. We are now running the risk of sending that signal, and that will affect commerce, incomes, tax-take, spending and investment, which, in turn, will reduce trade, and deter investment in the conservation which we expect, and which gives us the beautiful, multi-layered heritage which is what causes people to enjoy being here whilst doing the business which our accessibility, safety, compactness and focus on service, quality and a multi-faceted offer enables – describing Truro as a shopping centre is to forget the professions, commercial services and public functions which all contribute to the town’s sustainable economy and well-being, and make it an essential and attractive place to come to.

Boscawen Street now looks cluttered. Traffic winds and meanders. The street is unsafe –  crossing it is now an anxious manoeuvre, bus drivers are fearful about toddlers running out from behind flower tubs; there is a torpor about the place which affects the trading environment – everybody is uttering those five words which traffic engineers hate to hear – ‘An accident waiting to happen!’

As all business sets about clearing the debt mountains accrued through the extended pandemic lockdowns, and people slowly regain confidence in the health of popular places, and, most importantly, people assess when and how they will resume working in offices, so Truro needs to be welcoming people, promoting trade, and as business rapidly works out how to adjust to make itself not only climate-change-compliant but alco competitive in a world where climate change is now the key driver of productivity – do we need a gratuitous indulgence and an un-consulted ‘experiment’ to disrupt and stress Truro’s central trading area?

Facebook is no traffic engineer, but its power appears to be draining the intellectual rigour and purposeful discipline of the Cornish Highways Authority – this is no way to go on!

Car parking charges are high (for Cornwall); workers feel pressured by Residents Parking Zones – both factors deter people from coming here. Park & Ride serves Treliske Hospital, and takes precious time, which part-time workers juggling two or three jobs, kids and family find impractical. And now, we have compromised the heritage attraction of Boscawen Street, made it feel unsafe, cluttered and ordinary, and the objective (as demanded by Facebook Warriors) of pedestrianisation is not capable of being achieved.

Truro’s challenge is to get workers, customers, suppliers, regulators, marketers et al into town quickly, easily, efficiently and competitively. Cornwall Council, with universal support, has developed Cornwall’s public transport offering beyond any expectations – pre-covid bus patronage was growing, train patronage was growing (in the first 4 months of operation the new half-hourly rail shuttle between Penzance & Plymouth attracted a17% increase in passengers.) We have the most modern bus fleets in the UK, wifi-enabled, low emissions, comfortable and clean. Truro is one of Cornwall’s key public transport hubs – these are signs of success! They are investments in success!

Why do people imperiously declare that 400 buses through Boscawen Street is, for unspecified reasons, unacceptable and needs to be changed? What is Boscawen Street there for – perpetual street parties? Who will buy the jam and cream?

As Lemon Quay has proven, open spaces need to be managed and populated with ‘stuff’ – who’s going to pay? Should we not be focusing on producing the best possible trading environment in the town which will attract post-Covid homeworkers back to the office, and shop-a-holics off line?

Truro is not a holiday resort, a retirement village, or a dying town – it is vibrant, regenerating, safe and very well supported by its hinterland – it is attracting investment.

When we re-engineered in the 1960/70s it was difficult but it was driven by demand for material improvement – everybody understood the objective; it was a dynamic time – and Truro has prospered on the back of that change – but it was change which, for instance, caused a whole complex neighbourhood to move out of its historic streets, networks, institutions and emotional environment in the interests of the whole community – a sacrifice cruelly not repaid by the newly abrasive Carrick council which did quick deals with supermarkets and erected its suite of offices.

Before it does untold damage to Truro’s reputation those who installed it must look clearly at its consequences and end their ‘experiment’. Truro needs Boscawen Street working properly again – our young people need jobs? Our tradesmen need access; our businesses need supplies and customers – the flower pots, no left turns, benches and winding carriageway must go – immediately.