The fifth in a series of articles providing an overview of how Stevenage's regeneration is going, what you can expect from the town centre when it’s completed, and hearing from some of the people at the heart of the project. 

In the articles so far, we've answered some of your biggest questions about the regeneration, explored the projects that have already been completed and are still to come, and interviewed Baroness Taylor

This week, we’ve been speaking to Cllr Phil Bibby, executive member for highways and transport at Herts County Council (HCC) and leader of the Conservative group at Stevenage Borough Council (SBC), about the traffic issues exiting Tesco Extra and his views on the wider regeneration.

Cllr Bibby has worked with HCC on numerous initiatives to change the way we move around Stevenage, including zero emission buses and £30m of funding from the Department for Transport. 

The Comet: Cllr Phil Bibby speaking at a Stevenage Borough Council meetingCllr Phil Bibby speaking at a Stevenage Borough Council meeting (Image: Stevenage Borough Council)

Buses are a key issue, and Cllr Bibby says “Stevenage has been highlighted as a town where we want to provide more bus priority i.e. using carriage space for buses rather than cars”. 

He also points to “active travel” schemes, such as the North Road cycling scheme where the council “hopes to hit the ground running early next year” to put in a segregated cycle lane. 

Cllr Bibby thinks that persuading people to move to more sustainable transport choices is “a bit chicken and egg”. 

HCC is looking to “change people’s perceptions of travel, encourage them to travel in different ways”, but this will “not be an immediate overnight thing - you’ve got to provide the things in the first place to give people choice”. 

Asked if he’s satisfied that there’s enough car parking space in the town centre to cope with the number of flats being built, Cllr Bibby said "no, I’m not”, and points out that some existing car parks, including St George’s multi-storey, are under-used.

He thinks it’s an “unattractive” place to park your car, where “people don’t feel particularly safe”. 

The Comet: An artist's impression of the new multi-storey car park at Stevenage railway stationAn artist's impression of the new multi-storey car park at Stevenage railway station (Image: Stevenage Borough Council)

He’s keen to emphasise how different the new multi-storey at the railway station will be - “well-lit, attractive, so that people – particularly women or girls – can go in there and feel safe, particularly at night”. 

One key transport issue we raised with Cllr Bibby was the exit from Tesco Extra on to Lytton Way, with many residents complaining about congestion.

He said: “SBC wanted the junction between Swingate and Lytton Way to be re-engineered, so as not to have traffic impinging on the bus lane leading into the new interchange. 

“One might argue that it did not need to be changed the way it has, being far enough away, but that was the wish of the officers and the leader.

The Comet: The junction leading onto Lytton Way in October 2021, with the filter lane removedThe junction leading onto Lytton Way in October 2021, with the filter lane removed (Image: Google Maps)

“HCC officers suggested bringing the junction out, and providing/retaining a protected slip road type left turn access to Lytton Way, but this would have necessitated reducing Lytton Way to one lane at this point, which was rejected by SBC, and I agree that this may have just transferred the problem.

"I suggest the lack of such a configuration is the reason for the congestion turning out of Swingate?

The Comet: The junction onto Lytton Way as it looked in October 2018, with filter lane still in placeThe junction onto Lytton Way as it looked in October 2018, with filter lane still in place (Image: Google Maps)

“The junction was designed by SBC’s consultants, and the Highways Authority signed it off purely for safety and network management considerations, although they did advise that any alterations should have been done at the same time as whatever is agreed on Lytton Way longer term, where further consultation is going out before Christmas on the preferred option of access to sustainable forms of transport only, and I suspect that this will divide opinion. 

“HCC is helping to review the junction, although any major alterations would probably be a waste of money if Lytton Way is to be changed again, but better signage may help. 

“I would agree with the other pedestrian and bus priority measures, as HCC is committed to making it easier for pedestrians and helping bus operators improve punctuality and reliability.” 

Responding, a SBC spokesperson said: “We are aware of congestion issues at the junction of Swingate and Lytton Way, and are supporting HCC as Highway Authority who have put in place a temporary solution before the Christmas weekend. A permanent solution is being discussed and this is expected to be trialled in the New Year.” 

Moving onto the wider regeneration, Cllr Bibby – like Baroness Taylor last week – pays tribute to its cross-party nature, saying “HCC is there to support districts and we like to work with districts rather than against them, and that’s cross-party". 

While supportive of the regeneration project, he has some concerns that “it’s stalled a bit” recently, and he thinks “the business model as originally planned has been turned right on its head because of the economic situation and construction inflation”. 

The Comet: There were problems with the demolition of Swingate House earlier this yearThere were problems with the demolition of Swingate House earlier this year (Image: Brank Vranjkovic)

He says “it’s up to SBC to re-think the plans and tell us how it’s going to go forward”, particularly given the issues with demolition at Swingate. A report from the health and safety executive - “Powerful People” - is still to come. 

He thinks the bus interchange has been one of the big successes of the regeneration, “it’s nearer to the station, it’s a lot more fit for the future”, and he also says that the Queensway refurbishment was “very important”. 

The Comet: An artist's impression of the new civic hub buildingAn artist's impression of the new civic hub building (Image: StevenageEvenBetter/Stevenage Borough Council)

However, Cllr Bibby is critical of the planned new council building in the town centre, which will include offices as well as a library, heritage hub, and space for health and voluntary services.

He said: “We shouldn’t be spending lots and lots of money on brand spanking new council offices that are basically more than we need.” 

And while he doesn’t have a problem with the number of flats being built, he does recognise concerns about what some may call “gentrification”. 

“Some people who are second and third generation Stevenage residents might see that as a challenge and I think that’s got to be handled very carefully to make sure that they don’t feel disenfranchised.” 

Next week, we'll be speaking to Adrian Hawkins, chair of Stevenage Development Board.