Future of vintage bus service between Knole House and town sparks wider debate over relationship with National Trust property
Recent revelations regarding the town’s future relationship with Knole House have generated a great deal of comment. Here, My Sevenoaks Community, highlights both sides of the debate
A CAMPAIGN to save the Vintage Bus service which runs between the town and Knole House during the summer months, has been launched by the Sevenoaks Town Partnership (STP). Members were upset after they were told the historic National Trust property has decided to stop participating in the service.
The Sevenoaks Town Partnership, which is made up of representatives from several local businesses and organisations, voted unanimously to start the campaign which is asking residents to email the National Trust Chief Executive, Hilary McGrady, urging the Trust to reconsider its decision.
The bus service is one of several issues that the Sevenoaks Town Partnership was unhappy with regarding Knole House and the subjects have attracted comment and criticism on social media platforms.
In reply, the management at Knole believes a recently released Sevenoaks Town Partnership statement – you can see the complete statement by CLICKING HERE – does not represent the whole story and has provided My Sevenoaks Community with answers to the criticisms raised. Here are both sides of the debate below:
SEVENOAKS TOWN PARTNERSHIP: Knole states that it does not currently permit coaches at weekends, Bank Holidays and school holidays and therefore suggested that the Vintage Bus stop in the High Street and passengers walked to Knole House. It was generally agreed that this was unrealistic, as those needing to use the bus were unlikely to be able to walk the distance. The Town Partnership believes that Knole should review its management policies which appear to be in favour of promoting car use rather than promoting use of sustainable public transport.
KNOLE REPLIES: After six years of supporting and promoting the Vintage Bus partnership, and significant financial investment in the project, Knole continues to be fully supportive of the scheme, and is currently in ongoing discussions with the Sevenoaks Town Partnership to review where the bus stops at Knole.
The National Trust and Knole are committed to promoting sustainable and accessible transport. We actively encourage visitors to walk through the park’s pedestrian entrances and we promote sustainable transport routes through our website and social media, as well as partnering with car-free promoters such as Good Journey. We have recently installed new bike racks and would welcome further discussions with Sevenoaks Town Council about future sustainable transport plans.
Over the years the Vintage Bus scheme has operated, it has become clear that Knole’s narrow driveway means the bus contributes to congestion and access difficulties on busy days. Additionally, the challenges presented by the bus attempting to turn in a very tight circle at the busy main gateway in front of the house, where families and children often congregate, means that safety has become an important issue. In order to address these challenges, we are in discussion to explore the possibility of the bus dropping passengers off at the entrance on the High Street. Out of our 180,000 annual visitors last year 1,197 passengers used the bus on 22 days. Many of these visitors arrived at Knole by car to start and end their journey, using the bus to tour the town rather than use it as a form of transport to access Knole. This increased rather than decreased car journeys to Knole.
SEVENOAKS TOWN PARTNERSHIP: The car park at Knole has recently been increased considerably to provide what is an ‘ugly blot’ on the heritage landscape, impractical and difficult to use and of concern relating to its impact on the deer inhabitants who are gradually moving to different areas of the park.
KNOLE REPLIES: The car park hasn’t increased in size. The works carried out in the car park, beginning in October 2018, were to improve the ground conditions, provide a more intuitive free-flow layout and to demarcate bays so the National Trust does not require such high levels of staff and volunteers to be on duty in the car park directing traffic and waving drivers into unmarked spaces. The number of spaces has actually reduced slightly to enable wider roadways and safer turning. The foot print of the car park is exactly the same as before. This area is permitted for parking by Natural England and is tightly controlled to protect the environment and listed landscape.
The car park at Knole has been in the current location since the 1950s and is the only area of land owned by the National Trust permitted for car parking by Natural England.
SEVENOAKS TOWN PARTNERSHIP: The Vintage Bus is a Sevenoaks Town Partnership project started in 2013 with seed funding from Portas and was one of the ‘community elements’ within Knole’s successful lottery bid. The aim of the Vintage Bus was to integrate Knole with the local community, encouraging visitors from Knole to also visit the town centre, and introducing public transport for those without cars or mobility needs to travel direct to the door of Knole.
The Vintage Bus links to both stations and the bus station in the town. Unfortunately, the current Knole management does not recognise the Vintage Bus (which is registered under the Public Route No. 7) as public transport and will not therefore promote on its website, which would encourage more people to use it and help to reduce car movement.
Since 2013 The bus has been manned by an enthusiastic group of volunteer bus conductors. In 2018 the Vintage Bus Service and the Sevenoaks Route 8 Bus Service were awarded top prize in the Transport Planning Society’s inaugural People’s Award for 2018. Judges praised schemes that put community engagement at the centre of local decision making and chose the two community transport initiatives in Sevenoaks as best reflecting what local people really want from transport schemes in the UK.
KNOLE REPLIES: The Heritage Lottery funding was specifically intended for the conservation of Knole. This included re-roofing, creating a new conservation studio and café, and conserving all the showrooms. A requirement of the funding was to look at ways to forge links with the local community and as part of this ambition we chose to support the Vintage Bus scheme. We have supplemented the scheme with just under £18,000 since 2013 with annual grants of £3,000-£5,500. Fewer than 11,000 people used the service in the six years we have subsidised it, meaning that for every average £2 ticket our contribution has been £1.63 of that ticket price; a subsidy of over 80%.
SEVENOAKS TOWN PARTNERSHIP: There are concerns that the decision in relation to the Vintage Bus was in part due to Knole management becoming isolated from the town. It was noted that Knole attendance figures had doubled which undoubtably helped its revenue budget for the House and car park. However The Sevenoaks Town Partnership believes Knole has a social responsibility for the wider community of the town in which it operates.
KNOLE REPLIES: Far from becoming isolated from the local community, Knole is more integrated than ever. We are an integral part of the Sevenoaks neighbourhood and seek local engagement at every available opportunity. We are a committed local employer, with 60 staff and 500 volunteers, many of whom live within the Sevenoaks area. Where possible we always commission local contractors, artists and craftspeople to work with us. Our learning and education programme is offered to over 200 local schools, and we host a number of events, including a monthly Dementia Café, free children’s Storytime session in the bookshop, and weekly park walks.
SEVENOAKS TOWN PARTNERSHIP: During the planning process for the National Trust’s recent expansion of Knole’s property and car park, concerns were raised about the impact on the small market town and reassurances were given these would be managed. Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case with the High Street regularly becoming gridlocked.
On any sunny day the car park is being closed as it cannot cope with the visitors, meaning some people that have travelled long distances are turned away, only adding further to the congestion. In the past they could have been guided to another car park and caught the Vintage Bus to Knole.
KNOLE REPLIES: We are aware of the challenges around congestion on the High Street and are actively working with councils and highways to develop solutions for the future.
SEVENOAKS TOWN PARTNERSHIP: Knole management was previously an active key member of the Sevenoaks Town Partnership which enabled such problems and potential solutions to be openly discussed unfortunately this no longer happens. The annual Mayor’s fundraising event, which raised funds for a different charity each year, is no longer able to take place at Knole and it is understood other community activities are being reviewed.
KNOLE REPLIES: We have hosted the important charity event free of charge every year, including covering the cost of the venue and staff. Due to the demands on our time during this important re-opening year we asked whether a different venue might like the opportunity to host the 2019 event. We are happy to host again in future years and have not pulled out of the arrangement.
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