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Can Carlisle's Castle Way cut it in the future?

Castle Way is 40 years old this week. There will be no celebrations. A midlife crisis feels more appropriate for this unloved stretch of tarmac.

Elsie Martlew photo
Elsie Martlew

The road has been accused of crimes against Carlisle’s heritage for separating the city centre from the 900-year-old castle.

In recent years, as Carlisle has marketed itself as a tourist destination, the complaints have increased.

Four decades on, can anything be done to bring Carlisle and its castle closer together?

Castle Way opened on November 25, 1973. In those days town planning put the motorist first, driving roads through the hearts of cities.

Traffic had previously passed in front of the castle but the road was a narrow strip.

Now there were four lanes with a central reservation. Castle Way’s gloomy subway struggled to bridge the gap.

Since 2000 the Millennium Bridge has offered an alternative route to the castle. But this has also proved unpopular, widely seen as a make-do-and-mend solution.

The most frequent suggestion has been to put Castle Way underground. Easier said than done.

Going underground would involve the daunting task of tunnelling under the River Caldew and the West Coast Main Line.

Speaking in 2008, Cumbria County Council’s former Carlisle area engineer, Richard Hayward, estimated that the cost would be colossal. He said: “The mind boggles. I suspect you’d be into the realms of a billion pounds or more.”

A less expensive option would be keeping the road over the river and railway then dropping it before it reached the castle. But this would involve a steep gradient of about one in 10 which is not permissible under road-building rules.

County council leader Stewart Young also dismisses another popular suggestion.

He tells the News & Star: “People talk about putting the road around the back of the castle. The castle is a scheduled monument. You can’t just build a road right next to something that’s as heavily protected, in legal terms, as the castle is.”

The debate over what to do about Castle Way presumes there is a problem. Mr Young does not see one.

“I genuinely don’t understand why people have a problem with the underpass. You can come straight down Castle Street, into the underpass and up to the castle. Further down there’s a bridge.

“There seems to be a myth that the castle was previously connected up to the town. That wasn’t the case. You could hardly see the castle from the town. There were more buildings on Finkle Street and Annetwell Street than there are now. There was a whole jumble of buildings outside the castle, like the Salvation Army Citadel.

“But people have convinced themselves that it was previously this open vista that the road cut in two.”

Even if the county council wanted to transform Castle Way, it would face financial as well as engineering problems.

“Nobody’s got any money. This government put a stop to major transport schemes. I don’t think anything is going to happen. The county council, as the highways authority, has got no plans.”

Carlisle MP John Stevenson is more critical of Castle Way, although he agrees with Mr Young that major change is unlikely.

“It’s been to the detriment of the castle, and to the city in terms of its tourist offer. What can be done about it is questionable because of the importance of the road.

“If the money was available it would be lovely to see something happen. But we have to be realistic. It’s a public highway so it would probably have to be financed by the public sector. Maybe private sector involvement is something for the future. But at this moment I think we will have to live with the continued existence of Castle Way.”

Putting the road underground may be impossible. But members of Carlisle Civic Trust believe there is another way to connect the castle with the city centre.

Jan Jeffery, of the trust, says: “We’re concerned that people will visit the cathedral and Tullie House then go to the subway and think: ‘We’ll not bother with the castle.’ Not everyone likes using a subway.

“One member has suggested that the best compromise might be a pedestrian crossing at the end of Castle Street, with the lights co-ordinated with those at Hardwicke Circus and Caldewgate to lessen the impact on traffic flow. It has been done with busier roads in other cities.”

Carlisle Castle is run by government body English Heritage. A spokeswoman told the News & Star: “English Heritage would support plans for a pedestrian crossing to connect the castle and the rest of the city which would improve visitor access.”

Carlisle City Council deputy leader Elsie Martlew also backs this option. “Castle Way was constructed for the motorist,” she says. “Pedestrians need to be given a priority. They failed to do the right thing 40 years ago, which was to put a crossing to the castle. It really isolated this historic gem from the city.

“A crossing would help local businesses. Footfall on Castle Street would be a lot better. I know the traffic on Castle Way has been reduced since CNDR [the western bypass] opened so now is the time to look at it.”

Traffic on Castle Way has dropped by about 25 per cent since the bypass opened last year.

“Drivers already stop along that route at Sainsbury’s and at Willowholme,” says Mrs Martlew. “It wouldn’t be onerous. Castle Way is only really busy in early morning and at teatime.

“If you look at Nottingham, they made the same mistake when they built Maid Marian Way. Now they’ve got very good pedestrian access across that major road.”

Maid Marian Way separates Nottingham city centre from the castle. In 2002 it was voted one of Britain’s worst streets. Since then this dual-carriageway has been transformed.

Pedestrians could only reach the castle via a subway. Ten years ago this was filled in. A roundabout was replaced by traffic lights and a pedestrian crossing.

Steve Hunt, Nottingham City Council’s head of traffic and safety, says: “The crossing somehow brings the castle nearer to the city centre. You’re not having to go through an ugly subway.”

A similar crossing has already been considered at Castle Way. In 2007, as part of the ill-fated Carlisle Renaissance project, consultants Capita Symonds proposed replacing the roadside guard rails with trees and the central reservation with lighting columns.

They also suggested installing traffic lights and a pedestrian crossing at the end of Castle Street. But the county council rejected the idea.

Mr Young remains unconvinced, although he doesn’t entirely rule out the possibility.

“Carlisle Renaissance wanted a crossing. We thought it wasn’t feasible. The knock-on effect would snarl up traffic for most of Carlisle. We said we would see what impact the CNDR had on traffic flows and that’s something we’re still looking at.”

Meanwhile Mrs Martlew is optimistic that people will finally be able to walk across Castle Way, rather than under or over it.

“Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another 40 years,” she says.

Have your say

Samantha adds theirs nothing much in the castle. Rigid rules aghast with H&S as for hundreds of years this act did not exist. Sense prevailed for some. It is rather bleak inside much of the Castle apart from the Kings Own Border Regiment Museum. More cars, than folks seem to be seen on the former military courtyard in the times I frequented the former castle HQ's of WRVS and Carlisle Archives. (now latter at a fantastic new site on Petteril Bank) but mostly it is barren inside with little of a theatrical with no figures akin to Madame Tussauds, or displays of periods in the Castles history which I blame English Heritage who manage the castle. Carlisle council could do better! English Heritage, This organisation blamed funds having done badly in recent years with publicised failure to maintain the moat. I've been to many similar historical venues such as Titanic's in Ireland and former prison of Cork with camera visuals what it could have been like when prisoners shared a candle, or perhaps not in Carlisle Castle unless Queen Mary. Honestly truth must be told with some breweries such as Bass having better (CSMS brewery ... council missed opportunity?) displays of pageantry. Get the new Border Regiment museum open and if theirs momentary breaks in road traffic with existing lights why not a crossing. The Millennium bridge with councils failure to maintain even the lightening I believe cannot be taken down as highlighted in previous topics. How about a period catapult or string wire from the fantastic Millennium Gallery Museum (which outshine's the castle) in many ways. Carlisle Castle Battery 2 seater buggy's for visitors operating from the Millennium lift and underpass. I agree Samantha it is expensive with cannons that have not been used since the one fired (at, or by?) Bonny Prince Charlies outside Carlisle Citadel. I bet it is cheaper to park a car... free for ? Bring back some organisation of the Castles period costume such as found with Staffordshire voluntary organisations of roundheads and cavaliers. Goodness for a crossing you need some adventure to cross for... Presently the Cathedral grounds offer informative displays besides that of the new information boards within Rickerby Park. Crossings exist on the latter which is saying something about this state of affairs in regard the city's heritage. It might be the furthest city in England but for many nearer in Scotland it is their first into an English city which is one of few where a parliament has been held. The Carlisle Market Cross with a lion heralding a union crown. Again the latter with uncertainty in September 2014. Can the blame be bad marketing and funding from Her Majesty's Government(s) when tourism is supposed to be a growth area ?

Posted by Royl on 11 December 2013 at 00:10

The white elephant bridge has to go
Underpass is the best option for both pedestrians and vehicles above
Everything we need is already there it just needs to be used in the correct manner
The bridge is not required and totally spoils the view

Posted by andy on 10 December 2013 at 17:39

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