Silicon Beach Bomo Orientation Guide | Introduction To The Bay Area Conurbation Return to Home Page

Silicon Beach Bomo - Orientation Guide | Introduction To The Bay Area Conurbation

Above: Wikimapia map of the conurbation, showing main roads and most districts (some not indicated, such as Charminster, Westcliff and Westbourne). The marking of Poole Bay by a line between headlands is not found elsewhere (it should be the outlet for Poole Harbour, left), but it does indicate the most sheltered portion of the bay for swimming etc along the 7 miles of sandy beach-front.

The mild climate and presence of palm trees allowed the railway companies to promote the southwest coast resorts they served as “The English Riviera”. With its planted palms and Pleasure Gardens, this upstart 20th-C. set out to rival the older railway-era Cornish-Devon “English Riviera” resorts. The Bournemouth conurbation that developed from this is the closest stretch of it to London: thus, the English Riviera starts here. The region’s major author Thomas Hardy considered it something new in English life: “This fashionable watering-place ... such a glittering novelty as this pleasure city had chosen to spring up ... a city of detached mansions, a Mediterranean lounging-place on the English Channel .... The pines, the chines, steeply-rising cliffs, parks, gardens, heathlands, amusements, esplanades, sands and sprawl add up to ... a fascinating, pine-scented phenomenon.”

   
The present conurbation extending between the New Forest and the Jurassic Coast has several names, due to its continually expanding northward, i.e. inland, as well as eastward along the coast into the New Forest. The Office for National Statistics uses ‘Bournemouth Urban Area’, consisting of Bournemouth, Poole, Christchurch, and the latter’s outlying districts of Burton and New Milton/Barton on Sea. The South West England Regional Development Agency uses the broader term the South-East Dorset Conurbation, which includes those in ‘outer-circle’ municipalities like Ferndown - over 400,000 people altogether. Of the 3 main townships, Poole and Bournemouth were created Unitary Authorities in the last local-govt shakeup, and are not run by Dorset County Council, while the smaller borough of Christchurch is still part of [East] Dorset, but includes some eastern outlying smaller resorts to the east like Mudeford and Highcliffe. All these municipalities are joined together by concrete and tarmac without noticeable green-belts in between, and in that sense form a single conurbation or urban area.  

Population Trends: Bournemouth now has a population of just under 200,000, Poole just under 150,000 and Christchurch just over 50,000. With outlying suburban towns like Ferndown [popn over 25,000] etc, the South East Dorset conurbation officially has a total population of over 465,000. This is soon likely to approach half a million, especially if you include the commuting or trading-area population - those who come into town to work and/or shop and live in the outlying 'Travel to Work Area' or TTWA - in any newly defined metropolitan area.

Tourists add to the population - up to a million in the case of the August Airshow. Tourism here is not a summer-only event, with year-round gatherings. There used to be major party conferences in the spring or autumn which brought thousands of delegates, press and police down for a week (Labour’s 1999 conference was said the biggest political gathering Europe had seen, with 20,000 pass-holders), but these have shrunk to smaller events. (This year saw the Greens and the LibDems in succession.) There are however other major one- or two-day conferences, usually involving public sector unions, which also swell tourism numbers.

The tens of thousands of foreign students who come here to take an English language course could also be classed as tourists, their numbers leading to a more continental approach to cafes, delis etc. Bournemouth’s tourism industry is valued at £462M, employing over 11,000 people. There are also tens of thousands of tertiary-education students at the local uni, arts uni, and college, who may be classed as tourists/visitors or as residents (they can vote if they register).

The numbers of people who leave London every year for a better quality in life in the Southwest generally have been notable for some time. Ten years ago, the number was around 34,000 [ONS stat based on GP registrations], though the exact number stopping at Bournemouth as the first major conurbation centre in the SW Region is not given. Bournemouth itself in its promotion makes much of a 'census' that it is the happiest town in Britain, but this was a survey done in 2007 by a bank, and the banking-led crisis that began the next year makes it out of date. What percent of the population is unemployed for 6 months plus is hard to say, as figures are politically sensitive and thus liable to statistical massaging. Jobs in the predominant tourism sector tend to be seasonal and haphazard, on 'zero-hours' contracts or are via employment agencies that pay close to minimum wage. Anyone thinking of working LA-style in a 'casual' job waiting on tables or delivering pizzas while developing their media opportunities should be aware this is no easier here than elsewhere. Even entry-level public sector jobs may not pay the Living Wage [right]. Nearly a quarter of Bournemouth-based workers earn less than the Living Wage [£6.31/hr], with the number claiming housing benefit as low-paid workers rising 61% since 2010 (from 2,759 to 4,440). The numbers actually employed on a FTE basis or otherwise by the conurbation's several hundred creative-digital sector are also difficult to quantify, though obviously wages are much higher (online job board here). While the number or tech firm startups and jobs they create are hyped, these are also subject to a higher failure rate, estimated at three quarters. PR etc agencies are notorious for collapsing leaving subcontractors unpaid, and then perhaps starting up again under a different name. 'Churn' is a statistical factor that applies here.
 

Politically, it's mainly Conservative, though most eligible voters in fact don't bother to vote, as shown above. (Bournemouth West is the key constituency as it includes the whole town centre. Mouse over image to see Poole graph.)

Despite the area's image as a retirement haven for the well-off, the average age is reckoned to be just over 40, in line with the rest of the country (there is a large student population). The lack of industry and seasonal nature of tourism result in low pay and an overall lack of jobs, with resulting poverty for some families.

Overall, the conurbation is not a city and the suggestion at the time of the 1974 LGR (revived for the 1997 LGR) that it become 'Wessex City' (which sounds like a football team) met with such a negative reaction the idea was dropped. Charter city status [sans a city name] was reapplied for in 2012 but refused. Recently the conurbation has been classed as a Primary Urban Area, with the term city used as shorthand, as in the government's State Of The Cities Report, where Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch were classed as a PUA 'city.'
There is also talk of Christchurch, Bournemouth and Poole plus East Dorset merging under a single ‘super-council,’ (Though the public has no say in it, there are already rows over who should be in charge, with arguments over which of the councils is the most/least useless or corrupt.) There are already confusing overlaps, as in the Westminster constituency boundaries, the fact that the main campus of BU is actually in Poole, the Bournemouth seafront is still claimed as 'Poole Bay' etc.
Until 1974, Christchurch and Bournemouth were in Hampshire, when they were redesignated part of Dorset, before Bournemouth became a Unitary Authority in the 1990s. The term ‘Bournemouth conurbation’ is sometimes used, but to avoid contention over names, we’ll refer to the overall conurbation for the moment as ‘the bay area conurbation’. As with London, the conurbation was created by the gradual joining together of separate villages, and some of these districts are notable here as they have retained their own central spaces. It sprawls over a considerable area – the beachfront alone is 7 miles long.
The AA/OS Leisure Guide To Wessex has described it as “the largest non-industrial conurbation in Europe.” (There is in fact some light industry.) There is such a slight green-belt gap between the expanding conurbation and the ‘satellite’ market towns of Wimborne Minster and Ringwood that this suburban gap too must soon close.
 

Sea And Air Links: Christchurch's harbour is too shallow even for larger yachts, but due to channel dredging, Poole harbour is operational for deep-water vessels, giving the conurbation a cross-Channel sea link to Cherbourg etc. There are some river cruise boats but they are not suitable for commuting. Sadly, seaplanes have never caught on in Britain as they have in North America etc (where they can fly to downtown moorings), and there has been no service like that since flying boats died out in the 50s. (BOAC operated a flying-boat service out of Poole Harbour that was Britain's only regular WWII transatlantic civil-air link.)
By air, there are flights to British and overseas destinations from Hurn, 3.5 miles NE of town, on the Christchurch boundary. This is now officially Bournemouth International Airport, a somewhat grandiose name initially, which it has grown into since the original prefab huts were replaced by modern terminal buildings.
British Airways began here as Imperial Airways (later BOAC), switching from flying boats postwar to land-based aircraft out of Hurn, which had been an RAF Battle-of-Britain fighter base. Bournemouth International Airport actually has a longer runway than Southampton Airport, 22 miles away. Unfortunately, unlike Soton AP [40 minutes by rail from Bmth], it is nowhere near a rail station, is often beset by traffic tailbacks on the narrow access roads, and the pickup/dropoff charge is a regular irritation to users (even taxis have to pay it). There is however now an airport bus service from the town centre daytimes.
 

By car: The main road access from London is via the A338, which connects to the A31, the M27 and the M3 (a 3 hr journey outside of rush hour). You’re there when you seen the new overhead electronic sign up saying Welcome To Bournemouth [which somehow cost over £75K]. If it’s not working [photo here], you’ll know you’ve arrived at the municipal limits when the smell, known as the Bournemouth Pong or Wessex Way Whiff, from the adjacent Wessex Water sewage farm hits you as you drive past.

The main gateway of the A338 motorway runs SW past an historic landmark, Holdenhurst village, whose 19C church tower is visible to your right. This is the beginning of Bournemouth, its most northeasterly district, and its last remaining unchanged enclave, complete with unadorned village green. Worth noting is that this is also next to where the B3073 airport access road underpass crosses the dual carriageway. The in-town portion is known as the Wessex Way; it terminates abruptly in Westbourne, at the Poole boundary on the County Gates roundabout.

   

Rail Links: the rail line in and out is the South Western Main Line from London Waterloo to Weymouth, via Southampton [40 minutes away] and the New Forest - see SW Trains graphic opposite for stations en route. Christchurch's station is half a mile north of downtown, Pokesdown is at the east end of Boscombe and Bournemouth Central is at the Travel Interchange a mile northeast of the town square. The line continues westward through Poole, stopping at Branksome and [Lower] Parkstone and finally downtown Poole, then westward on to the county town of Dorchester.

Bournemouth' Central' Station is a misnomer - it's a mile from the town centre at the Square as the councillors of the time insisted the terminus be kept away from the resort centre. (There was a Bournemouth West Station, but this closed in 1965.) A ''Travel Interchange' for buses was built alongside Central Station but as it's out of the way, the main east-west bus routes between Poole and Christchurch do not use it. And the presence of an Asda superstore adjacent with its large car park can mean rush-hour traffic tieups around St Paul's roundabout.

   

In-Town Travel: Slowing overall development has been the absence of any light rail or LRT [Light Rapid Transit] network across the conurbation, such as trams or an overhead monorail [down the Wessex Way centre strip], despite periodic proposals [e.g. here]. It is not part of the current Three Towns Travel scheme, which is responsible for additional roadworks including a few cycle lane extensions here and there. The bus services (run by two companies) are adequate during the day, evenings less so; and as with private cars, the increasingly overcrowded roads slow traffic down to a crawl whenever there are roadworks or an accident.

There are some cycle lanes, including one along the promenade [10mph speed limit, enforced by speed cameras] during certain dates and times, and one along the Central Gardens west-side footpath, which extends NW almost to Branksome Station. Cyclists of course also use the various pedestrian precincts, regardless of whether this is prohibited. There is also a landtrain service along sections of the seafront and up into the Boscombe pedestrian precinct.
The existing rail network is ok for local travel if you happen to work/live near a station. However, there are only 2 left in B'mth. For travel to and from London, travel time is around 2 hours by rail, versus around 3 by coach (the advantage of the coach being you're guaranteed a seat).

 
The Central Gardens are a key N-S access route with walking and cycling routes.
Nearest 'Hub': The closest potential 'digital hub' to the main travel hub (the Travel Interchange) is at Lansdowne, which is perhaps a 10 min walk away SW, down Holdenhurst Rd. Lansdowne or The Lansdowne, as it's also known, being the site of the local FE college (It just calls itself The College) and some university outbuildings, has led to various youth-oriented pubs, clubs and restaurants flourishing in Holdenhurst Rd and the top stretch of Old Christchurch Rd. After WW2, a planner argued that The Lansdowne would make a better town centre than The Square. However while The Square has been renovated as a central pedestrian-friendly area, no such improvement has been made here, and the heart of Lansdowne is still just a busy traffic roundabout. (As the official consultation document puts it: 'Pedestrians and cyclists struggle with vehicle dominance'.) And there are almost no parking facilities in the area.
Nevertheless, there are plans for a 'transformation' of the neighbourhood as a 'Creative Business Quarter'. The plan has been branded C:SIDE which is unexplained, perhaps because it is such a dire pun (like seaside but with a C instead, presumably as it is walking distance from there to the sea, or at least the Eastcliff clifftop; the C is presumbably for Creative). The college and uni presence here would normally be a development asset, but none of the uni outbuildings are facilities for IT/computing students, and the College abandoned its high-end computing courses a decade ago to save money. The transformation plan nonetheless aims to promote the digital creative sector there, with the College relocating, freeing up almost the entire SE corner of the roundabout for development. The CSide plan is to transform the busy roundabout into 'Lansdowne Circus' as "the heart of the creative business quarter ... an exciting public square with landmark public art, seating, stunning lighting and space for festivals, outdoor performances and exhibitions." (The small print notes the vehicular traffic will still buzz through on 3 sides, with one route closed off to vehicles.) Construction is scheduled to begin in 2018 at the earliest.
The Project Delivery consultation document highlights many of the issues discussed here, which is a start; though it is definitely a long-term project (the last such plan here stalled after it was revealed it would take 7 years to get going).
 
Connectivity: Rural broadband is such a scandal (thanks, BT) it's safe to say the conurbation has faster broadband than outside it. However actual broadband speeds are so variable you need to visit any planned office or event site and try it out. There are various speed tests available online e.g. from the BBC, here [cf screenshot, right]. Don't expect superfast broadband from BT, which promotes the idea it uses the latest fibre-optic cabling, but in fact still uses old copper wires from the street cabinet into customer premises. There have been various other plans to bring superfast broadband to the conurbation, but this has been more hype than reality, as we've blogged about before (cf here).
For Wifi, there are various "notspots" where you can't get any signal due to buildings between you and the nearest tower etc. Some of the national Bournemouth-as-Silicon-Beach press coverage claims the town has the fastest broadband in the UK. This seems to be based on Council claims people in the Square-pierhead-lower-central gardens-seafront area can access free Fusion Wifi via their social-media accounts, which raises online-security and privacy issues. (It's a 2014 partnership with Poole-based FusionWiFi, who characterise it online as a data-harvesting exercise for advertisers.)
Coffee shops etc have similar deals, whereby you have to register, meaning you go on their (and perhaps others') marketing email lists. Some of the Morebus buses like the cross-conurbation MI or M2 also offer free wifi, and the main library now has it as well (you get the day's password from the checkout desk). Bournemouth Council also has plans to use Bournemouth’s street lamps to offer public wifi access.
The main landline provider is BT, whose partner OpenReach has been known to leave customers without a connection for months on end. The other providers are in fact just resellers, including Virgin Media unless you are in a ready-cabled area. Even if Virgin cable is installed on your street, you probably can't get it installed due to "insufficient takeup" at the time the street was originally cabled a decade ago, ie when they had permission to dig the ground up. (You can enter your postcode on their website to get confirmation of this.) In both cases, it's what they class as FTTC rather than the all-the-way FTTP. (The one hope with Virgin is they will extend their pilot scheme of putting wifi boosters under paving slabs in town centres.)
Corporate clients can of course obtain their own dedicated servers and fibre-optic lines from companies like C4L, who put in a 1GB fibre-optic leased line with wifi back-up from its Westbourne data centre, for the new clifftop Hilton.
 


Abpve: BT OpenReach green junction boxes with their 'Fibre broadband is here' boast are a common sight, but it really means the actual fibre stops there: from there to your building, it's old-fashioned copper cable.
Below: An additional problem is providers surreptitiously throttling or dropping your broadband connection to save bandwidth.


Click on above map-image for interactive Google Maps original
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