A few weeks ago Canterbury Labour Party called for a Car Free Day that was rejected by the Council, but the fight to improve our environment goes on. Keep updated on the latest activities by visiting the Green issues campaign page. Councillor Alan Baldock sets out the Canterbury Labour Party’s view on tackling congestion and pollution in an unpublished letter to the Kent Gazette, which follows:
Just a few weeks ago, following Canterbury Labour Party’s lead in calling for a car free day, there has been more debate and honest talking about Canterbury’s rush hour congestion and pollution than for years. The situation we posed – “imagine a weekday in Canterbury with no congestion” – was deliberately controversial but it acted as a catalyst for discussion. It has been, and continues to be, a conversation involving hundreds of local people, between friends and work colleagues, young and old people and those in between, academics, business owners and workers, parents on the school run, The Canterbury Society, green groups and others with a passion for sustainable transport, and those who see the car as something we must accept and accommodate.
The local response has certainly reinforced what was a balanced and sensible request by the city’s councilors, at a Canterbury Area Members Panel, to set up a Working Group whose objective would be to reduce congestion and pollution, with a car free day as part of a longer-term strategy. In line with the council procedure the proposal was put to the Council’s Policy and Resources Committee on 8th February.
Many people saw the Working Group as a great opportunity to face up to the demons of congestion and pollution and work collaboratively towards solutions. Perhaps as importantly they saw it as Canterbury taking the lead in solving its problems, and therefore wanted Canterbury City Council’s commitment and leadership.
Sadly, following the Policy and Resources Committee, a stark truth is out about Canterbury City Council’s ruling Conservative administration. They did not support a Working Group led by Canterbury City Council (as recommended by Canterbury Ward Councillors). They made it clear that they do not wish to be involved, abdicating responsibility for congestion and pollution in Canterbury to Kent County Council. The KCC record on such matters in our city is shameful and of long standing, the most recent examples being the Mountfield Park and Thanington developments.
People across the district who wanted to contribute will feel disappointment and frustration. At the Canterbury Area Members Panel they were encouraged that at last someone was listening. Living amid the daily rush hour grind and choking on rush hour fumes, they looked locally for leadership out of a mess stretching back over generations.
Why did a Conservative majority of members of the Policy and Resources Committee, chaired by the Council Leader, vote en bloc to reject the proposal for the Working Group? It was hinted that they had no appetite for another Westgate Towers fiasco and the risk of unpopularity. They argued that resources to support the Working Group could not be made available.
I doubt that either is the whole story but were presented simply as excuses. I wonder if the rejection of a very modest request was an indication of paralysis in local decision making as council officers and the Conservative group focus on the proposals for a merged Council across East Kent. I hope not, but for now we will all have to hope KCC have a seismic shift in policy, showing even a small interest, along with some radical and imaginative thinking, to reduce our city’s congestion and pollution – because from now on Canterbury City Council won’t be involved if they can help it.
We will await the next instalment at the Joint Transportation Board meeting. Don’t get too excited!
Cllr Alan Baldock
12th February 2017