- Posted by: Canterbury Labour
- Category: Latest News
We have failed our Council’s Leader. Our inability to show the imagination he says is needed to fulfil his vision of the City travel zoning plan released last week is our failure. We have been given a view of the sunlit uplands in which we can travel magically across our city, if only we were able to meet his expectations. Instead we are complaining about mere practical issues like how to get to the supermarket or the hospital or the doctors or the school or work or to visit our parents. We have failed to rise to the challenge. Woe it is to be cursed with the task of governing people who are really just too, too stupid.
On the other hand, maybe offering a scheme like this required a little more thinking by its cheerleader. Perhaps, for example, when you’re asked by the BBC if people will be able to drive across zones to get to work you need a better answer than “probably”. Because that shows that not only have you not read your own plan, but that you don’t have clarity on its purpose, which is specifically to stop people driving between zones. When it looks like the only people who will be affected by this are the residents who vote for you, while commercial traffic is free to ignore it, then again perhaps you’ve not quite thought this through.
And when you protest that there won’t be physical barriers maybe it would be better not to illustrate this with a photo of a man riding a bicycle past a padlocked bollard.
The only upside seems to be that it has engaged the attention of thousands of residents who might not normally pay any attention to a Local Plan. It was good of the Council’s Leader to sacrifice his personal credibility for that purpose. His track record, like building the Station Road West car park and moving the Council back to a Cabinet system, both specifically rejected by voters, suggest that he’s not going to reverse his views on this plan.
Which is a shame, because every single resident will pay for this scheme, and everyone who visits the City will be affected. You may hear a lot from Conservative councillors about how this scheme has been modelled on one in Ghent, in the Netherlands. That’s Ghent, a city with a population of 260,000 people in a district of about 500,000; which owns its own public transport system including a large tram system; which has a long term culture of cycling because it is totally flat and has central streets wide enough to allow bikes and pedestrians to share the space safely. Canterbury is very clearly not Ghent.
You might hear them claim too that opposition councillors ,who represent every City ward, have been consulted. That is not true. The last time we were consulted was August 2020, along with every other resident, when there was no mention of either zoning or of Ghent.
There is nothing wrong with trying to reduce car journeys in the City. After all, almost everyone except the most die-hard road lobbyist accepts we have a problem which is only going to get worse. We do need some new thinking. But we can’t do that in a way which prevents people who absolutely have to drive from using their cars. We can’t confine people to only having easy access to one supermarket. We mustn’t stop people being able to drive to the K&C for outpatients appointments or to minor injuries or to visit loved ones in hospital. In short, there are lots of entirely legitimate reasons that people drive, and those are not helped by imposing this scheme.
So what is this plan trying to achieve?
Poor air quality does affect parts of the City to motor vehicles. But this plan runs to 2045, and the improvements it brings will be towards the end of that period when the Eastern Relief Road (ERR) is finally completed and the zoning can be introduced. By 2045 petrol and diesel vehicles will mostly be a thing of the past, which will remove most of the causes of pollution without any changes to road networks. And if this is your objective, then why not introduce congestion charging or a Low Emission Zone (LEZ) around the City? That could be done immediately – and is something that Ghent has done, too!
Congestion affects our major roads for about 4 or 5 hours a day at the moment. It also, incidentally, affects Whitstable at key times, but there’s no scheme to stop residents travelling there. Congestion will undoubtedly get worse when the planned 26,000 new houses around the District, mostly to the south of the City, are built. And it won’t be solved by relying on the ability of Stagecoach to run “commercially successful” bus services at a time when they’re cutting services across Kent for want of subsidy.
In fact, it won’t be improved until we provide solutions which mean people don’t want to drive into or through the City. Managing our demand for road space, rather than blocking access to it, is the key. If we want people to get out of their cars we need a carrot, not a stick.
If you were to look at Labour’s consultation response from August 2021 or our 2019 manifesto, you would see that we have made proposals which address some of these very issues. Hopper buses around the City? A Labour idea. Expanded Park and Ride? A Labour and Lib Dem idea. A “15 minute” neighbourhood concept, where all services are available to residents within a 15 minute walk of home? A Labour idea. Build new secondary schools on the coast to remove the need to travel to the City? A Labour and Lib Dem idea. Introduce low emission zones? A Labour and Green Party idea. Bring in freight transfer stations to stop lorries accessing the city centre? A Labour idea. And so on and so on.
Those ideas need testing with residents, of course, which we’re committed to doing. And some need costing. But, for example, we could make Park and Ride free for residents. We could raise parking charges for non-residents to fund that. We could, if Government allowed it, establish a bus service which was free for residents, using the £100 million earmarked for the ERR, which would pay for the running of between 27 and 40 buses 16 hours a day for the next 20 years. We could introduce LEZs now, in Canterbury and central Whitstable. We could ensure that there are joined up and well-lit ways to walk and cycle into the City, covered by CCTV for safety.
Radical ideas can often be good ideas. Outside of the zoning system which has caught everyone’s attention, there are some excellent ideas within this plan, some of which are not unique to any political party. But it doesn’t follow, just because an idea is claimed to be radical, that it is either good or beneficial or that it should not be subject to critical analysis or meaningful consultation.
Quite why Cllr Fitter-Harding continues to think that he can play with the lives of our residents is a mystery, given his woeful track record. Last week’s launch of the Local Plan certainly got the attention of the public who expressed their views clearly in KentOnline and social media. Idiotic, bonkers, insane, dictatorial and arrogant were some of the more polite comments.
We’re going to need some better thinking.