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Now get set for ‘Little Brother’

Westgate Towers, Canterbury
Westgate Towers, Canterbury

Ominous dark storm clouds covered the sky over Canterbury yesterday (Wednesday) morning as it emerged the county council is secretly working on a fresh road system for St Dunstan’s. Already being called the “Little Brother” of the original Westgate Towers traffic trial, the plans mirror key elements of the controversial year-long scheme which died last year. These include retaining the wide pavement in St Dunstan’ Street, closing one end of Pound Lane and removing the roundabouts at North Lane and Station Road West. A cycle route from the west station to city centre is also part of the vision. The plans emerged less than six months after Kent County Council published a survey which showed that more than 80% of people wanted the road restored to the original lay-out before the year-long controversial Westgate Towers traffic trial.

In March 2012, Canterbury City Council created a new road system, which closed the archway to vehicles and regulated movement around the towers with traffic lights. Pound Lane was also shut and access to North Lane limited. The scheme quickly became massively unpopular and was blamed for rising pollution levels and creating gridlock in nearby streets – prompting KCC to undo it in April 2013. The Gazette can reveal the new plans echo aspects of the trial, with vehicles discouraged from using North Lane in favour of Station Road West, which suffered horrendous gridlock when the trial was underway. A KCC report seen by this paper states that where Station Road West and St Dunstan’s meet a “priority junction lay-out very much like what was in use during the experiment” should be introduced. And the county council is being accused of trying to sneak another traffic management system in under the noses of voters. Campaigner Brian Buggins said:

“These new plans are potentially the traffic trial’s littie brother. There seems to be a lot being talked about without proper consultation and a lot going on secretly behind the scenes. You would have thought that they had learned their lesson from last time and done things more openly and actually consult with people about what it is they want.”

Last year the county council offered voters five options – four of which proposed continuing the traffic trial system in one form or another while the fifth proposed returning to the pretrial road lay-out. More than 80% voted for the fifth option. It also asked voters if they had any suggestions for the Westgate area. A report by KCC’s head of transportation Tim Read stated that people wanted to keep the widened pavement outside the Bishops Finger and Falstaff Hotel, which had been installed during the trial. But Mr Buggins says only 32% of respondents agree. He added:

“There is no mandate for keeping the widened pavements. What we really need is a decent break down of the results from the consultation last year. They still haven’t published them.”

KCC transport press officer John Todd said:

“The aim of our work with the local community, interested groups and the city council is to reflect the support gathered during a three-month consultation for measures to boost the economic vitality of St Dunstan’s, delivering benefits to residents, local business, the wider community and visitors. In response to the consultation, the steering group overseeing the scheme agreed in January that the area would benefit from a 20mph speed limit, retention of the widened footway, a crossing on Station Road West and a 7.5 tonne weight restriction that will extend to cover communities along Whitstable Road, including St Thomas’s Hill and Blean.”

A CYCLE ROUTE, WIDEN FOOTPATH, REMOVE ROUNDABOUT…

The report which had been due to go before the transport board was written by KCC highways officer Tim Read. He suggests the following proposals:
• A cycle route between Canterbury West and St Dunstan’s Street via Kirby’s Lane in order to avoid Station Road West. For cyclists going towards the station, a right turn lane into Kirby’s Lane would be created in St Dunstan’s Street.
• Widening the footpath on the car park side of Station Road West for people walking to and from station. Removing the roundabout at the Station Road West and St Dunstan’s junction “and returning to a priority junction lay-out very much like what was in use during the experiment would allow a zebra crossing to be situated much closer to St Dunstan’s Street”.
• With buses no longer passing through the Westgate Towers, there is no need for a bus stop by the Bishop’s Finger pub thus allowing the widened footpath on that side of St Dunstan’s Street to remain.
• Putting in a new zebra crossing at the St Dunstan’s end of North Lane to replace the pelican crossing further down. The roundabout by the towers would be replaced with a priority junction which “will make the right turn out of North Lane more difficult encouraging the use of Station Road West. The down side is a more difficult right turn into North Lane which could result in traffic tailing back behind the towers”.
• Banning vehicles wider than 6ft 6in from passing through the towers in order to protect them from damage. Wide vehicles will be diverted into St Dunstan’s Street.
• Closing Pound Lane is one of three possible options. It would improve the route for cyclists and walkers and stop large vehicles using the tight junction next to the towers. The other two options are no change and making it a one-way street from the Pound Lane car park to the towers.
• Imposing 20mph speed limits In lower St Dunstan’s Street. the part of North Lane nearest the towers, Westgate Grove, Linden Grove and Kirby’s Lane.

‘A need to be more forthcoming’

aRumblings that new plans are afoot for the St Dunstan’s area surfaced at a Canterbury council meeting last Wednesday night. City councillors said they knew nothing of the details, but were aware that the county council had begun working on them. Lib Dem James Flanagan, who represents Westgate ward, said:

“I am somewhat concerned that KCC is not forthcoming with the details. This is about widening pavements and directing traffic back into Station Road West. Have we got any details on that? This is an extremely sensitive issue given the recent trial. I have received emails from people concerned that this is the trial coming back. We need to get the message across to KCC that they need to be forthcoming about what they have planned and to consult as soon as possible. Not that long ago they came up with a statement in which they said they will do nothing more following a consultation in which 80% of people said they wanted nothing more to happen.”

Cllr James Flanagan - “This is an extremely sensitive issue”
Cllr James Flanagan – “This is an extremely sensitive issue”

Before the meeting, UKIP councillor David Hirst had claimed there were plans to pedestrianise St Dunstan’s Street. Asked if there were, Canterbury council’s transport manager Richard Moore replied:

“Absolutely none that am aware of.”

He insisted it was solely the county council which is working on the Westgate area, but had not received details. Cllr Hirst said:

“I would be amazed if this council didn’t know what the plans for St Dunstan’s are.”

Tory Neil Baker warned against imposing changes without public approval. He said:

“I don’t think anyone wants to be making changes to transport in the city centre without making sure others are on board first because we had our hands burned quite badly recently,”

Report withdrawn from agenda

The report by KCC head of transportation Tim Read outlines the proposals in full. It was due to go before members of the joint transport board (JTB), which is composed of both county and city councillors, at a meeting on Tuesday, which has now been cancelled. Canterbury council is blaming KCC for the cancellation and any confusion arising from it. Spokesman Rob Davies said:

“We were made aware on May 16 that Kent County Council would be submitting a report to the JTB about highway matters in St Dunstan’s. This report was received on May 23. The draft JTB agenda was then circulated internally to those city and county council officers who had prepared reports and to the chairman and vice-chairman, so that the draft reports could be checked before publication and the chairman and vice-chairman knew what was proposed for the agenda. We then heard from KCC on June 2 that they wanted the report to be withdrawn from the JTB agenda, although no explanation was provided. This left very little on the agenda and following discussions with the chairman a decision was taken to cancel the meeting. Highway issues in St Dunstan’s are the responsibility of KCC. The city council, as a member of the steering group, has contributed to discussions on the future of the area, but it was KCC that prepared the draft report and KCC who will take decisions on and implement any changes in St Dunstan’s.”

Herne Bay Gazette, June 5th 2014

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