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Plans approved for 15,000-home urban spread before 2031

Plans for thousands of new homes in Canterbury, Whitstable and Herne Bay moved one step closer this week. Gerry Warren reports on the reaction to a document dividing the district

A controversial planning blueprint for more than 15,000 new homes across the district has been rubber-stamped by the council. The authority’s executive met on Thursday and approved the draft Local Plan, which earmarks sites in Canterbury, Herne Bay and Whitstable for huge developments before 2031. It includes 4,000 new homes south of the city, 1,000 in Sturry and Broad Oak and 800 on land in Hersden. The document is expected to be supported by full council next Thursday, April 24, and passed on to the Planning Inspectorate, which will then hold a public inquiry. The executive also approved the council’s new transport strategy for public consultation, which could see new relief roads built in Canterbury, Wincheap and Herne.
But Clive Church, of the Alliance for Canterbury Residents’ Associations, says the proposals are “fundamentally flawed and undeliverable” and urged the city council to rework the transport strategy before submitting the Local Plan. He said:

“The council has sought to obtain support for its preferred options rather than asking for or listening to what the people want and not taken into account the weight of objections made. Too often criticism has been brushed off with no explanation and our members are very angry about this.”

After the meeting he said he feared the council would struggle to get funding for the relief roads and those which were planned would emerge onto existing choke points. He said:

“For example, we have grave doubts about the Wincheap relief road coming out around the Maiden’s Head pub,which seems to us to be a recipe for disaster. We have similar doubts about the fast bus link from south Canterbury petering out in Nunnery Fields, which is another choke point.”

The council’s head of transportation Richard Moore said he was happy to go through the transport strategy with members of the association. He said it was vital to have a more robust plan to change people’s travel habits and the target was to have the same level of traffic in E31 as now. Council leader John Gilbey robustly defended the drafting of all the plans saying:

“At every stage we were getting advice from county and city engineers and road traffic engineers as to the viability of the schemes we were discussing. It is difficult to get across to people just how much work and depth of information and discussion was involved in putting something like this together. I take exception to comments at the overview committee that the council does not have a good reputation for consultation. You will always get different views, but in the end someone has to decide which route you are going to take. You can’t please all of the people all of the time. You have to take a logical, professional view of what is the right thing to do and that is what this document has done.”

No new station access

The city council has refused to “safeguard” land in Roper Road to create a much-needed second access to Canterbury West station. The site is owned by Network Rail, which could sell it for housing or commercial development. But at the meeting local solicitor Jeremy Baker urged the council to protect it, with 24 taxi drivers among more than 50 people supporting the proposal. He said a second access to the station was desperately needed, along with parking, pick and drop-off facilities and a taxi rank to serve the north side of the level crossing. He said:

“The draft Local Plan does say that a new access to the station from Roper Road will be ‘looked at’ and would reduce the need for vehicles to go over the crossing. But the plan also contradicts this by referring to the development brief of 2011, which shows housing being built. The existing taxi rank is far too small for the increased custom brought by high-speed trains and is now forcing drivers to wait in the road and even be threatened with parking tickets. The transport strategy, as a background document to the Local Plan, must make it clear that housing is not appropriate on the railway land.”

But members refused to formally safeguard the site. Head of planning Ian Brown said:

“The development brief for that site was adopted not that long ago by the city council. There is a view that additional access should be included from the north side. However, at this stage we haven’t been through any assessment to say how viable that site would be. There has been no transport modelling or impact study work on the surrounding streets. We have said that we will look at lt but at this stage we haven’t got the ability to move forward to safeguarding without that work being undertaken.”

Tram idea ‘absolutely ludicrous

A proposal to investigate building a new tram system around Canterbury has been derailed by council leader John Gilbey, who branded it “dead in the water”. The idea was put forward by Lib Dem opposition leader Cllr Alex Perkins for consideration by the executive – on the eve of the district’s transportation strategy being rubber-stamped. Cllr Perkins suggested tram lines could run down New Dover Road and around the ring road to the stations. He thought it could be investigated as an alternative to the £70 million that could be spent on new relief roads around Canterbury. Cllr Gilbey told members:

“I have been sitting as chair of the Local steering group for seven years and one week before we are due to discuss it, someone comes up with that idea. As far as I am concerned, it’s dead in the water. There is no way we are going to be that stupid. It’s certainly not going to be in the next 17 years. Having recently been to Reims, they have had huge problems putting the trains lines in the boulevards, let alone trying to get through the roads of Canterbury. It is absolutely ludicrous and distracting. There is no way this council at the moment is going to put any money into a study of trams or light railways.”

After the meeting, Cllr Perkins claimed he could not have brought the idea up sooner because there was no opportunity as the transport strategy had been “kept under wraps” by the working group. He said:

“Nobody knew what was in it and I just thought that someone might have thought of an alternative to spending £70m on more roads.”

Fields earmarked as ‘green buffer’

Campaigners have given a cautious welcome to the designation of the Chaucer Fields on the University of Kent Campus as a “green gap”. Residents have been fighting proposals by the university to develop the land and are trying to get it safeguarded as a village green. But while that application is locked in legal wrangles, the city council agreed to earmark the site as a green buffer – keeping a gap between university buildings and residents’ homes. The move was welcomed by Save Chaucer Fields group chairman David Smith, who said members were surprised but delighted by the recommendation. He said:

“We are not celebrating just yet because it will be down to the planning Inspector to make the final decision and I am sure the University of Kent will object.”

The village green application for the Chaucer Fields has stalled because of a legal dispute over how far back campaigners can prove the land was used for recreation.

Delight at scrapping of park and ride plan

The people of Harbledown were celebrating after the council decided to scrap any future plans for a park and ride site in the village. For seven years a proposal for the city’s fourth park and ride site in Faulkners Lane has hung over the village, with the parish council claiming it would be a “huge white elephant”. But the Executive has not only removed the potential scheme from the draft Local Plan but also agreed to drop a designation that the land be “safeguarded” for the future. It followed an appeal to members from Harbledown and Rough Common parish councillor John Conway. He said:

“Logistically, a park and ride at Harbledown would never work because when the fourth slip road is built at Wincheap and the two existing park and ride sites extended, vehicles from London will have a choice of two park and rides accessed directly from the A2, which will be much quicker. So a site costing upwards of £5 million and with an operating cost of up to £400,000 a year would be a huge white elephant, as it would be very underused.”

He said the county council’s traffic engineers agreed with the parish council, and the city council’s overview committee had already recommended that this “unnecessary and illogical” safeguarding designation be removed. Members also heard the threat of a park and ride had blighted farmland owned by the Finn family. After the meeting Harbledown and Rough Common parish council chairman Janet Larkinson said:

“We are absolutely delighted because this has been hanging over the village for seven years and could have done for another 17. But we pulled out all the stops to have the plans dropped and have written hundreds of letters, so it’s been a huge effort. It now means we can focus on other things.”

Herne Bay Times, April 17th 2014

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