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Towers bus saga to be probed by council watchdog

The continuing saga of the Westgate Towers traffic plans is to be examined by the Local Government Ombudsman
The continuing saga of the Westgate Towers traffic plans is to be examined by the Local Government Ombudsman

The local government ombudsman is to formally investigate Canterbury City Council over its handling of the issue of buses going through the Westgate Towers. It follows an outcry over a decision by Stagecoach not to send buses coming into the city through the 14th century struchire after the controversial West-gate Towers traffic trial was scrapped 18 months ago. St Peter’s Street trader Debbie Barwick says the move has hit business hard and is accusing the authority of bias over the issue. Stagecoach claims that bus drivers are not legally allowed to pull in their wing mirrors to squeeze through the towers. But Kent Police insists it will not prosecute drivers for this and Paul Carter, the leader of Kent County Council which has authority over highways, said last year:

“I can confirm that there is no specific legislation banning a vehicle from retracting its wing mirrors in order to complete a manoeuvre in restricted space.”

Ms Barwick said:

“We’ve got to get this sorted and get our buses back. I’m very happy that the ombudsman is getting involved and is carrymg out a full inquiry. There is simply no legislation to stop bus drivers pulling in their wing mirrors. We have got to get our buses back. It would solve so many problems. It would help traders by bringing people back into St Dunstan’s Street, and it would allow people who need to get to the bus station to, say, get another bus to the hospital.”

Ombudsman Miriam Plant will investigate whether the city council “lacked impartiality” when consulting Stagecoach over access through the towers. She said:

“As an investigator, I am looking for evidence of administrative fault which means that the council has failed  to act in line with its policies and procedures.”

Her probe will hinge on a leaked email from council transport manager Richard Moore to Stagecoach bosses in late March 2013, when it looked likely that KCC would order the Westgate Towers traffic tilal to be scrapped. Mr Moore writes:

“As such this now really is crunch time and if we have an opportunity to play our last trump card, it needs to be played now otherwise I fear the scheme could be abandoned.”

He appeals to Stagecoach bosses for a letter highlighting the forthcoming regulations relating to fixed wing mirrors on buses, asking the company to confirm it would not be able to continue running buses through the towers. Council spokesman Rob Davies said this week:

“We have received the complaint from the ombudsman and have begun looking into it. Our reply will be sent to the ombudsman in due course. It would be inappropriate to comment further while this complaint is being investigated.”

Herne Bay Gazette, December 4th 2014

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