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Bus-first strategy for Canterbury city centre to include reopening park and ride despite service recording £550,000 loses

Council chiefs will scrap controversial plans to divide a city’s traffic into zones to make way for a new “bus-first strategy”.

Recently revealed plans gave a glimpse into how the authority will slash greenhouse gases and congestion in Canterbury.

The Sturry Road park and ride site is expected to be reopened by Canterbury City Council
The Sturry Road park and ride site is expected to be reopened by Canterbury City Council

One of the ideas is to reintroduce a mothballed park and ride site on the edge of the city despite the overall service costing the public purse £550,000 last year and seeing fewer people using it than before the pandemic.

The local authority has also been on the hunt for experts to help them plan the future of transport provision.

Meanwhile, income from car parks in the city centre continues to boom with increasing numbers of people using off-street spaces.

The previous Conservative administration - voted out in May - planned to roll out a highly contentious zoning scheme, similar to the Belgian city of Ghent.

Under the proposals, motorists would have been hit with fines for making direct trips across five areas, all closely monitored by ANPR cameras.

But the new Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition has junked the idea in favour of a “bus-first strategy”.

Council leader Alan Baldock (Lab)
Council leader Alan Baldock (Lab)

Cllr Pat Edwards (Lab) made the revelation to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) last week, but remained tight-lipped over finer details of how it would achieve the goal.

As part of the scheme, the authority is expected to re-open a mothballed Park and Ride service in Sturry Road, based on the outskirts of the city.

At a meeting of the overview and scrutiny committee on Wednesday, councillors were set to debate the reopening of the site.

Formerly used by visitors to park outside the city proper and then get a bus to and fro, the service was suspended and the site was shut in April 2022.

Council officers are now recommending members back the reopening of the service - set to happen in April 2024 if the cabinet approves it.

However, recent figures show the park and ride service saw an overspend by an additional £315,000 against the planned budget for 2022/23, bringing total losses to £547,494.

City centre parking in Canterbury is returning to pre-Covid levels but remains lower despite incomes continuing to rise. Picture: Barry Goodwin
City centre parking in Canterbury is returning to pre-Covid levels but remains lower despite incomes continuing to rise. Picture: Barry Goodwin

Financial losses in 2019/20 were £308,000 - almost a quarter of a million lower than last year.

Usage last month was 56% of the pre-Covid total usage in February 2020.

Reopening the Sturry Road Park and Ride site is expected bring a one-off cost of £232,500 in this year’s financial year.

Overall the service is expected to lose £256,000 in 2023/24 including costs for reopening Sturry Road - offset by income from city car parks.

Meanwhile, the money coming into council coffers from city centre car parks continues to rise.

A council spokesman says this was due to a combination of price rises and more cars using spaces.

Traffic zones for Canterbury city centre under the scrapped plan reversed by the Labour-Lib Dem coalition
Traffic zones for Canterbury city centre under the scrapped plan reversed by the Labour-Lib Dem coalition

Last year, the council made £5.6 million from off-street parking, compared to £3.7 million in the year before Covid.

However, the council confirmed that parking is yet to return to pre-Covid levels.

Opposition leader Cllr Rachel Carnac (Con), says the bid to reopen the Sturry Road site “is putting illogical manifesto promises ahead of delivering on corporate plan priorities like keeping the district clean”.

She added: “It will cost £230,000 to reopen earlier and we understand that will probably come from increasing parking charges across the district from next April.

“In a cost-of-living crisis that will be a hard pill for people to slow to subsidise around only 90 cars a day using Sturry Road.”

Cllr Carnac also slated the plans to reopen the Sturry Road Park and Ride as a “vanity project,” saying the move “doesn’t show any ambition or creative thought about how to sort out congestion problems in the district.”

City council opposition leader Rachel Carnac (Con)
City council opposition leader Rachel Carnac (Con)

Meanwhile, the new council is set to draft a fresh plan for housing locations, transport, infrastructure and open spaces over the next six months.

It hopes to unveil its vision to residents in February 2024.

The council has recently been searching for experts to help plan the bus strategy for the city.

A tender notice for a contract worth £50,000 was published at the start of July, which is now over, calling for consultants for the "provision of a district bus strategy".

Under the scrapped zoning plan, motorists would only be banned from making direct trips across the city between any of the five zones - and would instead have to drive onto the Eastern Bypass - essentially a larger outer ring road.

Featuring in the previous administration’s local plan and based on a system used in the Belgian city of Ghent, the zones would have been enforced with ANPR cameras detecting drivers and issuing fines for violations.

Attracting the ire of opposition parties and residents in the public consultations, scrapping the plan featured heavily in the local election campaign.

Prior to the election, previous Labour group leader Dave Wilson called the plan “draconian” in a council meeting.

The new administration has now formed its new Local Plan Working Group - which will meet monthly to work on rejigging the vision for the city.

Chaired by Cllr Pat Edwards (Lab), the committee is politically balanced to reflect the council, consisting of four Labour, two Liberal Democrats, two Conservatives and one Green.

In a press release, council leader Alan Baldock (Lab) tells of how they are still analysing “responses from more than 2,000 individuals and organisations,” to the previous Local Plan.

In that feedback, they say, recurring themes are concern over numbers of houses to be built, a rejection of the zoning plan, and a desire to protect open spaces.

Cllr Edwards said it is early days for the working group, but that on transport they plan to pursue a “bus-first strategy”.

The council cannot currently demonstrate a five-year supply of housing and land for housing - which means it has to look more favourably on developments which would usually be turned down.

Housing target are set by national government, and the council’s local plan decides where they will go and with what infrastructure.

As it stands, the district has to have 1,146 homes built per year to stay on target.

The Local Plan Working Group will start hashing out more detail starting from their meeting on Monday July 31.

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