Published: 10:00, 05 August 2021
| Updated: 15:53, 05 August 2021
Council bosses believe two new bypasses either side of the city could "liberate" Canterbury from its continual traffic woes.
Relief roads to the west and east - for which rough routes have now been revealed - are among the bold plans being considered by the authority as part of a dramatic reconfiguration of the district's road system.
It hopes the new roads - one envisaged to go from Sturry to Bridge, and the other from Harbledown to Whitstable Road - will reduce congestion on the snarled-up ring-road.
Ben Fitter-Harding, the council leader behind the aspirations, can even foresee the eventual winding down of the ring-road - hoping one day it can become a space for city car parks rather than being one of east Kent's most used routes.
In order to fund the bypasses, which would likely cost hundreds of millions, the council is preparing to allocate a further 14,000 to 17,000 homes to be built across the district by 2040.
The huge target dwarfs the government’s minimum requirement of 9,000, and is in addition to the 16,000 already earmarked for construction by 2031.
Almost 200 potential sites for where the homes could go have been put forward by developers and are now in the process of being considered by planning chiefs.
As the council studies the best locations for further housing, it is also analysing how best to coordinate its bold transport shake-up.
The authority is favouring its double bypass vision and has earmarked the scheme as its preferred option in the redrawing of the Local Plan.
But other options being considered include the introduction of a city congestion charge, which could reach a high of £100 a day for HGVs and buses, or £9 for taxis. Private cars would remain free.
Proposals for a new 750-space park and ride in Harbledown have also been mooted, along with a potential site in Whitstable.
Installing traffic lights at the ring-road's three main roundabouts - Wincheap, Riding Gate and St George’s - is another option which has been surveyed, and so too has the idea of 'blockers', preventing access to minor roads used for shortcuts.
Building a four-mile eastern bypass and a much shorter western bypass, however, is the council's preferred option.
Maps showing which areas of countryside will be ripped up to make way for the new roads have been drawn up, yet Cllr Fitter-Harding says they are by no means final.
The sketched routes remain vague, but the publication of the plans on the council website has ignited anger from opponents who have already kick-started a petition calling for the western relief road proposal to be scrapped.
It has gained more than 1,100 signatures from those wanting to protect the popular Dukes Meadow near Harbledown from being included in the plans.
Cllr Fitter-Harding said: "We're simply not at the point yet where we're saying 'a road is going to go through this specific place'," he said.
"These are options we are considering.
"A lot of the time it can feel like any form of development is bad. We're almost conditioned to think that, but if we want the district to thrive we can't sit still.
"If we upgraded existing roads, that's going to be putting more traffic on roads already going past people's front doors and they are already congested. It will add capacity to roads which aren't necessarily in the right place.
"If we want to liberate the city of Canterbury from congestion and air quality problems, we need to relocate the traffic and relocate it to roads which are suitable.
"Cars which want to get from one side of the city to the other have to go and follow one of the bypasses. If you just need to get across town, you shouldn't be entering town - you should be going around it.
"This option relies on stopping traffic from crossing the city, and instead pushing it back out to outer infrastructure.
"We're not building more roads to put more traffic out there, we're trying to reduce traffic."
A 180-page assessment by transport planning specialists Jacobs analyses potential changes the council could follow to combat congestion, but concludes there "is no single stand out option that could be recommended for solving the existing local and strategic issues in the network".
The Canterbury Climate Action Group therefore argues the council has a lack of strong evidence for it to pursue the double bypass project.
Members say the work will cause "tremendous damage" to the environment and state that the Jacobs forecast report "makes very clear that efforts to ease city centre congestion will simply lead to congestion in other areas, especially on new roads if built".
The eastern and western bypass proposals are entirely separate to the Sturry relief road plans, which are set to be decided on this month following their shock rejection by Kent County Council earlier this year.
Maps show a rough route off the A2050 which runs parallel to the existing Rough Common Road, through Dukes Meadow and seemingly through the grounds of Kent College, before coming out on Whitstable Road, opposite Giles Lane, by the university campus.
Though there may not be heavy congestion in the Rough Common area in peak hours currently, Cllr Fitter-Harding says he is planning for the future.
"If Rheims Way becomes solely for public transport, we're going to need more capacity elsewhere," he said.
"People in Rough Common won't want all that traffic going on the current road and then congestion building at the bottom of the hill."
But Lib Dem councillor for Blean Forest, Alex Ricketts, questions why the existing road cannot just be improved.
"Rough Common Road is in dire need of measures to reduce speeding and congestion, but this simply is not it," he said.
"Building another road will increase traffic - we have seen this time and again. The plan contains no serious commitment to alternative transport routes to discourage local car journeys.
"Instead, we lose a vital area of open space, used by many to walk and cycle to the city centre, in favour of an A-road with a 40mph speed limit."
The proposals have already caused much contention among those residing in the western side of Canterbury, with the petition gaining strong support.
The proposed route – which has been suggested for the last three years – would stretch from the A28 at Sturry, across to the A257 and then on to a new junction at the A2 at Bridge.
Taking in fields and woodland outside Fordwich, potentially through Canterbury Golf Club and on land between Bekesbourne and the eastern fringes of the city, the long route would be taken by drivers heading from Ashford to Thanet.
Cllr Fitter-Harding said: "Looking at the way Ghent in Belgium operates, you have to exit the centre if you want to get around the other side.
"An estimate for the cost of the eastern bypass would be about £100 million."
Analysts predict the two bypasses will decrease the number of vehicles on the ring-road by up to 900 in the morning rush hour.
Canterbury's main road, which also acts as a key route in east Kent, was said to already be at "breaking point" in 2019.
Analysts predict a 16% rise in the the number of vehicles using the road network within the next decade, and with the council's plan to add a further 17,000 homes, it says the road will not be able to cope with the extra demand if it remains as it is.
The bypasses are therefore deemed integral to take traffic away from the city centre, but looking further ahead in the future, Cllr Fitter-Harding can see drastic changes to how the ring-road works.
"The benefits of the bypasses would be increased pedestrianisation, much better accessibility and potentially not even needing the park and rides in the future," he said.
"I see a future where all the car parks are located on what is currently the ring-road. You get to that point and you don't drive in any further. You park up and you either walk or you scooter or bus, or hopper bus, your way into the city as there wouldn't be any traffic.
"It'd be easy to hop on and off something because there'd be no other cars orbiting that part of the city anymore.
"We can control it with ANPR cameras and emission zones and everything else.
"The idea overall is not to make the city less accessible, it's quite the opposite. But in order to do that you need new infrastructure."