Published: 13:02, 04 September 2021
| Updated: 16:29, 04 September 2021
Hundreds of people gathered at a popular green space described as a "lifeline" in lockdown to protest plans to build a new road through it.
Residents turned out in large numbers at Dukes Meadow, near Canterbury this morning to voice their concerns over the Western Bypass proposals.
Hundreds gathered at Dukes Meadow to voice their concerns
The scheme is the preferred option for Canterbury City Council's (CCC) draft local plan to help support the building of thousands of new homes.
But residents are worried the new route, which would run between Harbledown and Whitstable Road, will destroy vital green spaces such as the meadows which were described as providing a "lifeline to many through lockdown".
A petition, "No Western Bypass Through Our Valley", was set up online to object to the proposals and has attracted more than 1,000 signatures to date.
Today more than 300 residents and their dogs met for an event to voice their concerns.
The Kent Outdoors Explorers was also due to hold a protest walk from Canterbury to Whitstable, starting at Dukes Meadow.
Labour city councillor Mel Dawkins helped organise today's protest. She said: "Whatever happens next in the local plan, we need to protect our meadows and green spaces.
"This is what it was about today to show the strong feeling of people and residents who care for this green space. And to object to the proposals in the preferred option to build excess of 9,000 houses to build these bypasses in the first place.
"More needs to be done to protect our biodiversity and to find alternative more environmentally friendly ways of getting around.
"The climate emergency is here and we really need to take stock and make the bold moves to combat it.
"More consideration needs to be shown about the environment impact assessment of the preferred option and the excess of houses in Canterbury.
"At the moment the evidence is quite thin.
"We have our collective voice and this is why we gathered on the meadows today."
In a video taken from the event, Kent County Councillor for Canterbury City North Alister Brady (Lab) called for people to mobilise against the plans.
"People came from every single direction. So that demonstrates how central and important that is to us," he said.
"We use it for walking our dog for exercising and just taking that time to spend time here which is incredibly important for our mental wellbeing which we have noticed throughout the pandemic is incredibly important."
Cllr Brady added: "But a few people in the council don't think that's important enough for us.
"A few people think they can decide how we live our lives and where we spend our time.
"They produced a local plan that is unrealistic and is incredibly unpopular. We can't let that happen."
Steph Jarrett, who launched the online petition, said she was "really grateful that other people care about this", adding that "the numbers showed this today".
Cllr Alex Ricketts (Lib Dem), CCC member for Blean, added: "The preferred option in the local plan is preferred by nobody outside of the few who devised it. It risks grossly over developing the area, threatening our heritage, environment and quality of life.”
William Rowlandson, a resident who spoke at the gathering, added: "The road would destroy this valuable landscape, adding pollution, noise and light and to a green gap of rich biodiversity.
"There are no benefits of this road. The rough sketches presented by CCC on the Local Plan consultation appear to show the road slicing through the woodland and the farm and Kent College, dumping traffic on an already busy road by a nasty junction."
Others have suggested upgrading the existing roads rather than building new ones.
But council bosses believe two new bypasses either side of the city could "liberate" Canterbury from its continual traffic woes.
Planners hope 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.
Speaking last month, Ben Fitter-Harding, the council leader behind the proposal, said: "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."
The council says there will also be ample opportunity for the public to have their say before any "firm proposals are brought forward".
Canterbury City council spokesman Leo Whitlock said: “We recently consulted on a wide range of options that could be included in the district’s local plan and we are in the process of analysing all of the views of those that took part.
“There is a long way to go before any firm proposals are brought forward for consideration or discussion and there will be many more opportunities for the public to have its say.”