Published: 00:01, 16 January 2019
| Updated: 07:17, 16 January 2019
The rejection of a last-minute bid to thwart plans for a £9.1 million multi-storey car park in Canterbury will be "the biggest mistake this council has ever made", say opponents.
Petitions calling for the controversial project to be scrapped or deferred had been signed by thousands and were presented to the Conservative-led authority at the latest full council meeting.
But the appeals of campaigners fell on deaf ears, with both motions heavily defeated in front of a public gallery packed with clean air campaigners.
In what was seemingly the project’s final stumbling block to overcome, the way has now been paved for the start of construction.
Council chief executive Colin Carmichael is now set to put pen to paper and sign off on a deal with building firm Willmott Dixon to deliver the 370-space car park next to Canterbury West station.
Dubbed “Canterbury’s version of Brexit” due to its huge divisiveness, the scheme has split opinion ever since the original proposal was announced.
Yet council leader Simon Cook believes the people of Canterbury will come to appreciate the new-build once complete.
Fears over increased pollution, the car park’s design, its overall need, and the lack of a lift have been among the big criticisms of the project.
The car park proposals next to Canterbury West station have proved unpopular
Speaking at the meeting, environmental campaigner Anna Peckham urged councillors to recognise the level of discontent and put an end to the plans.
“Those signing the petition include residents, business and shop owners, taxi drivers, pedestrians, parents, students, rail commuters and car drivers - a real cross section,” she said.
“It is clear the majority of people don’t want this car park.”
Before votes on the petitions were cast, Cllr Michael Dixey (Lib Dem) said: “This will be the biggest mistake this council has ever made, and one of the most controversial.”
He also took a swipe at there being no provision for lifts, branding the council’s advice for mums with pushchairs to use the car ramps instead as the “final insult”.
"This will be the biggest mistake this council has ever made, and one of the most controversial" - Cllr Michael Dixey
Despite also being labelled “muddle thinking”, the impending construction of the car park was not halted by council members.
Authority leader Cllr Cook, who at the meeting claimed fears over excessive pollution increases were “frankly ridiculous”, was pleased with the outcome of the meeting, but says he welcomed the debate.
“We weren’t trying to squash public opinion, we just happen to disagree,” he said.
“They’ve [criticisms of the project] been going round for quite some time and I don’t believe the petitions brought forward anything new.
“The formal details of the contract need to be nailed down, but we expect things to get moving as quick as possible.”
Cllr Cook believes the car park will go on to become an accepted part of Canterbury.
He added: “There will be some who will never be reconciled to the idea of a car park, so we have to accept that we’re not going to convince everybody.
“But there are a lot of people who remain open and who say it now needs to be built.
“I’ve no doubt that in two to three years people will think ‘why did we ever go against this, it was a good idea’.”
When asked if the multi-storey’s fate should be delayed until after the local elections in May, Cllr Cook said: “This is a project which first emerged three years ago.
"I've no doubt that in two to three years people will think 'why did we ever go against this, it was a good idea'" - Cllr Simon Cook
"It’s not suddenly arisen as it has been through all the rounds of consultation.
“In an ideal world, we would be halfway through construction by now. But due to unexpected issues [a sewer diversion] we’re not.
"That’s just one of those things unfortunately. There’s no reason now to delay it.
"If we defer it now, it means we need to start again months down the line.”
Once the deal has been signed off, construction is set to start some time next month.