Published: 06:00, 12 May 2021
| Updated: 14:54, 12 May 2021
A £1million makeover of a city centre is back on the table – but could spell the end for its market?
The city council wants to transform "tired and dated" St George's Street in Canterbury into a leafy boulevard, complete with new paving, lighting and seating.
A previous consultation on the plans stalled when the pandemic hit last year, but has now started again "totally from scratch" as the city slowly emerges from lockdown.
But the cost of the project has increased from £630,000 as the scheme now includes higher quality paving.
The cash-strapped council says, however, that funding remains in place as the work is considered of key importance to the city centre.
But it will also involve making a decision on the future of the market and whether all the stalls, or some, should remain, be relocated or scrapped altogether.
Another controversial element is likely to be the removal of five established trees, although the council says it plans to plant 14 new ones.
City councillor Barbara Flack, who leads on regeneration at the authority, says the facelift is much-needed as the appearance of St George's Street has gradually declined over the years.
"It has started to look tired and dated and most would agree the block paving has had its day and is a serious trip hazard from tree roots," she said.
"The pedestrianised section between Canterbury Lane and Rose Lane is one of the key shopping areas in the city centre and many will agree it is not the first impression we want visitors to have when they arrive in our gorgeous city.
"We are starting this consultation totally from scratch and want to hear from as many people as possible.
"Life has changed so much since March last year, a time when we had never even heard of social distancing and the like, so even if you had your say last time around please send in your contribution once again."
On the thorny question of the market's future, Cllr Flack says the options do include keeping it as it is.
But she adds: "Equally, this could be an opportunity to attract different kinds of street traders and create a fully-flexible space for events, attractions and a whole host of other activities."
Whatever decision is reached by councillors on the future of the market, it will not be able to operate for about six months while the improvement work is carried out.
The launch of the consultation has already raised alarm bells with members of the Canterbury Market Traders Association, whose chairman Steve Bamber fears it could signal the end of their presence in the city.
"We fully accept the street needs resurfacing and have always been prepared to be flexible and spread around a bit," he said.
"We've suffered enough with struggling to keep our businesses afloat during lockdown."
"All we are asking for is fair crack of the whip for the sake of our livelihoods.
"This consultation has gone out at short notice and finishes on the day lockdown ends, so we're not getting a fair chance to talk to our customers. It seems a bit sneaky to me and I fear it's a done deal to get rid of us after 20 years.
"We've suffered enough with struggling to keep our businesses afloat during lockdown.
"We had a lot of support previously but that's been swept under the carpet and we are now urging our customers to get behind us again and support us to keep the market."
For more information and to take part in the consultation, which closes on Monday, June 21, click here.
If the plans get the go-ahead, work is expected to start early next year.