The prospect of reinstating the contentious Westgate Towers traffic trial in Canterbury has attracted significant support, according to transport bosses responsible for deciding the area’s future.
As many as 11 out of 17 “stakeholder” groups have championed a return to the trial layout, which involved closing the historic towers to traffic.
The figure was revealed today by KCC’s head of transportation, Tim Read, as a public consultation about how to “regenerate” the city centre and solve its traffic problems was launched.
Residents are being invited to comment on five road layout options for St Dunstan’s, which were drawn up by a steering committee comprising city and county council highways chiefs.
One of the proposals is to bring back measures introduced as part of the 12-month experiment, which will be considered alongside three similar options. A fifth option is to leave the layout as it is.
Mr Read said support for a return to the trial was already emerging, despite a KentOnline poll that found 91% of people wanted to retain the current scheme.
He said: “The trial was stopped before because of the public, but not everyone thought it was a bad idea. A lot of people wrote to us and said they approved of it.
“11 out of the 17 key stakeholder groups we asked said they were in favour of bringing it back.
“The clear consensus we have found so far is how much people favour the towers themselves. People clearly want to protect them.”
KCC member for transport and the environment, Cllr David Brazier, admitted the trial had attracted a great deal of “adverse comment” in the past, prompting county council leader Paul Carter to end it in April – despite the wishes of the city council.
He said: “The leader agreed that we would come back and consult with the people of Canterbury to find their favoured solution for the difficulties with city centre traffic.
“We will be asking the people of Canterbury what they think about five options we have produced from a shortlist of many more possibilities, and which features of the previous scheme they would like to retain.
“We will look at what the public says and try to arrive at a consensus. That consensus will inform the decision that we as an authority will make.”
Controversially, the steering committee that formulated the five options involved bosses from a select few pro-trial businesses including Stagecoach, which supported the scheme because it allowed buses to drive around the towers.
Meanwhile, campaign groups such as Get Canterbury Moving and the Canterbury Independent Traders’ Alliance (CITA) were excluded from having any input in the secret meetings.
Instead, they were classed as “key stakeholders” - along with groups including residents associations and parish councils – and subsequently asked for their opinions once the shortlist of options had been decided.
Cllr Brazier said: “I believe the members of the steering group are representative of residents’ and traders’ interests, and I am confident that common sense and the correct democratic principles have been followed.
“The smaller the number of people involved, the more efficiently this can be conducted. The more people there are involved, the less likely we are to make a decision.”
The public consultation will run until Monday, December 9, and will include an exhibition of the plans at The Beaney from October 14 to November 11.
KCC officers will be on hand to explain the proposals from 9am to 8pm on October 24, 10am to 2pm on November 2 and 9am to 8pm on November 7.
Cllr Brazier said a public meeting to allow the community to share their views about the options would be “pointless”.
The Kentish Gazette disagrees, and is organising one of its own to take place at Canterbury High School in Knight Avenue from 7pm to 9.30pm on Tuesday, September 24.
People can respond to the consultation by filling in an online form at kent.gov.uk/stdunstans, posting their questionnaire in the comments box at Canterbury Library or sending it to the freepost address, Kent County Council, Highways and Transport, 1 Floor, Invicta House, County Hall, Maidstone ME14 1BR.