Published: 17:00, 20 June 2019
Environmentalists believe they are being “tricked” into accepting a controversial park and ride expansion following the unveiling of council plans to create a nature reserve on nearby land.
Canterbury City Council wants to increase capacity at its bus service in Wincheap but the proposal has been criticised for its proximity to Hambrook Marshes.
In response, the council has now earmarked an 11.5-acre area of unused floodplain next to the River Stour for an open space for walkers and nature lovers.
Officers say the stretch of greenspace behind the Serco depot in Cotton Road can be transformed into a “major asset enjoyed by residents and visitors”.
But those opposing the park and ride proposals believe it is an attempt to convince them to accept the expansion plans.
The council, which is redrafting its park and ride scheme, has received criticism from Network Rail, the Environment Agency, Canterbury Society and the Love Hambrook Marshes Trust, which fears the development will wipe out a section of riverbank and threaten treasured habitats.
Environmental campaigner Sian Pettman says the nature reserve proposals are way of trying to appease the critics.
“I view this with real deep suspicion,” she said.
“We should take a step back - it needs to be viewed in a much more holistic sense
“I think most of the land in question is already functional floodplain - it’s already a great area.
“One of its beauties is that it doesn’t have access for humans whereas Hambrook Marshes on the other side of the river does.
“This could potentially create more damage. We need to be very careful about this - the proposal needs very serious consideration and shouldn’t be rushed into.”
Labour leader Cllr Alan Baldock shares Mrs Pettman’s concerns.
He said: “This land has been there for a very long time. If we were really serious about safeguarding it we would have done so 50 years ago.
“We’re being tricked again into another piece of political manoeuvring as we have a park and ride extension plan which is stumbling.
“I really am quite annoyed about this tactic.”
The council says the creation of a reserve would bring an abundance of benefits.
A report presented to councillors at the Canterbury Forum last week reads: “The creation of a large local nature reserve in this location would have huge environmental and ecological benefits providing sustainable improvements for wildlife, recreation, quality of life, health and wellbeing and would be a major asset enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.
“It would also demonstrate the council’s commitment to conserving this stretch of riverside land which acts as an important green link in a network of green spaces which include Westgate Parks and Hambrook Marshes.”