Housing developers will “feast on the profits” if a Kent council pursues its controversial vision to build 8,000 extra homes to fund two city bypasses.
Opposition leaders and local action groups are urging Canterbury City Council to reconsider its options for the district and not “embark on another great mistake” by piling thousands more homes into its Local Plan.
Council leader Ben Fitter-Harding believes the relief roads - one stretching from Sturry to Bridge and the other from Harbledown to Whitstable Road - are essential to reduce congestion on the city's snarled-up ring-road.
But a host of critics have hit out at the plan and questioned the logic behind building more homes to address a traffic problem.
The government recommends 9,000 homes be built across the district between 2031 and 2040, but the council’s preferred option would increase this to 17,000.
Labour group leader Cllr Dave Wilson says residents are to be “sacrificed in the pursuit of ever more housing”.
“There cannot be a starker choice put before the residents of Canterbury: to pay for bypasses, you have to accept 8,000 more homes being built than the council is obliged to plan for,” he said.
“If you won’t accept those extra homes, you don’t get the bypasses.
“This ignores whether anyone actually wants the bypasses, which we think is not proven. It ignores the damage building those roads will inflict on the environment. It ignores any meaningful investment in travel infrastructure which might better remove car journeys from our roads.
"It totally ignores the pressing need to build genuinely affordable housing for young families who can’t afford the inflated cost of rents and houses to buy.
“The proposals are nothing more than a green light to national property developers to come and feast on the profits to be made in Canterbury.”
Concern has also been raised by city groups such as the Canterbury Society and the Oaten Hill and South Canterbury Association, with many questioning why there has been little consideration of the impact on traffic numbers as more people working from home.
The 17,000 new homes that could be allocated between 2031 and 2040 are in addition to 16,000 already earmarked by 2031 - some of them already built.
Long-standing Lib Dem councillor Nick Eden-Green fears the housing plans will result in “everyday congestion being worse than the Saturday before Christmas”.
He believes the better option would be to “bite the bullet” and work with east Kent authorities to build a new town or garden city rather than have numerous extra developments dotted around the district.
“It looks as if Ben Fitter-Harding and the council are about to embark on another great mistake,” he said.
“You cannot build yourself out of a traffic problem. Building 17,000 more houses to fund bypasses when the new houses will create yet more traffic just makes a bad problem worse.
“If we need a bypass – and that’s a big if – then we need to deal with the problem of the A28 running through the city.
“Cllr Fitter-Harding’s vision is actually a nightmare.”
Traffic analysts have studied how the Belgium city of Ghent has directed motorists away from its centre through the use of bypasses, but Cllr Eden-Green has questioned the decision to take inspiration from the European city.
“Comparing Canterbury with Ghent is just plain daft,” he said. “It has a population some six times greater than Canterbury. If you want to make comparisons try Hereford, Salisbury or Perth.”
As it stands, the bypass plans and 8,000 extra homes are just options which the council is considering pursuing, with final decisions being made at a later date.
"If we need a bypass – and that’s a big if – then we need to deal with the problem of the A28 running through the city..."
The locations of the proposed relief roads are also a source of contention, with objectors criticisng the planned ripping up of the countryside.
For the western bypass, maps show a rough route off the A2050 which runs parallel to the existing Rough Common Road, through Dukes Meadow and seemingly through the grounds of Kent College, before coming out on Whitstable Road.
Meanwhile, the four-mile eastern bypass would stretch from the A28 at Sturry, across to the A257 and then on to a new junction at the A2 at Bridge.
Chairman of the Alliance of Canterbury Residents’ Association, Stefan Colley, said: “We believe that a strategy based on an over-expansion of concrete and tarmac is intellectually outdated, highly damaging to the environment, disappointingly unimaginative, and financially risky to the point of folly.”
The Oaten Hill and South Canterbury Association says it “fundamentally disagrees” with the council’s preferred stance for the district’s transport future.
It stresses that the “proposals are made without sufficient evidence and are incorrectly or unfairly justified”, while Labour says the traffic surveys used to help the council come to its decision are out of date.
Like Cllr Eden-Green, the Canterbury Society has a strong preference for creating an all-new free-standing development.
Group chairman Prof Richard Scase said: “Such a free-standing settlement could be located away from the city but connected to it with rapid light transport, rail and bus services.”
Speaking earlier this month, when discussing the double bypass vision in detail, Cllr Fitter-Harding, said: “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.
“A lot of the time it can feel like any form of development is bad. But if we want the district to thrive we can’t sit still.”