Published: 06:00, 13 October 2020
A highways boss has apologised for the lack of consultation with residents over Kent's 24 green travel schemes, including pop-up cycle lanes.
Simon Jones, who is Kent County Council's (KCC) director for highways and transport, said it was not the authority's intention to "alienate" communities after five road trials were scrapped amid safety concerns and disruption for retailers.
"If there are people who believed we did not consult sufficiently with them, please accept our apologies on that. It is something that we want to rectify going forward," Mr Jones said at a virtual meeting of KCC's cabinet yesterday.
This comes almost a week after Cllr Michael Payne (Con), who is County Hall's highways cabinet member, promised a tougher stance with the Government over future schemes ensuring that they will go ahead only with public consent.
The Department for Transport (Dft) has not decided whether KCC will receive an extra £6.4million for longer-term walking and cycling trials. A spokesman said: "We will not fund councils who cannot demonstrate that their schemes will be genuine improvements, and this remains the case."
KCC's leader Cllr Roger Gough (Con) sympathised with the highways team for having to work within "gruelling" time constraints to produce a list of walking and cycling schemes within six days for access to £1.6m of Whitehall cash.
He said: "This has been tough and we have situations where undoubtedly communities have felt something has been imposed on them.
"It is not how we wish to proceed nor how we will intend to proceed in future."
However, other members of Cllr Gough's cabinet raised anxieties about the pilot schemes and called for more "proactive" plans to be made to avoid a reoccurence of problems in schemes set up between July and September.
KCC's deputy leader, Cllr Peter Oakford (Con) said the trials should be well thought out and include engagement with councillors to avoid withdrawing schemes, which he said "looks worse in the eyes of the public".
Cllr Oakford said a factor which also needed to be considered was the impact on emergency services, citing issues on the A26 between Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells after plastic poles were inserted in lanes.
The Tunbridge Wells North councillor said: "This has stopped the ability of cars to pull over and let blue light vehicles pass on what is a major hospital route and I think this is something that needs to be considered in future schemes."
Cllr Oakford added: "Anything we are doing which is removing that ability for the traffic to move I think is a mistake and does need to be looked at."
His counterpart, Cllr Mike Hill (Con), of Tenterden, Ashford, called for "more proactive" schemes as he suggested combining new cycle lanes with the existing public footpath routes in the 13 districts.
He said: "Clearly the best way of getting safe travel by cycles is to get them off the highway."
In response, Mr Jones said the original purpose of the trials was to encourage more cycling and walking amid lockdown but says there has been a return to car travel as schools and offices reopened in August and September.
He said: "I think the trials have been very, very useful and very informative and will help shape our decisions in the future. We do understand the need for all modes of transport to move freely around the county."
"Anything we are doing which is removing that ability for the traffic to move I think is a mistake and does need to be looked at..."
Cross-party anxieties were expressed last week. KCC opposition leader Cllr Dara Farrell (Lab) said active travel should not come at the cost of "abject misery" for motorists. He said: "That won't encourage people to cycle."
A final decision on KCC's potential £6.4m grant share is expected by the end of 2020 amid the Government's £2billion active travel spending review.