County transport chiefs have come under fire after it emerged the council no longer expects developers to consider the impact on roads caused by more traffic.
KCC says its policy is to instead focus on encouraging housebuilders to consider alternative ‘active travel’ plans that would enable people to cycle, walk or take public transport rather than drive.
But the new approach has been derided by some county councillors, who say it will be impossible to deliver and let developers get away with doing little to limit cars being used.
A report outlining KCC’s approach to mitigating the impact of development states: “KCC Highways, where possible, are not now looking to amend the network to accommodate more cars.
“Instead, they are looking to see how people could travel more sustainably from new development sites and are asking developers to provide the infrastructure to make this happen.”
The report goes on to describe the policy as what is known as “vision and validate” or “decide and provide” as opposed to the former use of “predict and provide” which always looked at the worst-case future year scenario and tried to adjust the network to cope with it.
“The hope is that in the future it will be more inviting and easier to walk and cycle short trips than to use the private car and that public transport will be more accessible with reliable journey times,” the report continues.
The policy document makes clear the county council is limited in what it can do, saying planning inspectors are routinely approving appeals in favour of development.
“Congestion, journey time, reliability and extended queuing are not often being upheld as reasons to refuse development,” the document says.
“The only realistic chance of an appeal being upheld on highway grounds is if highway safety is directly compromised and this has to be robustly evidenced.”
Green county councillor Mark Hood says KCC is letting developers get away with doing very little to put in place alternative travel schemes.
“What does concern me is the developments that are coming forward that are not part of the local plan; the small speculative developments that are coming across districts,” he said.
“While I admire Cllr David Brazier [KCC cabinet member for roads] and his capacity for blue sky thinking, I am at a loss to see how this is going to be achievable, especially when you have such a mixed approach to ‘active travel’ and a fractured public transport system where there has just been cuts to 100 bus services across Kent.”
“My own borough does not have an active travel plan… This seems to be laissez faire to me.
“We all want to see living streets and 50 minute communities in order that we can have adequate mitigation for these developments; I do not see how, in the medium term, we are going to deliver this; I don't see we are going to pin down developers and say, ‘in the medium term, this amount of cars is going to be put on our roads’ - it is simply unsustainable.
“There is a huge problem here and we are letting developers off the hook; communities are going to choke with congestion.”
But Cllr Brazier, KCC cabinet member for roads, says the approach the council is taking is the right one.
“We are clear that one of our four main priorities is to provide infrastructure to ensure residents have access to a full range of viable and attractive travel options that allow them to make safe, efficient and more sustainable journeys throughout Kent.
“While a great deal of work has been done in recent years to enhance our road and pavement assets to encourage more active means of travel in accordance with government thinking – we recognise that we need to be realistic and to continue to make car journeys work better while working with partners to strengthen alternative travel options.”
Cllr Neil Baker, the Conservative chair of the all-party scrutiny committee for transport, says the outlook for authorities is bleak but without setting agreed policies on what KCC expected from developers, it could be worse.
“If district and boroughs want to go down an active travel route, or a more traditional route, none of that is going to be possible; the whole planning system is in such a place that a lot of what we want is going to have to be tempered.”
Another section of the report, which originally went to district and borough councils, is blunt about the extent KCC can intervene.
It says: “It is not the position of the Highway Authority to come up with better ideas, suggest alterations or to attempt to change the mindset of a developer who has presented a workable solution whether or not that solution is popular with local residents and businesses.
“Our response must be based on fact and cannot take account of assumptions or opinions of the local community.”