Published: 14:30, 04 May 2022
| Updated: 14:31, 04 May 2022
One of the key junction improvements in KCC's Integrated Transport Strategy for Maidstone that has been in preparation since 2015 came within a hair's breadth of being refused after the county's highways officers refused to attend a Maidstone council planning meeting.
KCC wants to widen the eastbound carriageway in Ashford Road ahead of its junction with Willington Street to speed up traffic passing through the traffic lights.
To do so, it is necessary to move the ragstone wall surrounding Mote Park by a few metres. The wall was built in 1790 and is a listed structure.
Maidstone councillors first considered the county's listed building consent application back in December last year, but they could not understand what benefits it would bring, not why the wall had to be moved. They deferred a decision until the county's highways officers were present to explain.
When the matter was looked at again at a second meeting, there were still no highway officers present.
Instead KCC sent a note to say: “The current position is that KCC Highways officers only attend planning committee meetings when there are large, strategically significant items on the agenda.
"This listed building application does not therefore warrant our attendance."
Their response infuriated the planning committee members.
Cllr John Perry (Con) said: "The arrogance of KCC is unbelievable! They are treating us with contempt.
"KCC hasn't got the guts to come here and explain their position."
The county did however send some extra figures to justify their proposals.
Traffic modelling suggested that with the junction improvement traffic as measured at the AM and PM peak periods on the east and west side of the junction and on Willington Street would "exceed capacity" in four out of six counts.
However, even with the roadworks, the junction would remain over capacity on one arm, and the improvements on the others were a matter of small percentages with one arm actually getting worse.
Councillors were unconvinced.
Cllr Ashleigh Kimmance (Lib Dem) said: "This will make no difference whatsoever."
Cllr Valerie Springett (Con) described it as "a pointless exercise."
Cllr Wendy Young (Con) agreed. She said: "It seems absolutely pointless."
Cllr Ziggy Trzebinksi (Con ) said: "It's like putting a sticking plaster on a severed hand and hoping it wont bleed."
Cllr Tony Harwood (Lib Dem) believed that any small benefit was outdone by the harm that would be done to Mote Park.
He asked: "Are there any other authorities that would allow their most historic park to be eroded by such a pointless exercise?"
A motion to refuse planning consent - which if passed would have stopped KCC's plan in it tracks - was defeated by only two votes - and there had been two abstentions.
But after 65 minutes of debate, the committee did finally agree to approve the scheme on the advice of Cllr Springett, who said: "About five years ago I suggested to KCC that they forget all these junction tweaks and put the money into the a pot for the Relief Road which will solve our traffic problem much better than this."
She said: "But they are not going to give up, so until all these junctions improvements have been done, and have been proved to make very little difference, we are never going to get them to move forward and get the Relief Road considered."
Cllr Peter Holmes (Con) said afterwards: "Unfortunately there is for some reason a big disparity and disconnection between infrastructure (KCC) and planning (MBC).
"It highlights the problem of having a tow-tier system of government and those two not aligning."