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Plan for £250m transport revolution


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DRIVERS face a parking charge of up to £12 a day, shops and houses could be demolished, street parking banned outside homes, and one of Rochester's road bridges closed to other traffic, if Medway's proposed Rapid Transit System is built.

These are the startling conclusions from a team of transport consultants recommending the £250 million tramway should go ahead.

And they admit that the final price of the scheme could be nearly £100 million more.

The conclusions are contained in a 139 page confidential report to the council obtained by the Medway Today newspaper.

But councillors are lukewarm about the proposals. All the main parties have expressed concerns about the costs, and the Conservative Cabinet says the proposed system would not serve the whole community.

The member responsible for the project, Cllr Tom Mason, said: "We must provide some alternative to the car clogging our roads. But he said all parts of Medway - from Grain to Rainham - had to benefit.

But only two routes are proposed at the present.

Among other drastic actions that needed before the first passenger can board a tram in 2011 will be:

* forcing drivers to use the Northern Link to enter Gillingham rather than the A2,

* turning back gardens in Gillingham into car parks,

* closing Chatham and Rochester High Streets to all other traffic, and

* converting local bus services into feeder routes to the trams.

Medway Council's consultants - Mouchel Consulting Ltd - say a tramway is the most expensive option but would earn more than £1 million a year for a private operator.

The report - only made available to a handful of councillors and officers - also recommends:

* moving Rochester station near Blue Boar Lane

* charging to park at Hempstead Valley shopping centre, and

* using Chatham Historic Dockyard as a tram route.

The Cabinet agreed to spend up to £250,000 to carry out a comprehensive review of the Medway Towns' travel patterns, but are not ready to recommend to the council that the transit should proceed.

The tram idea failed to gain much support among members of Medway's Environment scrutiny committee. They insisted that other transport systems must be reconsidered.

Several favour introducing modern trolleybuses. They would have a need for an overhead electric supply, but could have separate diesel engines to use off the main routes.

They could also be bendibuses - articulated to manouevre around the Towns streets without the need to demolish buildings.

Steve Humphrey, deputy director of Medway's environment department, said if the trams could work successfully, any other transport system would. But trams had the biggest potential to attract customers.

Councillors, he admitted, had "some very difficult decisions" to make in the next 12 months.

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