The unintended consequences of planning decisions bedevil the Canterbury district. Often – but not always – taken with good intentions in mind, the knock-on effects of policies are seen in a ripple effect around all sorts of development.
One example is the restriction on car parking for new commercial buildings. Like many local authorities, Canterbury’s council is trying to reduce car-based commuting, and like many it has resorted to decisively reducing the number of permitted parking spaces when sites are developed, or re-developed.
For example, in the ward I live in, Barton, the success and growth of Canterbury Christ Church University has led to significant and continuing new building on its North Holmes Road campus.
But that has resulted in fewer, rather than more, parking spaces being allocated. The result – the unintended consequence – has been that staff and students alike have been pushed to park in adjacent residential areas, specifically on the Querns and Spring Lane estates, within walking distance of the campus but, importantly, outside the bounds of any parking restrictions.
The result of that has been that residents find they cannot park their own cars near their own houses, and often have to contend with badly parked vehicles obstructing driveways, blocking street access for emergency vehicles, and excess traffic in what are supposed to be quiet streets.
Now you might think that such a sequence of events is not entirely unforeseeable. But, as I’ve noted previously, the council doesn’t have a great track record in working through the impacts of its decisions, whether on late-night licensing, student housing, or parking and transport in general. Nor indeed in making judgement calls, as the failing investment in Whitefriars shows.
There are perhaps two root problems which cause this myopia. Firstly, the failure to support an admirable aim – traffic reduction – with more than one policy action.
For example, cutting car park spaces doesn’t reduce the demand for parking, it just reduces the supply of spaces. What is needed is a balancing policy which reduces demand at the same rate as supply is cut, for example by providing more park and ride sites, or more buses, or more safe cycle routes and secure bike storage.
Of course, none of those happened in the case of Christ Church, in part because the local authority doesn’t have the ability to control all those solutions, but also because the Tories still cling on to the discredited idea that somehow it’s the job of some illusory magic market force to resolve these problems. It isn’t, of course: the responsibility is theirs, especially as it is their policy which caused the problems in the first place.
The second root cause is not talking to the affected stakeholders. Do you imagine for a moment that any effective attempt was made to consult with residents of the affected estates when putting the parking restrictions in place? Did CCC even recognise that the estate residents ought to have been consulted? Almost certainly not.
Which brings us to a common problem, probably best exemplified by the Station Road West car park, which is that this council doesn’t listen. It especially doesn’t listen to residents who live in the more deprived areas of the city who don’t have residents associations to represent them, like Sturry Road, Thanington, Querns and Spring Lane. There, people are additionally less likely to vote and nervous about engaging with the authorities if they can possibly avoid it. Despite that, it is not good enough for the council to ignore the effect of its decisions on people who it is nonetheless meant to serve.
With new plans released this week for expansion of the Wincheap park and ride site, yet another potential expensive mistake is in prospect. This development will encroach on the river floodplain, be the wrong side of the A2 for traffic from the south (which will still have to cross the Thanington junction to get to it), will occupy space which could be used to build a safer and more effective off-ramp from the A2 to Wincheap, and yet manages to do nothing to address the need for a park and ride to the west of the city. Doubtless residents will try to explain all this (and more) to the council. Which on past evidence will make every gesture towards showing it is hearing what is said, but do nothing to show it has actually listened.
At this stage, it is past the time for the council to look itself in the eye and reconsider whether its approach to community engagement is even half fit for purpose. Because if it can’t begin to better understand the views of residents and weigh the impact of its decisions, it will be doomed to continue the appalling quality of decision-making of the past few years.
Dave Wilson is a Labour Party member and community activist who has worked in and around local authorities for 35 years. He is a trustee of Kent Savers Credit Union.