The Roman Museum is in Butchery Lane

The Conservatives are failing to conserve…oh, the irony

If painting yourself into a corner was an Olympic sport, Canterbury City Council would be a contender for a gold medal.

Years of arbitrary disconnected planning decisions have put the current council in something of an awkward spot, illustrated best by the much-derided new car park at the West station.

As a demonstration of what a lack of foresight combined with having to live with the previous mistakes of others can do, it is almost unbeatable.

A monument not just to the lack of vision of the councillors of 2018, but to short-termism and a refusal to listen to others.

All organisations have to live with the legacy of previous management’s decisions, of course. So it might seem unfair to blame the current councillors for the constraints which result from, say, failing to complete the ring road in the 60s.

Dave Wilson

Equally, it’s not their fault that there are already hideous buildings on Station Road West, something which is being used to justify the erection of a sad wood clad box: it’s already charmless, so adding this won’t make it worse. Which, it seems, is the limit of the civic imagination these days.

If you look around Canterbury – more so than Whitstable and Herne Bay, which have largely been neglected rather than wrecked – you can see dozens of examples of poor planning.

This includes not just hideous buildings in inappropriate settings, but very often developments with inadequate access like the Sainsbury’s on the corner of St Dunstan’s and Station Road West, or the Premier Inn on New Dover Road.

Delivery vehicles in these places routinely impede the flow of traffic and force pedestrians off the pavement.

The paving of which, as a result of the lorries’ weight, is also broken up, creating trip hazards and a need for costly repair.

The High Street, too, is covered with delivery vehicles throughout the morning, because no one ever took the opportunity to think about how to get goods to the shops without parking right in front of them.

And our city centre is a mess of advertising boards, discordant shop signs, intrusive new buildings and poor adaptations of old ones.

Canterbury could learn a thing or two from Dubrovnik, says Dave Wilson

It doesn’t have to be like this. I visited Dubrovnik a couple of weeks ago.

That’s a city whose old town was shelled for more than seven months during the Croatian war of independence in 1991.

It has been restored carefully to retain its unique and unified architecture.

But more relevantly, shop fronts and signage are unobtrusive, in a common style, and sensitive to the surroundings.

There is no traffic within the city walls, not even mopeds. Salamanca in Spain is similar, although less war-battered.

Both are major tourist destinations thronged with visitors – including those much sought after high-spending older people.

Of course, there are differences between these places and Canterbury, but the principle in both has not been to allow business and commerce unfettered rights over development, but to commit civic funds and resources to restore and maintain their unique architectural heritage. That has worked to their significant benefit.

We can’t blame the current crop of councillors for that not having been done in Canterbury when the opportunity existed.

But they are responsible for what happens next, and that, on current plans, is going to be entirely commerce led, a triumph of developers’ convenience over the benefit of local people, simply to allow easier profit making.

This is in line with Conservatives core beliefs and policy: let business have free reign, don’t introduce rules, and everything will be hunky dory.

In Canterbury we can see the fruits of that: cheap and ugly buildings, trucks blocking the streets, and a discordant and unsightly High Street.

Even the small side streets like Mercery Lane and Butchery Lane, which ought to be an integral part of the wonderful old city, are just made tawdry by an outbreak of signage and branded shop fronts which destroy the sense of history which makes the city so important.

On top of this, as has been well rehearsed by many people, housing and transport planning has been a shambles for years.

Not only does the council fail to provide enough housing for our expanding population, but it has got itself into the position of permitting the wrong sort of houses to be built in the wrong places, with no regard for the impact on our green spaces or on traffic.

It has also, as you may have noticed, done nothing to ensure an adequate supply of homes which people can actually afford to rent or buy.

All this is the direct result of a failure by our council and government to intervene to keep the private sector in check. It’s not necessary to be hands off in order for businesses to make a profit.

They just have to be good citizens of the places they inhabit, exactly like the rest of us. Councils need to be responsible and take the long view for the benefit of their electors, not for corporate gain.

They are in a unique position of power, entrusted with keeping our towns and city habitable, attractive and prosperous.

To fail to provide leadership or direction, to ensure there is a long term plan, is an abdication of their key role and a clear sign of what happens when political dogma overcomes practicality.

That the Conservatives fail to conserve is ironic. But that failure is also a threat to the livability and economic success of our city and district.

And that is unforgivable.

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