The prospect of a new railway station for the city has raised its head again.
It’s bound to be controversial, primarily because the proposed location is immediately adjacent to Hambrook Marshes, which is both an important area for wildlife right next to the city centre and a floodplain which helps to prevent the Stour flooding the city centre.
So is it worth developing the option for an improvement to rail services from Canterbury?
Certainly our MP seems to think so, without prejudging the final balance of the decision. Because there definitely is a balance to be struck between some crucial potential benefits and some serious risks.
The most obvious upside is to create a passenger interchange between the East and West rail lines, which will help those on the current east line who want to travel anywhere via Ashford.
The new “Canterbury Parkway” station would also radically change passenger travel routes, moving car journeys out of the city centre with a particularly positive impact on the St Dunstan’s area.
It could have more car parking, if we believe that people will still own cars in the ten or twenty years’ time it will take to develop the station, and a properly designed bus interchange which could replace the existing city bus station.
Which, incidentally, calls into question yet again the wisdom of building a new Station Road West multi-storey car park – if it was to cost £35 million to develop the new Parkway station, which is roughly what seems to be suggested, shouldn’t the council hold its fire and perhaps use its borrowed £9 million to fund the car park there?
In terms of benefits, the city would get a modern gateway station for visitors, rather than the somewhat decrepit stations we now enjoy.
For the rail companies, much of the development funding would come from the release of the land around the existing stations for housing and commercial use, while the operating costs of a single new station are obviously going to be lower than two crumbling ones.
So far so good. But what about the ecological impact? The site sits right on the eastern edge of Hambrook Marsh, not far from Toddler’s (sic) Cove with the High School and playing fields to the north and the Stour to the south.
Crucially, though, the land between the railways and Toddler’s Cove is farmland, with only the allotments and parkland between the site and Rheims Way, meaning it would be possible to put the bulk of the station on land which is not part of the floodplain.
It also means – at least at first glance – that it might be relatively simple to secure both the site for the station and the road access without impacting at all on the marshes or the wildlife there. In comparison, the difficulties involved in building the proposed eastern by-pass from the A2 to the A28 are much more significant, yet that is being actively considered.
Of course some people will be disadvantaged, primarily on the existing farm and many of the holders of allotments in the southern section.
The latter we ought to be able to find a nearby alternative for. But compare those to the vast numbers of people, City residents and passengers alike, who would benefit and you can at least see the attraction of looking seriously at the idea.
There are other issues to be worked through of course. The land involved seems to be largely owned by the city council, and while no doubt there would be some compulsory acquisitions required to piece together this into a viable plot, that also means there is the potential for some money to be made, either through leasing to Network Rail or by sale to them.
Taken together, these issues seem to me to point to a sound basis for a feasibility study. Many things can be found at such an early stage which scupper any development, of course, but the rational action would appear to be in favour of getting some of the detailed preliminary work done so a decision can be made while there is still chance to halt the Station Road West car park, among other things. Or is forward thinking like that too much to ask of our council?
Apropos of which, I notice that one of our readers suggested in a recent below the line comment that “it is easy to criticise, but less easy … to put forward solutions”.
I hope that regular readers will have seen that while I am highly critical of many aspects of how things get done in this district, the purpose of pointing those issues out is a step towards resolution.
For what it’s worth, I believe that solutions need to be much more consensual and better developed than you can hope for from a weekly column. But there is too much blinkered thinking and denial going on not to make it important to point out the things that we’re getting wrong. I’ll continue to do that.
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.