Transport

We all rely on transport in so many facets of our lives but the country cannot continue to rely on traditional forms in light of climate change and the inability of infrastructure to cope with future demand.

Shepway has exposure to all of the national and international challenges (including, now, potential Brexit-related gridlock). These include congestion, road safety, poor quality and expensive public transport, poor air quality, noise pollution and a lack of vision around alternative means of transport.

Transport  should not be viewed in isolation. It is merely a facilitator, a way of moving people and goods from A to B. If a GP surgery, a waste recycling facility (as happened at Hawkinge), local shops and other services close, then this has a direct impact on transport.

Similarly, when we look at the 10,000 lorries on Kent’s roads every day, to what extent are the goods needed, can they not be kept off the roads until nearer their destination (two-thirds are destined for north of the Midlands), and why is there no proactive, government-led strategy to shift some of the freight to rail (there is the capacity, including on the dedicated HS1 line)?

Meanwhile, the social aspects of transport, in terms of the negative impact it has on our daily lives, are too often overlooked.

The Green Party is in favour of 20 mph speed limits in residential areas and many of Shepway’s roads would benefit from this (our councillor, Martin Whybrow, at the highways authority, Kent County Council, is a strong advocate and has managed to introduce a 20 mph limit for School Road in Saltwood as well as schemes to improve visibility at a number of local junctions, campaigning for safe crossings for the area’s schools, and supporting local Speed Watch groups, to empower residents to tackle speeding in their areas).

But there is a need to go further. Studies have shown that reduced speed limits certainly make for safer streets but they don’t, on their own, change the use of the streets. For this, there is a need for innovative measures to change traffic patterns, to allow cars and pedestrians to once more co-exist, to regain streets as part of the community, to remove their mono-use. There have been a number of fascinating schemes around the country and beyond that have shown that streets can once more become a focus for the community, a social hub for children to play, for neighbours to communicate, for people to come together. At present, as usual, none of the innovation is happening in Shepway.

There is also a lack of leadership when it comes to the infrastructure for electric vehicles and encouraging car share schemes.

In parallel, bus services are deteriorating, as effectively the one operator in East Kent, Stagecoach, cuts and amends routes at will. This is how things work in a commercial world, since buses were privatised in the mid-1980s. The county council has historically been able to prop up some routes with subsidies, where they are deemed “Socially Necessary” but cuts from central government mean the subsidies are shrinking and it is hard to envisage that any additional threatened routes will be saved. There is understandable anger from local residents, particularly elderly residents who have the greatest reliance on bus services but also those who use them to access education and work. While the county council has been running public consultations, it should have done much more, much earlier, to encourage competition and to look at alternative models of provision. Kent County Council remains far too car-centric.

Central government cuts also mean deteriorating roads and pavements, which of course impacts all users. It is debatable whether Kent County Council is still able to fulfil its statutory obligation to provide safe roads.

And when it comes to cycling, the lack of dedicated cycle lanes and other safe-cycling measures means many people are deterred. Other councils seek capital funding for dedicated cycling, walking and public transport schemes, particularly within the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) model, but Kent – which nominally has an “Active Travel Strategy” – remains almost wholly focused on the car, first and foremost – if a scheme has a bit of a cycle lane, then that tends to be as far as it goes.

Too often, we are left with dinosaur thinking – more traffic, horrendous projections for growth? No worries, let’s lay down more tarmac – new junctions, new lanes, a Lower Thames Crossing. Instead, it needs to be tackled at source, including investment at scale in providing cheap, frequent, safe and convenient alternatives; ensuring local services are retained, so that they can be accessed by people in their own neighbourhoods; and redressing the balance so that cars do not rule over all other road users.



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