As a conservative, I believe in freedom, spreading opportunity, and protecting the character of communities. That’s why I support expanding people’s transport options to reduce the amount of polluting traffic which clogs up the arteries of many congested cities and towns. In Canterbury, we’re putting that into action to tackle air pollution and congestion – with a plan that works for everyone, including motorists.
Canterbury is a historic and unique place, tracing its origins back as far back as the first century as a Roman settlement. As a walled city, it wasn’t built with cars in mind. Nor the volume of visitors – 7.8 million in 2019 – who will come each year. To meet the needs of residents and visitors, while preserving the city’s community and character, we cannot rely solely on cars to keep Canterbury moving.
Making shorter journeys possible by walking or cycling comes with a range of health and economic benefits. Active travel is not only good for people’s health but can help make city centres more attractive, boosting local businesses. Less traffic also means more space to breathe, improving air quality locally and public health. It also benefits motorists and people who need to drive by easing congestion and gridlock at busy times.
But for all the negative publicity for transport schemes which expand people’s transport choices and tackle air pollution, we do need to separate the good from the bad. Local authorities must be mindful that nobody is exclusively a pedestrian, a cyclist, a passenger or a driver. We all use various modes of transport to live our lives – and traffic and active travel schemes cannot be ‘anti-car’ but instead ‘pro-choice’, respecting that some will still need to drive.
That’s the conservative approach to traffic and air quality that we’re pursuing in Canterbury. So we are creating more walking routes, dedicated cycle lanes and improving bus services, but also expanding electric vehicle infrastructure and car-sharing initiatives. A combination which expands people’s transport choices, enabling cleaner and cheaper travel options but also paving the way for motorists too, with less congestion and more charging points.
Underpinning this is vitally important community consultation. Conservative councillors know better than most that we serve local residents, and as they know their area best, we listen to them to design schemes that work.
In Canterbury, we’re looking at how we can cut pollution and ease the gridlock around our inner ring road in our new Local Plan. We have started by funding projects like the eastern Canterbury segregated cycle path giving residents easy access to the city. But we need to do more to make residents feel walking and cycling are safe and bus travel is a plausible option.
Of course, as the population of the city and our district grows, we’ll have to scale up local infrastructure to meet new demand, which could exacerbate air pollution. But we are confident we can make sure that isn’t the case and keep Canterbury as a great place so more families settle here. For me, this means protecting the ‘fabric’ of what makes Canterbury. Whether that’s the buildings built by the Romans or the cobbled streets that help create our community’s spirit.
We are embedding our environmental responsibilities into the heart of our Local Plan. Alongside its net-zero energy efficiency standard for new homes, we are prioritising dedicated bus routes to take people into the city, safe and convenient active travel options, and widespread electric vehicle charging points. Without them, we lock residents into fossil-fuel car dependency and a life of traffic, pollution, and noise.
We are also proposing that over the next 20 years, we evolve our road network to one of having the city centre split into various traffic zones, with movement across zones restricted to those who live within the city walls, blue badge holders and sustainable transportation. This will reduce rat-running, enable modal shift and make for faster journeys into the city centre along uncongested road corridors, whether by car or bus.
We have worked hard to try and achieve residents’ buy-in because we’ve communicated with the community all along. It’s important that councillors don’t only involve residents and businesses once we are ready for a final consultation or, indeed the implementation process, but in the initial planning stages. Not only does this not give them the impression of imposing decisions, but it tells us what changes residents really want to see to make their local area a pleasant and sustainable place to live.
First published by ConservativeHome. Cllr Dan Watkins (Kent County Council's Deputy Cabinet Member for Highways and Transportation) is a member of the Conservative Environment Network.