A report of the meeting held on 07 October 2016 in the Assembly Rooms
The purpose of the meeting was to bring to the attention of our members the Kent County Council’s recently published Local Transport Plan LTP4 and to seek their views on transport problems in the Town as an aid to formulating the Society’s response to the Plan. It was organised by members of the Environment Committee and chaired by Hilary Whelan.
Around 50 people attended the meeting, including the organisers and committee members. All were invited to complete a questionnaire on their travel habits (the results have not yet been analysed). The meeting began with a video showing an interview recorded in 2013 with Arthur Percival, in which he described how the Society had previously campaigned against the KCC plan to build a ring road in the Town. There followed a break-out session in which attendees jotted down their concerns about transport in Faversham today on ‘post-it’ notes, and Brenda Chester read some of them out. Then Chris Wright gave a presentation summarising the contents of the current plan and its implications for the Town. The key points are set out in the Appendix to this report. There followed a lively discussion.
An analysis of the post-it notes revealed two stark conclusions. First, those who attended the meeting want to make life easier for the motorist. I divided the subject matter into a handful of main categories (road improvements, parking, cycling & walking, environment, planning, and ‘other’) and it was striking how the largest number of responses (about a quarter) fell into the category of road improvements. People were greatly exercised about Brenley Corner, the possibility of a new link to the M2, better parking facilities, and the conversion of busy streets into one-way working.
Second, our attendees were less concerned about environmental issues than I expected, in particular, how traffic growth might affect our medieval street frontage and the quality of the environment as a civilised place in which to walk about. Only one post-it note mentioned architectural heritage. It seems the Society will need to work hard to alert members to the dangers inherent in a Local Transport Plan that will do little to protect Faversham and towns like it for future generations.
In addition to the key points made during the presentation, the Appendix lists some suggestions that the Board might like to use as a starting point for the Society’s response to the KCC.
14 October 2016
Key points in Chris Wright’s presentation
- The Plan is strategic rather than local, with the emphasis on the main transport corridors between London and the Channel ports together with pinch points on other parts of the County road network. The main ‘local’ areas are the Thames Gateway and East Kent.
- But Faversham isn’t mentioned, and residents in all areas want to see how the growth will affect them.
- Like many other towns, Faversham is under pressure to provide more land for housing in the surrounding area. During the last few months, the total number of housing units with outline planning permission has escalated to about 1800. The consequences will be far-reaching.
- It is well known that peripheral housing development has a disproportionate effect on road traffic mileage. Residents in outlying areas must travel further to achieve their ends and are more likely to travel by car than those living near the centre. Consequently, each peripheral housing development generates disproportionately more car mileage per household and puts disproportionately more pressure on the existing road network.
- Traffic growth is not a steady progression. When the flow along a street approaches capacity the queues start to grow rapidly and delays multiply, so that in a relatively short time, a small percentage increase can lead to unacceptable levels of congestion. On some arterial streets such as West Street and The Mall, queues often tailback along the whole street during peak periods.
- But compared with many towns in Kent, Faversham’s traffic congestion is currently on a small scale. It’s not the delays that are the problem, it’s the fact that pedestrians view motorised traffic as intimidating and dangerous. The perceived safety risk discourages walking and encourages more people to use their cars for short journeys, which in turn leads to a greater increase in the level of traffic – a vicious circle that during the less enlightened decades of the 1960s through to the 1990s damaged many other towns in Britain. Road traffic can easily reduce a place to a non-place.
- The damage is usually irreversible. Faversham is a medieval market town whose backbone is formed from three conservation areas whose streets and housing frontage were not designed to cope with year-on-year increases in motor traffic at current levels. Vehicle queues are occurring on narrow streets with houses fronting the carriageway, many dating from the fifteenth century or earlier. Congestion brings noise, vibration from heavy vehicles, dirt, and atmospheric pollution together with a significant risk to health. In the longer term it can lead to schemes that are out of sympathy with their surroundings: an epidemic of traffic signs, road markings, pedestrian guard rails, and traffic signals in an attempt to ease traffic flow. Ironically, one of the main aims of the KCC Plan is to protect the environment (see under Outcome 4: enhanced environment). But it is weak on heritage.
- The Town needs a coherent plan for coping with traffic demand before matters get out of hand. This will call for solutions at the local level. The Plan acknowledges that there is a problem. For example, in relation to the Dartford area it admits that ‘a significant modal shift is needed to accommodate the projected growth’, meaning that people must switch from car to other forms of transport. But it doesn’t say how they will be persuaded to do this.
Some suggested solutions
- The fundamental aim of the Plan, to deliver growth, is misguided, especially for heritage towns like Faversham. It is not the business of a transport plan to deliver growth per se. It should be to deliver a quality of life for residents.
- In addition, the Plan could usefully feature conservation as an objective in its own right.
- To achieve quality-of-life and conservation objectives the Plan should list specific policies and schemes that manage levels of vehicular traffic through measures that naturally encourage people to shift from car usage to other modes of transport that are less damaging to the environment and more beneficial to public health and the local economy.
- Effective solutions start with a better knowledge base: a review of the traffic likely to arise from future housing development. The Plan should require housing developers, as a condition for planning permission, to assess the impact of their proposals cumulatively across all housing developments. They should submit (a) systematic forecasts for traffic growth across the network as a whole, (b) an assessment of the resulting economic, environmental and health impact, and (c) alternative policies and plans for dealing with it.
- Practical measures for Faversham include:
– lower speed limits (Twenty’s Plenty) to reduce (unintended) intimidation by moving vehicles through noise and accident risk that creates an atmosphere hostile to walkers
– working with schools to promote walking to school
– environmentally friendly cycle routes and pedestrian routes that encourage people to walk and cycle from outlying estates into the Town, with special attention to the pedestrian routes over the railway yard
– more effective parking enforcement to protect the street environment and to ensure that the regulations don’t fall into disrepute
– higher parking tariffs
– Park-and-Walk, Park-and-Cycle.