Our town centre is a study in missed opportunity and short sightedness. In 2012 KCC, with the assistance of TMBC, were desperate to nip the campaign to pedestrianise the High Street in the bud. KCC lacked the finance to complete the long-planned link road between London Road and Cannon Lane. They were allowed to abandon the whole project, selling all the properties on the route and the long held ambition to reduce the volume of traffic through our High Street lay in tatters.
Perversely the planned junction opposite the George and Dragon is now a wildflower meadow, the conservative councillors hold it up as an achievement when in fact it is testament to their abject failure to deliver a scheme which would have been transformative for air quality in our town centre. They even acknowledge that the money raised from selling property along the original route was diverted to work which narrowed the High Street and increased congestion.
TMBC’s recently submitted Local Plan threatens to add further retail and commercial units along the industrial corridor of Cannon Lane and Vale Road, This will further damage the vitality of the High Street and contribute to looming gridlock on a key route around our town centre.
Look at the differences on our roads when the schools are closed. Certainly there will be some effect when our children are on holiday but there are other factors at play. In order to tackle escalating congestions in our urban centres KCC introduced the Freedom Pass in 2006 and charged £50. However the cost has risen with restrictions on its use and KCC are now proposing a further increase to £350. These rises are forcing children back into cars.
We need some joined up thinking to address the problems in our town. We suggest lowering the cost of the pass to encourage students back out of their parents’ cars and removing the limitations on its use. Buses could be the preferred default mode of transport but this can only happen if the timetable matches the demands of the travelling public.
The cycle of escalating prices and declining services fails to meet the aspiration to move to healthier alternatives to the diesel engine. We need to cut journey times by prioritising buses travelling through the High Street, including trialling a one way system and installing a new box junction at Angel Lane. For those who cannot avoid car use we need to make what we now have work as efficiently as possible.
We have identified several roads where lowering the speed limit will improve both safety and even increase property prices, strange but true!
We want to improve the network of cycle routes to ensure two wheel travel safety is optimised, linking existing infrastructure and improving lighting where appropriate. Internationally the French town of Dunkirk has followed Tallinn in Estonia and made all bus travel absolutely free, resulting in a 85% increase in bus use. So there are other ways of doing things, we just need to follow best practice and see what works best here.
Mark Hood, co-chair, Tonbridge & Malling Green Party
This article first appeared in the Times of Tonbridge 6th February 2019