The agony of the public meeting at Hoverspeed, Manston, last Thursday evening was plain for all to see. It was, at the same time, tense, cynical, threatening, comic, and despairing. In a less charged atmosphere, many of the misunderstandings could have been cleared away – but there and then it was always going to be tough.
Timescales became very confused, ranging from the early 90’s to the 2015’s. Intention became very confused, mixing the Councils quasi – judicial role in planning, with its policy for economic development of the area, and the government’s plans for housebuilding in the South East.
So, perhaps now in a calmer moment, can I suggest we all ponder the following points?
- The allocation of this area for housing was indeed put out for public consultation in the year 2000 (as a matter of record, no more, under the previous labour administration of TDC). Since then, of course, Westwood Cross has opened and residents around it and travelling past it, feel blighted by the traffic volumes and seemingly ineffective highways planning for its development. In plain terms, the original consultation and current anger stem from different baselines of experience.
- This comes at a time when other ‘pinch points’ – chiefly the Victoria Road traffic lights in Margate – are already causing huge frustration across the island. This leads to more and more vehicles using side roads as rat runs to avoid the queues.
- In light of this, Roger Gale, Thanet District Council and KCC members have worked to bring forward the final connecting phase of the East Kent Access Road – which will assist. However, to residents this still appears to feed into inadequate and ill thought out road arrangements around the new development, Manston Court Road and Star Lane.
- It is accurate to say that the government has demanded high housebuilding volumes across the South East. It is also true to say that Thanet, with its housing waiting list and growing economy, needs new homes. It is equally true to say that over the last 20 years or so, many people, perhaps especially around Manston, moved to Thanet because they did not want to live in '‘suburban roundabout hell'…and now it is pursuing them here.
- What residents don’t want to hear, but is almost certainly true, is that housing development will take place because of these pressures. The key issue for residents in my KCC division – in Star Lane and Gordon Road – is that traffic should not be diverted through or around this formerly quiet residential area, already suffering with Westwood Cross overflow, frustrated rat runners, and a sheer inability at times to get onto the main roads at all.
- Restricting access was hardly mentioned on Thursday night, but may well hold many benefits. Restricting access to Manston Court Road for lorries; to the Star Lane and Gordon Road area, to the new development from the Westwood Cross roads at all. These are neither complicated nor expensive partial solutions, but would be seen by many as at least swift actions to try and lessen the impact on their daily routine.
We need some truly inspirational thinking from our housing and highway planning teams if this is not to be a running sore in relations with local residents to Westwood for many years. Time to pause and think it all calmly through.
KCC Member, Margate and Cliftonville