By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
Thanet Parkway Station plans have been put on hold as all local authority meeting are deferred amid the coronavirus crisis.
Suggestions that £17.8million ring-fenced for the proposed scheme should instead be used to fund the coronavirus effort has been branded ‘disingenuous’ by the authority.
It comes a week after calls were made to “shelve” the Cliffsend station proposal by Thanet county councillors. Labour members say that funding for the infrastructure project should be set aside for dealing with COVID-19.
Ramsgate councillor Karen Constantine (Lab), who represents the area where the proposed station will be sited, said: “We should be putting the health of Thanet residents first instead of railway infrastructure.”
But, a KCC spokesman said: “Whilst we have agreed to provide up to £17.8 million in capital funding for the Thanet parkway scheme, it is disingenuous to suggest that KCC is holding on to money that could otherwise be spent on supporting our residents during this crisis.”
The row over the contested £34.5m station near Manston continues to escalate ahead of a critical decision due to be made by KCC’s planning committee next month. But, the public meeting has now been deferred.
A KCC spokesman added: “The plans were originally due to be decided at the planning committee in May.
“But, as the coronavirus pandemic has curtailed our committees, the planning committee meeting has been postponed until virtual meetings are set up. We hope to announce shortly when meetings will be rescheduled and how the press and public can view them.”
‘Not the right time’
Birchington county councillor Emma Dawson (Con) told the Local Democracy Reporting service that any discussion regarding the station should be “shelved” until after the COVID-19 crisis concludes.
She added: “Personally I feel this pandemic is such a hugely overarching pressure psychologically and in many cases physically. It just feels that it’s not the right time.”
Margate county councillor Barry Lewis (Lab) added: “The expense of the station needs to be looked at again after the public health problems are resolved.”
KCC’s cabinet committed to coughing up to £17.8million for the scheme three months ago while the remainder will be funded by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (£14m) and Thanet District Council (£2m).
At the time, KCC leader Roger Gough (Con) said it was “now or never” for the project while KCC’s transport boss, Cllr Michael Payne (Con), added: “High speed services to East Kent will lead to more job opportunities and investment in this region of the county.”
However, opposition councillors continue to raise concerns over the station’s escalating cost, environmental impact and overcrowding. Others fear that a key decision is being rushed through.
Cllr Rosalind Binks (Con), of Broadstairs, rubbished the claims and said: “In my experience, the planning committee at KCC has always been meticulous regarding detail and fairness and is not rushed.”
If approved, the station near Cliffsend would have two unstaffed platforms, a 300-space car park and a road connection to the A256 Sandwich Bypass and A299 Thanet Way.
A public survey was carried out in January involving 379 residents, including 110 from Cliffsend. It found 45% gave their support, 37% did not, 12% were neither and 6% didn’t care either way.
KCC’s focus has shifted towards dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and plans are underway to set up three temporary mortuaries across the county. In total, the morgues are expected to cost £11m and funding comes from a £39m COVID-19 Government grant sent to KCC to help tackle the crisis.
A KCC spokesman added: “Thanet Parkway, supported by both Thanet District Council and Dover District Council, is a project about creating infrastructure first, to provide support for economic development in the area – something that will be vital to out economy when life returns to normal.”