Photos by Sarah Wyld
Some 100 Westgate business owners and residents held a protest yesterday (August 26) over controversial plans to install a one-way system in the town from September.
The plans, put forward as an 18-month ‘experimental’ traffic order by Kent County Council, will mean the loss of a significant number of parking bays.
Shop owners say the loss, coupled with the new system, will drive customers out of the town and it is feared this will hit businesses and maybe even cause some to go under.
Abbie Evans, from J Prentis greengrocers in Station Road, organised yesterday’s show of opposition. She said the plans are a ‘kick in the teeth’ for all the businesses who worked hard to keep customers supplied during the Covid lockdown.
She said: “I believe that if the one way system and the reduction in parking is put into place then the town will struggle to survive. The one way system is essentially designed to take people away from the town.
“You’ll have to go down St Mildred’s Road into Westgate Bay Avenue before you can turn back into the town. If customers don’t find a space the first time they drive through the town the likelihood is they will carry on to Westwood Cross.
“We have been told that KCC want to remove the parking to help with social distancing and to encourage cyclists. So far, we have seen no plans that involve cycle lanes or anywhere to park the bikes.
“From a retailer’s point of view I feel very hurt that after we stayed open during lockdown the county council is essentially trying to close us down. Most of us independent shops in Westgate tried our very hardest in lockdown to keep the people of Westgate supplied with everything they needed and this is a real kick in the teeth.”
Fellow business owner Reg Bell, who runs three shops in Westgate an one in Birchington, has branded the plans ‘ludicrous,’ saying the system in “not needed and not wanted.”
He added: “There have been no serious call for a one way system in Westgate but KCC has money it has to spend on various projects and has decided it will do this in Westgate. Not only is it ridiculous but it is not needed. They are taking away the parking spaces on one side of the road and putting in flowers. Flowers are all very nice but people need parking. Westgate doesn’t have any car parks so taking the spaces away will have a detrimental effect on the town and just drive people to other places like Westwood Cross.”
The proposal for the one way system, from the top of Roxburgh Road, into Station Road and finishing at the end of Station Road, outside the off-licence, did not go out to public consultation because KCC had to have schemes implemented in an eight week time frame to be eligible for the rest of a government grant.
The aim is to widen the pedestrian area so people can pass each other while maintaining social distancing. There will be 20 planters installed and 20ft benches outside the barber shop and the Co-op.
The scheme is one of several implemented across the county, including 20mph zones in Margate, as part of the government’s push for ‘active travel’ in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Kent County Council has provisionally been allocated just over £8 million by the Department for Transport to invest in walking and cycling.
The first round of funding that has been agreed by government is £1.6 million with the remainder dependent on this being spent within eight weeks.
District councillor for Westgate Bertie Braidwood told The Isle of Thanet News earlier this month that he thought the system was worth trialling but not with the loss of half of the car parking capacity and with no public consultation.
His view has been backed by county councillors Emma Dawson and Liz Hurst. North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale has also said the scheme should be withdrawn until consultation has been carried out.
He said: “On August 19, following emails from constituents, I wrote to Cllr Roger Gough, Leader of KCC, and Cllr Micheal Payne, KCC Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport.
“Within that email I said I strongly suggest that we withdraw the scheme, go back to first base and consult properly.”
Westgate on Sea Town Council is also opposed to the plans, saying in a statement: “Members of the Town Council strongly object in principle to any proposed plans that would reduce the number of parking spaces on Station Road in Westgate-on-Sea. Although the Town Council has not had details of the proposed plans shared from Kent County Council it would appear that the scheme is being rolled out under pressure, without proper consideration, presentation or consultation and flies in the face of localism and empowering communities.
“The scheme we are advised imposes serious measures, without considering the consequences for the Town and the local population. It is for these reasons the Town Council is unable to provide support for the KCC proposed scheme at this time.”
Westgate councillor Matthew Scott said although he initially supported plans for a one-way system to assist with traffic calming and to mitigate careless driving and inconsiderate parking, the loss of parking bays makes the plan unworkable.
He said: “This has sparked understandable fears of potential loss of footfall and business for the traders of Westgate-on-Sea. It has also been highlighted that future events will be severely impacted, such as the ever popular Christmas Fair citing that the changes will make access difficult for all, decrease the amount of stalls that can be placed and limit the overall entertainment options
It is important to note that KCC hasn’t released any official public plans for the work they wish to undertake and hasn’t even consulted with the Town Council, residents or businesses.
I can no longer see the viability of this project and will not be supporting it. I feel the lack of consultation and how KCC has gone about pushing this project through is very underhanded and dismissive to both the residents and traders of Westgate-on-Sea.
If a proposal is made to make the scheme permanent, then a formal 12 week public consultation will take place.
Kent County Council says:
A Kent County Council spokesman said:“These trials form part of the government’s push for ‘active travel’ in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the need for social distancing and encouraging more active forms of travel.
“We appreciate that some schemes will not satisfy everyone but the government has asked all local authorities to inspire more cycling and walking.
“In Westgate, a one-way system heading west between Roxburgh Road and St Mildred’s Road will be created, including changes to parking bays to encourage active travel whilst promoting social distancing in a shared space.
“The trials can run for up to 18 months, and if well received can be made permanent or removed if they do not have the desired effect. Amendments can be made to the scheme throughout the trial, for example some of the parking bays could returned in areas which are deemed most needed.
“Residents can contact KCC via the active travel fund email address email@example.com to provide comments.”
People can also comment on the changes at https://www.kent.gov.uk/roads-and-travel/report-a-problem