February 24th 2010
Blacksole Bridge is a fatal accident waiting to happen. The unhappy mixture of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians all vying for space along a narrow highway with no footpath is potentially lethal. It should not have been allowed to happen and it cannot continue. Unless these, the Highways and local authority and the developer of the Altira Business Park get together to negotiate the immediate provision of the pedestrian and cycle footbridge that is provided for as a condition of the planning consent for the development then they will, rightly, severally and collectively be held responsible if and when the predicted accident occurs. I have stated that, in terms, in the past and I cannot put it more plainly.
Let us be clear: Kent County Council, as the Highways Authority, and Canterbury City Council, as the planning authority, cannot just do as they please. However inconvenient it may be for those who regard it as sport to blame the local authorities, when they are not blaming their Member of Parliament or the government, for all ills the fact is that councils, like everyone else, have to operate within the law and within planning guidelines. They also have to work within the financial constraints imposed upon them by central government and within the rules scrutinised by the District Auditor.
As I see it this difficulty, is not, though just or even about local authority expenditure.
When planning consent for the development of Altira Park was granted provision was included, in the terms the consent, for the installation of a pedestrian footbridge when the development had reached 17.000 square meters. It is certainly arguable, with hindsight, that the installation of the bridge should have been a prerequisite of any construction but that is not what was approved. Nor did inspectors appear to take any account of the increase in traffic or the square footage generated by the building of the hotel and restaurant, pub or housing when recommending approval. (There is also the small matter of the traffic generated by the relatively small square footage occupied by the DVLA driving test centre on the site.)
We are, therefore, faced with a dilemma: the local authorities cannot enforce a consent the terms of which have not yet been breached and the developers are seeking to find ways of avoiding, in a harsh climate, expenditure that they would prefer not to make.
Hence the application for the installation of a traffic lights system as an alternative. And again, whether we like it or not any developer is entitled by law to apply for a variation upon a condition and the City Council has to consider any such application that is properly and lawfully submitted. They cannot just ignore it.
Happily, the County Council and the City Council - to whom I have made representations in the past - share my view that a traffic light system would not solve the problem, would not provide adequate safety for pedestrian, pushchair and cycle traffic and is a thinly disguised and cheapskate option designed to cut costs. I would argue at the expense of risk to life.
So what to do?
I have a suggestion. The KCC cannot just spend public money upon a project that it is the duty of the developer, in the end, to fund and the City Council cannot, yet, take legal action but the need is immediate. I believe that KCC could legally, using its still considerable reserves, go out to tender and construct the footbridge now, at today's prices. The City Council should then be able to require the developer, as soon as the tipping point that triggers the planning condition is reached, to pay back to the ratepayer the money spent on the bridge at the going rate at that time - to avoid the taxpayer funding the developer's interest. That would give us the bridge now, relieve the developer of the immediate burden of cost against longer term development profits and, perhaps, avert the tragedy that we all fear.