Blacksole Bridge has become an accident waiting to happen. That is not only my view, it is a concern shared by the Bay's three County Councillors, David Hirst, Jean Law and Alan Marsh, and also by many of the City Councillors representing the Town.
The development of new housing between the bridge and the Thanet Way, the opening of the Harvester pub and a new hotel and the re-location of the driving test centre - of which more in a moment - have led to a dangerous mix of increased pedestrian and motor traffic. It is for precisely this reason that when the City Council granted planning consent for the development of Blacksole Farm it attached a condition requiring the construction of a footbridge alongside the road bridge over the railway.
The developer now wishes to have the planning condition lifted and traffic lights installed instead. The reasons for this are not difficult to see: a footbridge will be expensive and traffic lights, installed by the Highways Department, will be cheaper. Lights will not, though, make provision for the pedestrians and cyclists who now daily cross the railway at this point. I hope and believe that the Highways Authority (Kent County Council) and the Planning Authority (Canterbury City Council) will use all of the powers at their several and collective disposal to resist a cheapskate option that will not solve the problem.
I take no pleasure at all in saying that unless the footbridge is constructed in the immediate future we shall find ourselves faced with a serious injury or death.
Part of the traffic problem has been caused by the Driving Test Centre on Altira Park. It was clear at the time that the proposal was mooted that the Driving Standards Agency was determined to blunder ahead without sufficient attention to the possible consequences for local car and pedestrian traffic. Neither was any attention paid to the environmental impact of the additional mileage and cost incurred by instructors and candidates having to travel to Herne Bay from Canterbury and Margate to, first, learn the routes and then take the test.
In a parliamentary question tabled in November 2008 I asked the Department for Transport what estimate had been made of the effect of multi-purpose practical driving test centres on levels of (a) car and motorcycle mileage and (b) carbon dioxide emissions. The Ministerial answer from this Government was "none". So much for "green government"! Parliamentary correspondence on this issue has revealed that not only in the Bay but nationwide the opening of "Multipurpose Test Centres" has led to increased mileage and emissions, increased costs for those seeking to take and pass their driving tests and, as in the Bay, roads in the area clogged up by crawling learner drivers.
We have all, at one time or another, had to bear L-plates on our cars and have had to stutter through the gears and stall on hill-starts and three-point turns and have nothing but sympathy for those preparing, at vast expense, to put themselves through this ordeal. I also have huge admiration for those brave men and women who, daily, take their lives in their hands as they coach nervous learners. I do not believe, though, that the concentration of all of this effort at a Centre on a business park on a roundabout off a flyover adjacent to a busy dual carriageway and approached by a narrow one-lane road over a railway bridge on a sharp bend leading to a very busy pub is necessarily the best choice of site. I wonder what genius dreamed up this lunacy and why nobody within the planning authority recognised, as some of us did at the time, that this might just not be a clever idea!
The air is now thick with the sound of chickens coming home to roost.
Roger Gale M.P. (May 27th 2009)
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