City council lacks vision and innovation

Richard Scase fears the council lacks vision in matters of infrastructure

by Richard Scase

When Simon Cook became leader of our council, I was full of optimism. I thought here was an intelligent man, highly knowledgeable who could make a real difference. In other words, a refreshing leader.

I hoped he would stir things up. I hoped he would encourage both councillors and officials to be innovative, to come up with creative and imaginative solutions to many of the great challenges we face as a heritage city.

Canterbury not only has to deal with growing population demands, but must also operate within tight financial restraints because of central government funding reductions.

It seemed a perfect opportunity for an entrepreneurial leader to make his mark on the city landscape.

Sadly, Simon has disappointed so many local voters. We expected much more of him!

Simon Cook has disappointed Richard Scase

The epitome of this is his utter determination to go ahead with the Canterbury West multi-storey car park.

I can think of no other city or urban area in the developed world that is pursuing such an ill-conceived scheme.

To proceed with an inner-city project of this kind is stepping back to transport policies of the 1970s rather than pursuing the forward transport thinking of the 21st century.

Here is a man knowledgeable of technology, of the revolutionary potential of new transportation systems and aware of the challenges of urban congestion and the dangers of poor air quality.

And yet he risks exacerbating these problems for the present and future citizens of Canterbury.

A damning comment of the lack of leading-edge thinking among city councillors is their proposal that drivers should be fined if their vehicle engines are left running while stationary. How path-breaking!

Sweden has had a law of this kind for at least 30 years. In any case, most new cars now have an automatic switch-off function when stationary.

What is the sense of pulling traffic into Canterbury simply for the purpose of drivers catching trains to London and elsewhere?

Take a look at Oxford, says Richard Scase

On any criteria it touches on the absurd. Simon, take a look at Oxford or Cambridge.

Or better still take a trip to the Netherlands, Scandinavia or Germany and see what innovative solutions could be copied or adapted for Canterbury.

A lack of resources is not an excuse for failing to be innovative and leading edge. It should not be a justification for being laggard and backward looking.

The solutions for Canterbury West are almost self-evident. The present city-owned car park should be a transport hub for buses and taxis.

The rail-owned parking area could become an iconic glass rectangular structure that would incorporate a new booking hall, waiting rooms and catering facilities.

Beyond the Goods Shed, there could be car parking facilities hidden by a brick façade that matches the apartments on the other side of the road.

Such a scheme requires imagination and cooperation between the rail company and the council. I suspect that is too much to hope for.

Equally, dedicated pod tracks which take driverless vehicles between housing developments and the city are regarded as utterly beyond the pale. This despite the fact they take no more width than cycle tracks and are being experimented with in other parts of the UK.

Why is it that some councils are innovative and experimental while others choose to stick to old ways and function as laggard institutions? The answer has to rest with the political leadership.

Richard Scase is Emeritus Professor in the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research at the University of Kent. He is a leading authority on the future of business and socio-economic trends and makes keynote presentations all over the world. He lives in Canterbury.


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