Too many students, too many restaurants, too much traffic: Welcome to Canterbury


We can all agree on things that annoy us, whether it’s late night parties, shopping trollies in the Stour or gridlock around the Wincheap roundabout. But can we agree on what Canterbury should be instead?

Twenty-odd years ago, Canterbury was a different place. The University of Kent inhabited a few dated buildings surrounded by empty fields. Christ Church was yet to become a university, little more than a teaching training college hidden in a housing estate.

Canterbury McDonalds as it was
Canterbury McDonald’s as it was

Most pubs had seen better days. Fruit machines and swirl-patterned carpets were ubiquitous. The Ricemans building overlooked the bus station and McDonalds sat on the corner of the high street, strategically located next to the underpass leading to half the schools in Canterbury.

Despite what you might think if you believe everything you read on social media, Canterbury is far more up-market than it was. Dodgy pubs rarely survive, and foodies are spoiled for choice when it comes to dining out. We might benefit from a few more boutique independent traders whose trade doesn’t derive from vaping or mobile phone covers, but I for one don’t want to see Canterbury become gentrified.

Canterbury is a real place, not a picture on a postcard. There’s a place for designer gin, craft ale and homemade pottery, but there’s also a place for the snooker club and the discount retailers. Not everyone went to the King’s School, and that shouldn’t be a prerequisite to feel at home here.

Looking around I see people going about their business, tourists gawking at the souvenir shops, the Marlowe Theatre’s comedy nights, the cathedral services sung daily, the estate agents, the lawyers, the taxi drivers, and children playing in Toddler’s Cove under the watchful eye of their sleep-deprived mums. Louis Armstrong could write a lovely song about it all.

Kingsmead Development
The proposed Kingsmead development

There are some things that really need fixing. Twice a day our roads are gridlocked yet some bright sparks on the council think we need a new multi-storey car park in the thick of it. Our hospital, which serves a population of nearly 90 thousand students and permanent residents, is quietly being closed under our noses. We can build thousands of new students digs, but we can’t seem to get anywhere with social housing. There’s plenty to moan about.

Canterbury will never be finished. But right now, plans are underway to build a brand new multiscreen cinema and leisure complex on the site of the old Serco depot at Kingsmead. Maybe that means they can do something with the ugly Odeon Cinema on St George’s roundabout. Canterbury constantly evolves.

I want to see Canterbury improve – and it is – but I don’t want to see it become so exclusive nobody can live here who doesn’t earn a prince’s income. In summary, moan all you want. It’s not perfect, but Canterbury is charming and it’s real. And you can’t say fairer than that. Welcome to Canterbury.