Here in Chatham we have what has been coined a “concrete collar” around the town centre otherwise known as a ring road. Amid much local scepticism the ring road was changed in September 2006 from one way to two way. One of the stated intentions of the scheme was to lift this “concrete collar” and reconnect the town centre with the riverside. In reality making the system two way has done nothing of the sort. The “collar” is still there, the only difference being that traffic go both ways round it now.
Integral to the ring road is the Sir John Hawkins flyover (the same John Hawkins who is acknowledged to have been the pioneer of the English slave trade. Why name a flyover after him? He was also the “founder” of Chatham dockyard hence the connection). The flyover transverses the top end of the high street and creates a cut off point for many shoppers and visitors to the town. The space beneath the flyover has been badly marketed and for much of the time is nothing more than just that – a space beneath a flyover all be it a pedestrianised one.
When the traffic system was made two way the flyover was closed to all traffic aside from buses and taxis. The demolition of the flyover was planned to take place some time in 2007. Once demolished the idea was to move the bus station from it’s current location to occupy the space freed up and by doing so free up more space to enable the riverside to become connected with the town once more. Not quite sure how that would work seeming as there is another main road in the way but it would have been a start. Until the flyover is demolished making the ring road two way is a complete waste of time and money and nothing more than a great inconvenience to many.
The riverside is literally a few minutes walk from the town centre but the traffic system dissects pedestrian access to it. For years the leisure and recreation possibilities that it offers have pretty much been ignored in favour of keeping motorists and local business happy in that much of the prime land around the riverside has been given over to car parking and trading places such as Staples Office Supplies and a few cafe, hairdressers and motor outlets.
Regrettably many of these businesses have suffered as a result of the changes made and understandably some are up in arms about it. They want “our” flyover back. The Chatham Regeneration Action Group (CRAG) have become the voice of these businesses and have engaged in a campaign to save the flyover. The campaign pretty much centres on the assertion that Medway Conservatives will demolish the flyover if re-elected in the forthcoming by-elections whereas all the other parties are saying they will save it.
The conservatives have picked up on the upset and are now planning to reopen the flyover – for how long though is not that clear. That the the local elections are coming up seems to be a factor in this decision. To do so makes the whole exercise in messing with the traffic system a complete nonsense and an arrogant waste of money. By trying to appease the disgruntled I think they are showing themselves to be the spineless blunderers they are often criticised for being.
The hoardings above and below are currently on display at Chatham Riverside literally within a few feet of each other. These hoarding illustrate to me the councils muddled thinking and ambiguity on the issue of traffic in Chatham. Their policies on the issue seem to be geared towards whatever they consider might win them favour without thinking through how they sit together. On the one hand they want to save the environment by encouraging us to share cars and on the other they give more prime riverside land over to car parking. The audacity of making the claim that by doing so this will “…open up Chatham’s waterside” astounds me.
Not sure now which way I shall be voting. I want to see the flyover gone and an end to the mentality that the needs of motorists trump every other factor in the mix. Sadly none of the local councillors in Medway seem to share my wish. Sure a few businesses may probably suffer though the opportunities that will be created will be there for them and everyone else to enjoy. Think long term I say and enough with the compromise for personal or political gain.