Like many Medway citizens I have a passing interest in the council’s plans to regenerate the area and turn Chatham into what they like to call the heart of the Medway Towns. A laudable aspiration perhaps however I have some reservations in what the council considers to be a key stone in turning the aspiration into a reality.
The council have a fixation on the road system specifically the John Hawkins flyover. I don’t dispute that decent routes in and out of any town centre are an important factor. It’s just the plans the council have made are heavy on rhetoric but lacking in imagination, integrity and insight.
It all started with plans to release the town center from the “concrete collar” which is the ring road that encircles the high street and town centre. The council speak about reconnecting the high street with the riverside. All good so far.
The reality of that plan so far has transpired to be no more than turning a one way system into a two way system. In dong so it has done nothing of course to lift the so called collar. Still it made a good soundbite at the time.
Not though to discount the fact this is the first stage and the council do indeed have grander plans. They intend to break the “concrete collar” by removing a section of the ring road; the John Hawkins flyover. The first stage in doing so was to prohibit all traffic except buses and taxis. I think this was supposed to help drivers in Medway get used to appalling traffic flow and congestion that eventually demolishing the flyover will bring.
And so the flyover was closed. The inevitable protest groups crying for its redemption were formed. Just before the local elections the council decided to demonstrate how good they were at listening to the public and took the decision to reopen the flyover – temporarily. An unashamed display of cowardice and appeasement. Some may call it astute local politics and sensible decision making. They did after all win the elections and retain overall control of the council.
Once voted in and sitting again comfortably secure in chambers the decision to demolish the flyover was once more bravely announced. It was after all a temporary decision to reopen it and following further public consultation the council felt the plans to pull it down was the way to go. Clearly the Medway public are a fickle lot. And so here we are now. The flyover is due to come down in May of this year.
My view was that removing the flyover was a not a such a bad thing if it meant a more attractive and accessible town centre for everyone and did indeed help reconnect to the riverside. Sadly though this does not appear to be the case. It appears that the flyover is simply going to be replaced by a road at lower level which I think only buses and taxis will be able to use. The concrete collar will remain albeit with a section missing. The car journey through town will be longer and more congested. The riverside will be no more accessible. The high street which is now mostly pedestrianised will be intersected by a main bus route into and out of town. I don’t think this will be the end of it. I hope not.