Row over relief road deferment
Urban residents ‘sacrificed’ for rural ones
SWALE Council has been accused of “sacrificing” people in urban areas in favour of rural residents over its halting of the Northern Relief Road (NRR).
Labour councillors Nick Williams and Martin McCusker laid into council leader Andrew Bowles at a full district council meeting last Wednesday, saying the Torycontrolled authority was giving more consideration to villages along the A2 between Bapchild and Faversham than to built-up areas of Sittingbourne, such as Murston and Milton Regis.
While questioning whether the Government’s eagerly-awaited Localism Bill would give Cllr Bowles more or less control over decisions to do with the NRR, Roman ward councillor Cllr McCusker said ceasing work on the NRR equated to “sacrificing Kemsley, Milton Regis, Murston and Roman wards in favour of rural ones. ”
Murston ward councillor Mr Williams called the NRR in its current state “a road to nowhere”, and demanded to know whether an alternative route was on the cards and when discussions were likely to start again.
Speaking to the Gazette after the meeting, he said: “What about the rights of the people who are not in the privileged position of living in rural areas? Do Murston, Milton Regis and Roman ward residents count for less than residents in leafy, rural areas? ”
Cllr Williams, along with other Labour councillors, feels that plans for the final stretch of the NRR, between the Great East Hall estate in Murston and the A2, were shelved to save villagers in Bapchild and other villages towards Faversham being subjected to increased traffic.
However, they feel the decision shows a total disregard for the congestion being suffered by residents in Murston, Milton Regis, and other urban wards as a “knockon effect” of vehicles being unable to directly access the A2 from the east of the town.
At the meeting, Cllr Bowles called Cllr McCusker ’s accusations a “ridiculous distortion” of the truth, and afterwards he reinforced his view, saying the incomplete NRR would not add to congestion in the town centre and that urban wards were in no way being neglected.
He said: “It’s simply not true. The councillors obviously don’t understand the broader picture, or are just ill-informed. I don’t think the situation is making congestion in the town worse.”
Cllr Bowles added that he did not want to pre-empt a long consultation process by trying to guess what the final route of the last section of the NRR might be. He didn’t think that, in its current form,
the Localism Bill, due late this year or early 2012, would alter his position with regard to making decisions on the route.
Cllr Williams had put a question to the leader before the meeting, asking whether postponing the final stage of the NRR until a southern link between the A2 and M2 was proposed was now the policy of the council.
Cllr Bowles said the Swale joint transport board had recommended in March that the NRR was halted until Kent County Council came up with a way to move traffic from the A2 to the M2.
The leader said this recommendation had been approved by the council’s cabinet on March 16, and was therefore adopted as council policy.