At a meeting of the council’s Regeneration and Property committee on 27th June, approval was given to the latest plan to turn the land lying to the north east of the proposed car park extension into a nature reserve. Depending on your inclination, this can be viewed as a bribe or a concession to those of us who submitted objections to the council’s proposal to extend the park and ride onto the Stour valley floodplain, and within the council’s own designated green corridor. This area of dense bramble, nettles and scrub is effectively impenetrable to humans, and therefore ideally suited for wildlife to thrive undisturbed and, as one of the councillors rightly pointed out, it is already a nature reserve in all but name, so nothing new was being offered.

The general plan put forward by the council would envisage the creation of a network of paths within the new reserve for public enjoyment. However, this would mean a huge increase in disturbance, more litter and anti-social behaviour. Do we really need to open up another unspoiled area to humans when we already have the infra-structure of paths, seats, waymarkers and litter bins on the Hambrook Marshes side of the river?

Also approved at this meeting was a proposal that the eight-metre wide natural screen in the original car park extension plan be doubled in width to 16-metres, in the process knocking out about 40-50 parking spaces. So, from an original stance of stating that an extra 280 parking spaces were vital to the success of the project, the council now seems to be happy to carve off about 16% of them, starting to make the whole enterprise look like a bit of a lame duck (perhaps a bird from the river that got run over by a car looking for a parking space?). This is all being put forward by the council in a bid to appease the 450 or so objectors who took the trouble to submit their comments on the council’s website earlier this year.

Part of the need for extra parking spaces is that some of the existing spaces will be lost when the proposed off-slip road from the A2 is built, but Nick Eden-Green, who is a Lib Dem councillor for Wincheap, has pointed out that many parking slots could be saved by starting the slip-road further back on the A2, so that it could link directly into the present access road. This would avoid having to install the incredible hairpin loop of the present plan, making access to the car park from the A2 much safer, but would necessitate building a new bridge over the Stour, so adding to the cost of the project. The proposal for the car park extension itself has yet to go before the planning committee, so we don’t know what the outcome will be.