The newly re-elected leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has said that air quality is improving in the town thanks to the controversial new traffic rules that have led to thousands of fines for local motorists.
Ben Chapelard from the Liberal Democrats said that the number of cars per day wrongly driving past the War Memorial outside the Town Hall had been cut significantly from 1,200 to 200 per day.
He said 80% of people who had previously used that part of Mount Pleasant Road from 9am to 6pm had stopped doing so and it was “the last 20% of people that were ignoring the warning signs”.
Thousands of people have been fined for using the route – many because they found the signs unclear. But Mr Chapelard (pictured below) argued that the scheme was working as part of the council’s policy to make towns more vibrant and safer for pedestrians.
Several local newspapers have quoted a figure of £200,000 of fines being collected in just one month, but the council says this figure is wrong and does not necessarily mean the council is generating net revenue, as the costs of setting up the scheme still need to be covered.
In an interview for West Kent Radio, Mr Chapelard was asked if the distant blue circle sign with a white bus and white cycle was clear enough for residents heading south having approached from Dudley Road to react to in time – they need to turn left. (Junction shown below)
Mr Chapelard said: “We’ve asked Kent County Council, who are the highway authority to go back and double check the signage, but we think it is clear.” He said David Brazier, who is in charge of transport for Kent County Council, had just visited the scheme.
Mr Chapelard continued: “If people feel they have not been treated fairly by the system and they get a fine, there is in the process a right of appeal which the council staff will examine and determine. We are finding that there are still people going through there – despite having warning letters – and they are just trying their luck, and that is quite a big number of the people who are still going through, as I understand it.”
Another issue is that Google maps and other satnavs are still indicating that – even during the daytime – people should take the route that they will be fined for (see below).
Mr Chapelard said Google had been informed that the fines would be enforced in February.
Mr Chapelard concluded that: “Post-pandemic that bus lane is now being enforced for the good of residents. We are trying to reduce the amount of cars that go through there every day. People are getting the message now.”
In a statement, the council said: “From 20 Feb until 1 April, we issued over 18,000 warnings to motorists seen contravening the bus gate restriction. After going to live PCNs on 1 April the number of drivers seen in the restriction has dropped considerably, so it is having the desired effect of making the town centre more pedestrian friendly. Whilst there is an income from the PCNs, we have to cover the implementation costs of the scheme, but if there is an eventual surplus generated, by law it can only be used to finance highway, transport and environmental investment.”
You can listen to Ben Chapelard’s interview on the Bus Lane Fines and the recent successes for the Liberal Democrats in the local elections on this YouTube link:
Meanwhile, just five years after the creation of the Tunbridge Wells Alliance Party, one of its councillors, Nick Pope, was elected Deputy Mayor last week (Wed 24th May 2023).
By tradition, next year Nick Pope will be the Mayor, giving him a potentially powerful casting vote after the May 2024 elections which will be an unpredictable “all-out” vote with all councillors up for re-election under new ward boundaries.
The Tunbridge Wells Alliance Party (TWA) was formed to oppose the then Conservative council’s plan to borrow £100 million to build a new theatre and Town Hall on Calverley Grounds. That plan was eventually defeated after £10 million had already been spent on it, when the Conservatives lost seats and several other Conservative councillors voted against the scheme.
This is my YouTube film of the speech proposing Mr Pope by the current Tunbridge Wells Alliance Party leader, Matthew Sankey, at the full council meeting last week.
Mr Sankey referered to Nick Pope’s role is setting up the Tunbridge Wells Alliance Party: “Nick opened the door to this chamber for those who do not have a political home in a traditional national sense…Nick is the perfect person to lead us by example in what is sure to be a very exciting time as we move from 48 to 39 councillors.”