Devolution plans signal end of the road for the nightmare journeys

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The end might be in sight for some of the traffic jams and tailbacks that daily blight the lives of local motorists.

High-level talks are taking place on a new initiative that could see the devolution of certain powers from Kent County Council (KCC) at County Hall. Such a move would give responsibility for highways back to Tunbridge Wells.

Recent developments mean the county could soon be formally divided into three sub-regions – West Kent, East Kent and North Kent.

The West Kent sub region – formed from the districts of Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and Sevenoaks – is already used to close co-operation through the West Kent Partnership.

But talks are being held on giving each sub region a raft of competences that were previously the preserve of the county council, which would make the groups far more powerful.

Kent County Council will still oversee county-wide issues and is itself seeking more powers from central Government.

Council Leader David Jukes said he was ‘delighted’ by the possibilities of further devolution.

He said: “We have got Kent County Council very much engaged in the devolution of various powers to borough councils across Kent.

“If we get our own highways back it means we can then start doing the things that we have wanted for many years. We won’t have to go to Kent County Council and ask, we can simply go out and do them ourselves.

“This is not going to be an overnight thing, it will be brought in gradually and I hope gracefully. It will be very cost effective, and due to economies of scale it means not only will we be getting a better service from our contractors, but also cheaper.”

Cllr Jukes described it as a ‘good deal all round’ for this part of the county, which he said was ‘at the forefront’ of the initiative to devolve powers.

The plans coincide with the revelation that Tunbridge Wells has the joint largest funding gap between the infrastructure it needs and the money required to deliver it.

Alongside Sevenoaks, the borough is only seeing 56 per cent of proposed projects funded, compared to 80 per cent in neighbouring Tonbridge and 89 per cent in Dover.

The Growth and Infrastructure Framework report from Kent County Council identifies a £107million black hole when it comes to providing for projects from now until 2031 in Tunbridge Wells.

Upgrades and improvements to highways alone are expected to cost £67million, however roughly eight tenths of this has yet to be funded.

Capacity issues highlighted by the report included: Congestion on the A26 and A264 approaches into Royal Tunbridge Wells; restricted road access to North Farm Estate; and congestion on the A21 and the A228 at Colts Hill.

Public transport upgrades worth £12million have no funding whatsoever.

Speaking at Cabinet, Jane Clarke, Head of Policy and Governance at the borough council, said: “We are continuing to work with our partners in West Kent to seek opportunities for closer working relationships and collaboration wherever possible.

“However, the town of Tunbridge Wells still faces significant transport issues and there is a lack of infrastructure across the borough as a whole.”

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