Is this the end of Tonbridge High Street congestion?

Ringpull Man will be joining in the fun at the Crazy Jeans Kart Race

RESIDENTS have voiced their concern about the lay-out of the High Street following the radical redesign.

Criticism centred on the location of a bus stop outside Caffe Nero, which causes heavy congestion for traffic.

This was the main finding of a public consultation carried out by Kent County Council [KCC] in February.

While the buses stop in the main carriageway, there is also a layby which is used as a loading bay for deliveries.

The issue has been a longstanding cause of grievance ever since the project was completed in 2016. Finally action may be taken to address it.

The redesign saw the introduction of wider pavements, which in turn made the road narrower.

It cost £2.62million, funded by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, and caused major disruption with the High Street closed to traffic for 38 weeks from July 2015 to May 2016.

After almost two years of frustration Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge & Malling, has now been told by KCC that the bus stop could be moved.

He said: ‘I’m sure many comments will touch on the traffic jams caused when buses stop outside Caffe Nero.

‘Many of us wonder why the stop is there and not in the loading bay, or removed altogether. I’ve written to KCC many, many times now to ask why this isn’t the case.

‘Usually, I am told that the pavements would need to be higher, and it would not be possible or would cost too much. After the consultation they’ve changed their tune.’

He received a reply from Mike Whiting, KCC’s Cabinet Member for Planning, Highways, Transport and Waste, stating County Hall is ‘very aware of the concerns being raised regularly by businesses and users of the High Street’.

‘We are currently investigating ways to reduce the congestion. It may well be that the layby is converted for bus use.’

But he warned: ‘This is by no means straightforward as often there are several buses arriving at a time and so the available space is limited.’

Mr Tugendhat added: ‘Although not yet a definite plan, it seems KCC finally acknowledge something needs to be done to ensure traffic flows more smoothly.

‘I will continue to raise this with them to ensure that they will look again at how the High Street works for everyone – including cars.’

Jamie Watson, Senior Schemes Manager at County Hall, revealed the results of the survey at a meeting of the Tonbridge Forum.

He said the scheme was supposed to provide a more attractive environment for pedestrians, reduce congestion and encourage business to the town.

‘Unfortunately, the public responses to the consultation illustrated negative feedback towards the project,’ he said.

‘Particular concerns have been expressed regarding bus stops, the location of bus stops and their use by ‘idling’ buses.’

‘The overwhelming view was that bus stops represented a significant challenge.’

Another concern by Tonbridge Civic Society was the need to improve the appearance of unattractive buildings, granite steps and cobbles alongside the railway station.

The buildings were owned by Network Rail and regular lobbying has been undertaken by the society and Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council.

Other points raised included the impact on cyclists of the bus stop, improved signage to divert traffic along Bordyke, and the raised table in the High Street, a traffic calming feature which is often mistaken for a pedestrian crossing.

Mr Watson admitted that the aim of the scheme was to encourage traffic away from the High Street and KCC would review the signs again.

He added that bus operators had responsibility to ensure their timetable did not create ‘idling’ issues and KCC were talking to the companies.

New cycle hub for station

KCC also reported to the Forum about the improvements being made to Tonbridge railway station.

Southeastern’s proposed cycle hub on Barden Road had resulted in design work being required on the junction with Vale roundabout.

To ensure that cyclists remained safe while accessing the hub, a contraflow cycle lane had been proposed.

There were also plans to retain the kiss-and-drop layby outside the station, remove the right-hand turn into Priory Road and provide a traffic-signalled junction at Waterloo Road to help pedestrian access.

To minimise disruption to traffic it was intended to begin construction at the start of the schools’ summer holidays.

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