And so my gaze returns to the city of Canterbury. In a very quiet understated way, people in the city are not happy. And as far as I can see, most of the blame lies with the Tories.
There are a number of irksome items on the agenda.
Firstly, there is the question of the Westgate traffic trial, a subject which I have touched upon before. The problem is that we have a rather lovely 13th Century ragstone gate house, part of the remaining city defences, that still stands guard over the western entrance to the city. It is beautiful, look:
Now, traditionally traffic has flowed under it to get to the city from the north west, and also to get round the city to get to the channel coast and/or Ashford in the south west. Unfortunately because the ‘new’ A2 when it was built years and years ago was so ill thought out, anyone wanting to get to Ashford from the direction of Whitstabubble and Hernia Bay have little option but to drive through Canterbury because there is no way to get onto the A28 otherwise. Now, a car or a van can fit very easily under the archway in the tower, but a bus/coach or an HGV finds it a bit of a challenge. The end result was that bits kept getting gouged out of the masonry, drivers of foreign tourist coaches turning left into the tower have always found it a huge problem, to be frank it caused chaos and damaged the building.
The traffic heading in the opposite direction, out of the city, passed round the outside of the tower. The solution that Canterbury City Council came up with was to close the inbound direction of traffic to everything but buses and taxis, allowing them to go round the outside of the tower with the aid of traffic lights, and re-routing the rest of the traffic down another route. The whole scheme has been controversial, it has caused significant congestion down residential streets, and in my opinion, has increased the levels of pollution in the western area of the city.
The real controversy comes from the fact that the whole thing was imposed without any public consultation at all, and when consultation came, well into the trial period, it was granted with very bad grace indeed. Finally, Kent County Council stepped in, as the ultimate arbiters of all things highway, and declared that the road configuration would return to its original layout from the end of this month. Several people on the council did not accept this decision very well and there were fairly strong words thrown from city to county hall. There were also some shockingly arrogant displays of petulance from some of the councillors both in the local rag and at public meetings when people raised an objection.
It should be noted that most of the councillors, as far as I can make out, who sit on the committee responsible for this farce live in, or represent, either the rural wards or wards in Whitstabubble and Hernia Bay.
Then we come to the question of the Kingsmead playing field, on the north east of the city. This open space has effectively been common land for, well, centuries. However, the city council has declared that the land is to be sold for housing. This in an area which is only a spit from the zone where the traffic trial has caused such carnage, for Canterbury is a very small city. Whereas opinion has been divided (more in favour of dropping) regarding the traffic trial, opposition to the sale of this patch of open land, used for a whole host of purposes, is almost unanimous. But, the council have made their minds up, and that as they say, is that. Well, perhaps not, there is now an application with the county council to have the land designated as village green, thus protecting it.
Finally, there is the new bin system due in April. Oh, God, the bins. We’re one of those fortnightly collection jobbies. I’ll be fair and point out that the system we have at the moment is actually very good indeed. Once a fortnight, general household waste is collected, and once a fortnight on a week stagger from the general waste, recycling is collected. Every now and then a roll of large transparent sacks drops through the letterbox, into these transparent sacks goes pretty much everything recyclable, with the exception of glass which still needs to be taken to the bottle banks. These sacks are collected, and here comes the bit which I think the council finds objectionable, and the contents sorted. The results make Canterbury one of the best recyclers in the country.
The council has now decided that this won’t do, and we are now due to get six (six!) new bins for each dwelling in the city so that we can sort our own recycling. The problem is space. Canterbury is very densely populated, with narrow streets that really haven’t changed since the middle ages. The houses are small, big gardens uncommon and access difficult. I myself live in a little group of twelve little houses. My house is one of four on the development that has anything that can be considered as a garden. It is inaccessible except through the front door. We have a bin store that is just big enough to store our general bins. There simply isn’t room for twelve general bins and 12×6 recycling containers. This is a situation that is repeated again and again over the city. The response from the council is that collection will be weekly. This spectacularly fails to address the fact that it isn’t volume of rubbish that is the problem, it is surface area of bins. This has been imposed with no apparent consultation.
All this has been done with a very high handed and arrogant attitude by the vast majority Conservative council. And here we come to the nub of the matter. Labour down here are a joke. I’ve received their local propaganda sheet today, and piss poor quality aside, it focuses entirely on national issues, barring one paragraph on the Westgate. The Lib Dems, are the Lib Dems, ineffective and self-important, kinda like a collective Chris Huhne. At the last local elections I had a choice of Blue, Red or Yellow. I spoiled my paper.
The reason the Tories in Canterbury are like they are is because they are, so they think, untouchable. People here will vote Labour as soon as Sheffield returns a Tory run council. Never. The Lib Dems will pick up a ward or two, but as far as it goes it is blue, blue, blue.
I received a UKIP Kent letter the other day, inviting me a) to a UKIP Canterbury meeting on March 16th, which I won’t be able to attend as I’m a terrible romantic and am taking Mrs. Wolfers to Paris on the Eurostar for a weekend of snorting absinthe and cheering on dancing girls with their thrupennies out, and b) to stand as a paper candidate in this year’s locals. Which I’d love to do, unfortunately my employment as a public servant precludes me from doing so.
Now, a paper candidate don’t sound too hot, but I understand the thinking behind it. The more candidates UKIP put up, the more visible they become, the bigger share of the party political broadcast pie they get, the more votes they pick up simply by dint of being an option, the rosier things look. However I think fielding paper candidates in Canterbury would be going off at half-cock, because we have a population here who are far from happy with the Tories, but just won’t vote Lab and will vote Lib in small number only.
I believe that by getting a strong localist UKIP message out, providing a real alternative, never mind the EU and all that guff, an alternative which is palatable to the dis-affected Tories, stay at homers and paper spoilers, they could set a real foundation. It is that foundation that is absolutely vital, it is that which meant that UKIP came second in Eastleigh, so strong was the Lib Dem foundation there. By building this foundation, the dreaming spires of Westminster can follow. But more than that, the people of Canterbury deserve a choice and deserve the chance to put some of these arrogant comfortable Tory councillors to the electoral sword.