Chapter 14: Public facilities and services (Geoff Meaden)
SDG Target 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
The present situation and issues
Based on evidence gleaned from our Vision questionnaire, this section examines the public services and facilities that were seen as most important to local Canterbury residents and that have not been fully discussed elsewhere in this Vision. Most of these public services are those provided via local or county level government, but due to the present government instigated austerity measures there is notable concern that some of the services or facilities are being depleted or are reliant on voluntary participation. In an advanced society this range of public provision would be recognised as a norm and thus a city such as Canterbury should continue with their future provision. Here the issues are simply stated relative to the main facilities or services mentioned in the questionnaire, followed by future recommendations that might be needed:
- Car parking. Despite the wide range of parking facilities in Canterbury, parking cars remains a challenge for the authorities. Space is at a premium for residential parking and extensive use has been made of front gardens. On street parking is mostly regulated by parking permits for residents or by on street meter charging for visitors, and shoppers. Financially the Council relies heavily on these remittances from parking, but high charges to customers appears to be a non-sustainable solution in a city which simply has better uses for valuable city centre land. Indeed the City Council is intending to progressively close some inner city car parks.
- Tourist information. Over recent decades the city has had problems with establishing a clearly identified location providing for visitor information. Although the move to the Beaney building may have temporarily solved this problem, the location is far from an ideal long-term solution. Signage for tourists is rather limited because there is no desire to clutter the city centre further with signs. With a number of larger retail premises becoming vacant along the main thoroughfare, it should not be too difficult to find a better location for a tourist information office.
- Activities for younger people. Because of the wide range of potential activities, plus age differences, diverse providers and the distraction now caused through the Internet, the provision of activities for young people are often a difficult provision. However, there are many indications that better provision must be secured for activities that especially appeal to teen-agers.
- Sports facilities. For health and other reasons sport participation is important. The general sport provision in Canterbury is reasonable but it is of concern that sport and/or physical training has declined as a school activity, and this situation needs urgent reversal. The city’s two main universities both have wide ranging sports venues and the Canterbury cricket, hockey and rugby clubs appear to thrive. Other dedicated centres are provided by some of the secondary schools plus a range of private facilities but some sports activities are not well catered for. Thus, after more than a decade of searching, obtaining a base for the Canterbury Football club has still to be achieved.
- Public toilets. Over the last decade city public toilet provision has significantly reduced. Increasing reliance must now be made on private facilities in supermarkets, larger shops, railway stations, restaurants and public houses. For a city with very high visitor numbers this is not a satisfactory situation.
- Waste collection. Given the quantities involved and the varied nature of “waste”, its collection gives rise to numerous “niggles”. Many residents have justifiable problems with the sorting of waste, and many premises have insufficient room to store council collection bins. There needs to be a more progressive move to waste reduction, i.e. whereby many of the items now thrown away can be viewed as a resource in some alternative use. Constant reliance on landfill cannot be sustainable.
- School education provision. The range of schools in Canterbury is wide and in most cases their education provision is of a high standard. However, austerity measures are biting into this provision causing resources and staff reductions. The future may see a need for increasing voluntary parental inputs. Part of the provision problem includes the large amount of school bussing or car travel that is necessary because provision throughout the Canterbury District is non-optimal and because parents have freedom of choice on where to send their children to schools. This transporting adds very considerably to traffic congestion problems.
- Quality of roads and pavements. The recent rapidly deteriorating decline in road and pavement quality has led to considerable public concern. The present unending patching repairs cannot be sustained and presently there are few road/footpath repair actions that are likely to be either sustainable or that will bring about improvements.
- Library services. The library service in Canterbury has always been good and since the refurbishment of its accommodation in the Beaney building, the service has been further enhanced. However there is a good argument to be made that a major public library could benefit from having its own identity and that libraries in Canterbury’s surrounding larger villages should be sustained.
A vision for the future must include ideas and suggestions on how these facilities and services could best be enhanced. The recommendations or strategies below give pointers to how improvements could be made though it is recognised that readers may have additional ideas.
- Car parking: In the shorter term more provision of Park and Ride is an essential component to resolve parking problems and new sites such as near Brenley Corner or locations between Whitstable and Canterbury or between Sandwich and Canterbury should be investigated. Hours of opening for Park and Ride sites should be expanded. At the same time, and given the major new housing developments in the pipeline, a major emphasis must be made on “modal transport shift”, i.e. from cars to walking, cycling and public transport. Greater subsidies should also be secured for local bus services in order to prevent their spiralling decline and rising fares.
- Tourist information: A dedicated building in a prominent central location must be identified for visitor information. At a time when austerity and the use of Internet shopping are curbing central city retailing, leading to store closures, there ought to be little difficulty in finding such premises. Some additional, carefully sited, quality tourist and heritage signage information is also required. The promotion of visitor and tourist experiences could be achieved via actions such as the open house heritage days which might be expanded to include open gardens and local art exhibitions.
- Activities for younger people: The use of the Internet now provides convenient source information on activity availability in the city. It ought to be possible for schools to enter into and encourage extra-curricular activities that do not place too high a reliance on additional education staff inputs, e.g. perhaps through parental involvement. Additional activity venues such as the Kingsmead sports centre must be strongly considered.
- Sports facilities: While some sports facilities in the city are excellent the situation is often fairly fluid. The City Council needs to bring up-to-date its 2011 report on the provision of health, fitness and assorted sports facilities in the District. This should then reveal both what is currently available but more importantly it should state what facilities currently need up-dating. Resolution of the lack of a football stadium needs urgent attention, and surely there is a case for the University of Kent to build high quality shared football premises on some of their not inconsiderable land holdings.
- Public toilets: We question the heavy reliance on the discretionary access that shops and other private sources provide for this essential service, and believe that additional toilet facilities need to be provided at points along main roads or in public open spaces.
- Waste collection: The Council must provide enhanced education and information on waste so that all waste producers are aware of the serious nature of this activity, and that the public have a much better idea on exactly what can and cannot be collected. There are numerous waste reduction measures that must be promoted, i.e. besides the plastic reduction measures already being implemented. At an extreme it would be better to have a local waste to energy power plant than to dump “waste” into the already extensive landfill site to the North-East of the city.
- School education provision: Since the education facilities in Canterbury are good, and since changes to the process of education per se are beyond our remit, we only comment on the actual provision of same. As was described in “the present situation” section above, it has long been clear that there is too much “bussing” of secondary children around the District. The Canterbury Society would advocate that better comprehensive facilities should be provided both at the coast and with the regeneration of Canterbury’s Chaucer School.
- Quality of roads and pavements: It is imperative that pavement repairs are carried out qualitatively via the use of paving slabs (rather than tarmac), which if laid correctly, will give pavements a longer life. And the constant filling of potholes is very short term, unsustainable and most unsatisfactory. Roads must be constructed properly in the first place so as to give a far longer life, and maintained via long lasting quality procedures.
- Library services: Despite the enhanced library facilities, it might well be agreed that the Beaney building is insufficient to have to be shared between tourist information, the public library, a small art gallery and Canterbury’s main museum. For a city of Canterbury’s importance, these services deserve their own premises. The City Council should urgently investigate this.