A £1.2 million makeover of Canterbury high street will leave it an “empty and sterile place”, it is claimed.
The city council is to chop down five trees and rip up the paving between Superdrug and Metro Bank in a bid to boost the attractiveness of St George’s Street.
The stretch will undergo a boulevard-style revamp, with a new avenue of trees planted.
A space for events will also be created, and new seating, lighting and paving installed.
But opponents worry the project – which will spell the end of the city’s market after 668 years – will expose the “ugly” exterior of shop frontages and do little in the way of bringing benefit to Canterbury.
Speaking at last Wednesday’s policy committee meeting, Cllr Alex Ricketts (Lib Dem) questioned the effectiveness of the scheme.
“We talk about the post-war frontages of the shops, but then we remove the post-war frontages covering the shops,” he said.
“So it’s not going to beautify the area, it’s going to reveal more of the ugly bits.
“It’s not a very good scheme, I don’t think it provides good value for money and isn’t in the interests of regenerating the area.
“What we will have is a very clean, empty and sterile space that doesn’t provide any revenue to the council.”
The trees will be felled next year, while market traders will be removed from their pitches when their licences are revoked in January 2023.
Defending the project’s aesthetics, council leader Cllr Ben Fitter-Harding says “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.
“The scheme offers many benefits, including the value it brings to the council in terms of improvements for its asset of Whitefriars – potentially increasing future rental values,” he said.
“St George’s Street is a mess. It’s dangerous in places. We’ve had people fall and trip over on the paving, so it does need rectifying.
“This is one of those areas where we can actually invest in the fabric of the city centre and help it recover, and ensure it is still an attractive place for people to invest in.
“This is a very strong way to invest.”
Labour leader Cllr Dave Wilson has branded the project “an inappropriate use of money”.
He said: “There is no financial return for the council, and no financial benefit for the traders. In fact, there is a disbenefit because the market traders will be ousted.
“To spend this money at a time when we’re facing extremely difficult budgets, for no clear benefit, are we serious this is a priority now?”
At Wednesday’s meeting, councillors voted to approve the decision made by the regeneration committee last month and ratify the high street makeover.
Seven councillors voted in favour, while four were against.
Away from the meeting, Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield has criticised the decision to boot the market out of its long-standing location.
‘St George’s Street is a mess – it’s dangerous in places…’
“Of course we want to revamp areas that are looking tired and run down, everyone wants to do that. But not at the expense of our heritage and tradition,” she said.
“There’s been a lot of talk about gentrifying areas, but most people without a huge amount of money do find bargains in a market.
“We don’t want to cleanse the area of the more affordable traders. Some of them have been there for generations.”
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