Monday, 3 October 2011

Medway Tunnel; To toll or not to toll?

The sorry story of Medway Tunnel continues to ravage... well local news stands and the concerns of Medway motorists who are already hard pressed for money. The root of the problem seems embedded in Gun Wharf and the Council offices, however it is not clear whether it is a Conservative Council cock up or a Labour party ruse. What is clear that in the confusion Medway citizens are kept in the dark, what they and the Liberal Democrats want, is answers.

The story of the Tunnel is long but interesting and worth noting.

Before the tunnel opened only the A2, that ran over the beautiful Rochester Bridge, spanned the river linking Rochester and Strood and so steps were taken to remedy this. In 1990 a bill was passed allowing the Rochester Bridge trust with funding from Kent County Council to build a ground breaking design that crossed the Medway. After four years it opened in 1996 and KCC took a 999 year lease with the RBT paying a contribution towards maintainace and running costs, the KCC lease was eventually passed to Medway Council in 1998. All standard and above board?

Well hold on, here's the intriguing part;

In 2008 the Council made a deal with the RBT to buy it for £1. Yep £1. You can't even buy a 500ml Bottle of coke for £1! Not even in 2008.
Anyway I digress. So the council wouldn't be out of pocket the RBT paid the council £3.6 million as a one off donation and then washed their hands of the whole affair.
Interestingly Concillor's Jarrett and Chambers, the portfolio holder for the budget and leader of the Council and Conservative group are also members of the RBT - but both claim that they were kept separate from any negotiations on the subject.
Since 2009 the Council has been lobbying the department of transport to take over the repairs and maintenance of the tunnel with their assistance but time is running out...
It is projected that by 2013 the last of the RBT money will have run out and the council will have to seek other means to support it, tolls seem like the only way to do so especially when a safety inspection by the AA projected a £6m price tag to bring it up to scratch! Apparently the rubber seals that connect the tunnel sections will not hold at temperatures of 1500 degrees which can be reached in a horrific accident. Worse case scenario the fires will be put out by the waters of the Medway which will come gushing through the holes in the seal!

The council shut the tunnel of an evening last week so it could carry out essential works and improvements, including upping the computer and electronic systems, £1m is being pumped in to do this and should help reduce the running costs for the future. However the money is running out and more will need to be found.

It is a local concern that the already stretched motorists will have to pay a toll but it seems to be one that the leading body are willing to confirm or deny. They have made representations to National Government about the Ministry of Transport taking it over and paying something towards upkeep but in these economic times will the Ministry take it on?
Councillor Jarrett says; We will keep banging away at that one, but bearing in mind the state of the national finances it might not be fruitful.

The Conservatives have also said that the only reason they are looking into the possibility of a toll is because Labour and the Lib Dems asked the council to look into it and not because it WILL become policy. It is a something that Conservatives and opposition parties all ran against in the local elections. However it does look like unless a donor can be found to help bridge the gap that either the Council will need to up its expenditure or a Toll will have to be enforced.

The people of Medway want answers, not vagary or half truths. Please, treat us as intelligent human beings and tell us what is going on.

Source; Dan Bloom's article in the Medway Kent Messenger 2nd September 2011see;
[ http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-19BooO7nvuc/TmKoKVDKx0I/AAAAAAAAB7E/zbj-EnZGpuM/s1600/scan-10.jpg ] a scan of the original.

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