‘Terrified’ ex-fire engines will remain stranded on Ashford roads due to parked cars

A former fire chief said emergency vehicles struggling to descend narrow roads with cars parked on either side are a “ticking time bomb”.

Peter New, who served with the Kent Fire and Rescue Service for 35 years, said action had to be taken now, before there was a fatality.

Fire trucks continually struggle to get through narrow roads. Photo taken in 2014 when crews traveled to Willesborough in Ashford to encourage parents not to park near the school – but were then unable to stop or go very far due to reckless parking. Photo: Paul Amos

While speaking specifically to the issues Ashford is facing, the Kent Police volunteer and neighborhood community watch co-ordinator says this is a county-wide problem that needs to be addressed.

“Rescues are completed in minutes and seconds, not 20 minutes of moving a fire apparatus,” he said.

“What worries me is that in Ashford there are narrow roads and cars everywhere.

“Households now have three or four cars and want to park them in front of their house.”

Kent’s former deputy chief operating officer said he was “terrified” by what could happen if this problem persisted – particularly with the increase in new construction.

“All you have to do is drive to Chilmington, Conningbrooks Lakes, the Bellway site and watch the new roads,” he said.

Kent Police volunteer and neighborhood community watch co-ordinator Peter New said he was
Kent Police volunteer and neighborhood community watch co-ordinator Peter New said he was ‘terrified’ the issue could lead to a death

“It’s terrifying, the roads are dilapidated as soon as the builders finish the work.

“This issue is Ashford’s biggest time bomb for the future and the ticking is getting louder by the day, especially with new build developments.

“What is unforgivable is that politicians, developers and builders have built roads that are under pressure even before they are completed.

“There are roads in Ashford where your heart is in your mouth driving a big car.

“Sooner or later a coroner will ask ‘why couldn’t the fire apparatus get through?’

Mr New said motorists parking on the pavement like here in Albemarle Road, Willesborough, is often a
Mr New said motorists parking on the kerb like here in Albemarle Road, Willesborough, are often a ‘saving grace’ so fire engines can navigate narrow roads.

“I was driving fire trucks in the 80s and it was tight – I can’t imagine what it’s like to drive a modern firefighting apparatus on the roads right now.”

He added that if the rules of the road changed to mean that cars could no longer park on the paths, the problems could worsen.

He said: “In some areas, cars hitting the pavement a foot or more are the saving grace.

“We know that the highway code is changing to prohibit parking on the sidewalks.

“But if the law is changed to strengthen the rules of the road, well…”

The 73-year-old, who received the Mayor of Ashford’s award for exemplary service to the citizens of Ashford in May, says that while something needs to be done to fix the problem, he doesn’t see anyone doing what whatever about it.

But, Mr New said he is worried when the rules of the road will change and cars will no longer be able to park on the pavements
But, Mr New said he is worried when the rules of the road will change and cars will no longer be able to park on the pavements

He regularly posts on social media to raise awareness of the issue.

“I’m doing everything I can,” Mr. New said.

“I say it’s a risk that could happen and we can’t continue to ride our luck.

“We must not continue to build these new developments because we are making the problem worse.”

Lawrence Pater, Kent Fire and Rescue Service Regional Manager, said: ‘Some of the problems that our teams often encounter on the narrower residential side streets are vehicles that are parked on or very close to junctions, which makes it difficult for our fire apparatus to turn, as well as vehicles that are double parked, making the road too narrow for a fire truck to pass.

“We understand that people prefer to park as close to their home or destination as possible, but blocked roads could cause a serious delay when we are on our way to an emergency call.

“We urge motorists to think carefully when parking.

Sue Mullan, Council Chair of South Willesborough and Newtown
Sue Mullan, Council Chair of South Willesborough and Newtown

“Fire engines need four meters of space on the road to operate a fire engine during an incident, so please always check if one can pass.

“We could be on our way to a life-threatening incident, and so any delays caused by improper parking could have devastating consequences.”

South Willesborough and Newton (SWAN) Community Council chairwoman Sue Mullan said she agreed with Mr New’s concerns about the problems fire engines are having in traversing narrow roads.

“However, access to fire engines is not the only concern of SWAN residents,” she said.

“Our residents have told us that the volume of parking that limits and often prevents access to major public and emergency vehicles on the narrow roads typical of the SWAN Zone, is of greatest concern to them.

“More than their ability to park in front of their homes.

“Indeed, our residents put the needs of the community before their own.

“SWAN Council has advised Ashford Borough Council of this and that in our view a comprehensive review of parking and traffic management in the SWAN area is the only solution to what is a growing problem.”