THE costs of converting the Ashford ring road into a two-way street have soared by £3million.
The first phase of the scheme, which has already been much criticised, was supposed to cost about £11million, with the bulk of the money being provided by the Government.
But the final bill has come in at nearly £14million and left county road chiefs facing a £2.95million shortfall.
The financial problems were reported to the Ashford's Future Delivery Board in July but have only now become public following the release of documents in response to a request made by us under the Freedom of Information Act.
The higher than expected costs have forced Kent County Council to put on hold its proposals to improve West Street and Forge Lane with a series of "shared space" developments.
However, the work to improve Elwick Road and Bank Street which is already underway, will be completed.
The development of shared spaces around the ring road, incorporating public art and equal priority for pedestrians and others, had been regarded as crucial in helping Ashford’s appeal to both would-be investors and visitors.
Ashford county councillor Elizabeth Tweed acknowledged there would be concerns about any delays.
"I am disappointed that it cannot happen just now but I am confident that it will in time. We have to hang in there - it will be worth it in the end."
A spokesman for KCC said that Cllr Keith Ferrin (Con), cabinet member for highways, had decided to "reduce the scope of the project for the time being". The council is now waiting for the outcome of a bid to the Government for more cash to complete the work.
In a statement, Cllr Paul Clokie, chairman of Ashford’s Future and Ashford council leader, said: "The Ashford’s Future Delivery Board is working with its partners to ensure the town receives a high quality public realm scheme which will make the town centre a more attractive, vibrant place and one that will attract more visitors and investment.
"We continue to work in collaboration with Kent County Council and others to reach a suitable conclusion on funding of the scheme."
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