Published: 09:11, 08 July 2021
| Updated: 14:30, 08 July 2021
Drivers could face 18 months of disruption when one of Ashford’s busiest roundabouts is replaced with traffic lights.
Housebuilder Crest Nicholson is expected to start work on the ‘McDonald’s roundabout’ project this month, converting the Orbital Park junction on the A2070 Bad Munstereifel Road into a new signalised junction.
The plan – titled the Bellamy Gurner scheme – has been in the pipeline for almost 20 years and is expected to take about 13 months to complete.
But Highways England says that due to the junction’s location, contractors may need to be on site for more than 18 months if delays occur.
A traffic regulation order made last month states how overnight and 24-hour closures of a number of roads leading to the junction will be required.
This could include both carriageways of the A2070 and A2042 between the ‘Jet Roundabout’ – the new junction created as part of the Junction 10a scheme – and the ‘Flanders Roundabout’, which is now home to the town’s floral tank and soldier silhouettes.
The pre-emptive order also includes “all of the slip roads leading to and from the carriageways [mentioned above]” as well as “all of the side roads at junction with the carriageways”.
Access to Church Road may also be restricted by the closure of the gap in the central reservation, meaning Sevington residents may have longer routes into town.
Cycle and footpaths adjacent to the A2070 will be closed alternately, allowing access to at least one side of the road at a time.
The order sets out that the works will “impose, over 24-hour periods, a mandatory 40mph speed restriction” on sections of the A2042 and A2070 surrounding the project, as well as nearby side roads such as Avocet Way, The Boulevard and Waterbrook Avenue.
A 24-hour contraflow on the A2070 is also planned, restricting traffic to just one side of the dual carriageway.
The plan to convert the ‘McDonald’s roundabout’ into a traffic light system surfaced in about 2002, ahead of the Crest Nicholson-built Finberry housing development application being submitted.
Seen as a way of improving traffic flow in the area – as well as improving access to the Finberry estate – it was initially thought the work would begin after the development reached a certain level of occupancy.
But just as that level was reached, Highways England decided to begin work on the long-awaited M20 Junction 10a project.
Ashford Borough Council’s deputy leader Cllr Paul Bartlett (Con), who lives close to the roundabout, says the delay to the works made sense.
“They said the Bellamy Gurner scheme couldn’t go ahead at the same time, which actually is fair enough and quite sensible,” he said.
But as construction nears, Cllr Bartlett is concerned about the impact disruption on the A2070 could have for the surrounding area and Ashford as a whole.
“It’s going to make life a lot more difficult,” he said.
'It's long overdue as it was a requirement of planning in 2002...'
“People are now driving a lot more than they used to because of the pandemic – in Ashford there’s roughly 110% of the pre-pandemic traffic.
“This could be because people are nervous about using public transport, or don’t want to wear masks for long periods.
“I don’t think traffic increase will drop again, and that means the lane closures on the A2070 are going to cause a lot more traffic at the Drovers Roundabout – as people use Junction 9 to avoid the works – and there will be delays all around Ashford during peak times.”
When asked whether The Street in Mersham could become a rat-run for people trying to get around the works, Cllr Bartlett said that while there could be people trying it at first, they will probably soon realise that the additional two miles make the diversion not worth it.
He questioned the estimated timescale of the project, but reasoned that a lot of groundwork would need to be done to remove the existing roundabout and create slip roads.
Cllr Bartlett did note there could be a financial cost to nearby businesses as a result of the Bellamy Gurner project, which is named after its designers.
“There’ll doubtless be a downturn because of this,” Cllr Bartlett said.
“The Ashford Retail Park has had a tough time during the pandemic, and I think just as it is expecting to get back on its feet this is the last thing it needed.
“These big road projects do cause congestion while they’re being built but I have to say it will be worth it in the long run.
“The work includes the right-hand turn out of Finberry, meaning residents will finally be able to choose to turn left or right in and out of Finberry.
“It is long overdue as that was a requirement of planning in 2002.”
The specific start date for construction is not yet known, but Cllr Bartlett says the project is scheduled to begin this month.
Contractors will be installing an electricity supply for the new 192-home Hinxhill Park housing estate next to the William Harvey Hospital.