After 14 years, a controversial traffic management scheme that was mocked by Jeremy Clarkson and presenters on Have I Got News for You is being given a £600,000 makeover.
The first of five phases of work on the Ashford 'Shared Space' starts this evening, with a series of overnight closures across the town planned until Christmas.
The scheme still divides opinion among drivers, with as many critics as fans, reporter Liane Castle looks at whether it has been a triumph or disaster.
When it first opened in 2008, 'Shared Space', which cost about £14 million, was the subject of the merciless humour of the Have I Got News for You team.
The controversial equal-priority system for pedestrians and traffic along Elwick Road, Bank Street, West Street and Forge Lane received a ribbing from the satirical programme.
Guest presenter Jack Dee described the scheme as one "in which pedestrians can step in front of moving vehicles".
Panellist Frank Skinner asked: "Is it overpopulated, Ashford?"
Team-mate Quentin Letts remarked: "Not any more."
Dee, quoting a newspaper clipping, explained: "Apparently for pedestrians the key for stepping into moving traffic is to 'establish eye contact with the driver'... and attempt to maintain it as you roll right across his bonnet."
The scheme is a joint project by Kent County Council (KCC) and Ashford Borough Council (ABC), originally set up to improve the look and feel of the town centre as well as enhancing safety for pedestrians.
But former TopGear presenter Jeremy Clarkson was also critical at the start warning somebody would be killed in a "dance of death".
But he soon took back his words and went on to say that he “often changes his mind” and that a similar scheme introduced on Kensington high street in London had worked well.
But after 14 years, the scheme, which is one-of-a-kind in Kent, still splits opinion among drivers with some favouring the slowing down of traffic and others saying they try to avoid it entirely as it is confusing and dangerous.
There are now lumps and bumps, mismatched tarmac and broken bricks across the town centre scheme which bosses at KCC are now looking to repair with a series of overnight closures.
Phase one of five starts tonight (Tuesday) and will finish just before Christmas but phases two to five will run into spring 2023.
While this will no doubt cause frustration for drivers, Victoria ward Cllr Charles Suddards (Lab) feels aesthetic upgrades are vital as it is looking "rather shoddy".
"I'm not so happy with whoever has done the repairs," he said.
"They should replace like-for-like instead of tarmac, it's looking scrappy.
"When you are walking across it, the repairs look really rather shoddy.
"Some drivers seem to realise that it is a shared space and that the area in the centre is where pedestrians should have precedence.
"I know early on you used to take your life in your hands trying to cross over there.
"It is better now but I think people may still be confused, pedestrians and motorists.
"Better signage would be good. Perhaps at the beginning of the road it could say ‘you're entering a shared space’.
"If you're local, you're aware that there are supposed to be zebra crossings in certain places but they are not familiar to those from out of town."
While agreeing the "condition of it is disappointing", former ABC cabinet member Graham Galpin, an expert on the national High Streets Task Force, feels the shared space has helped put Ashford on the map.
"We have dips and lumps and bits of tarmac sticking up, they need to be replaced, but there are big pluses to it," he said.
"It put us on the front page, even if it was Jeremy Clarkson telling us what a terrible idea it was and coming back and saying 'I was wrong'.
"Secondly it allows a good free flow of people across what was a busy racing road.
"It certainly has reduced accidents and it opened the opportunity for development on the other sides for the cinema, retail and hospitality units and the hotel.
"There is also the redevelopment of the old snooker hall into apartments and we have more apartments coming too just between the hotel and the station, it wouldn’t have happened without the shared space.
"It’s an important asset to the town, like all things it could do better, but I think that’s because it wasn’t anticipated it would get the wear that it does.
'With any road scheme you need to keep updating it...'
"There will be an awful lot of people who feel it is a mess that slows everything down, it's not perfect, but it’s a darn site better than the alternative.
"And when we get the apartments and resuscitated Swanton House, then providing the design is right, I'll be happy with how that part of town, which was languishing for so long, has now picked up."
He went on to add there are "significantly fewer accidents" around that stretch of town now than there was under the previous road layout.
Statistics show there have been 38 personal injury collisions - two serious and 36 slight - since November 2008 and March this year.
But, Gindy Sahota, owner of pizza takeaway Fireaway which sits on the shared space in Bank Street, feels more needs to be done to improve safety.
"The cars going back and forth, they don’t know what to do," he said.
"Do they carry on driving, do they wait for pedestrians? It’s very confusing, especially for people coming from different cities, so maybe there could be more signs.
"As a driver myself I find it confusing.
"People just walk in front of cars because they know they have right of way, but not all cars know that and it causes issues.
"I have seen people almost getting run over so it's not exactly safe; there needs to be more markings."
On the other end of the scale, the shared space has many supporters including Jon Shephard, owner of Matches Sports Bar in Elwick Place who would like to see the scheme extended through town.
"How many other places can say they have got this system?" he said.
"It helps bring in customers and they feel safer to come and use the brand-new Elwick Place facility.
"We are trying to create more of a pedestrianised town centre and without the shared space, how else would they do it?
"I'm a fan and I think the council have good intentions and have done well. The design is super-intricate and really nice.
"Perhaps there needs to be a little bit more signage for people who drive from outside Ashford.
"But in terms of the overall idea of it and what it does for footfall, I think it's great and I would like to see it extended through town to make people flow from the town centre to Elwick Place and beyond.
'The improvements will lead to a nicer, safer and easier to maintain public realm...'
"I used to drive round it when it was just a ring road and it was very busy which attracted a lot of people who didn't drive as considerately as they do now."
When asked if additional signs could be beneficial, Mr Galpin said it could add confusion.
"There is a 20mph limit and that should be sufficient. You could put up a sign saying "you are entering a shared space" but in truth you could get too much info," he said.
"I wouldn't want to put up a sign like that."
Kent County Council (KCC) is due to begin roadworks aimed at preserving the life of the shared space and Lower High Street.
Once complete, bosses say the area will be "better preserved for the longer term", making it more resistant to damage.
Works totalling up to £600,000 will begin tonight and are expected to be completed in five phases by spring 2023.
The first phase of roadworks will largely take place at night between 8.30pm and 5am.
They will begin in Forge Lane, between November 1 and 7, before moving to West Street between November 7 and 21.
Contractors will then focus on the Godinton Road and Elwick Place area.
Further roadworks will then take place at Gasworks Lane on November 28, Forge Lane and West Street on November 29 and finally Godinton Road from December 1 for two nights, marking the end of the first phases of the project.
Further phases are expected to continue after Christmas.
Ashford MP Damian Green says the upgrades will be "money well spent" adding: "There was a lot of scepticism about the shared space when it was first introduced.
"I remember TopGear laughing at it saying there would be lots of accidents but there hasn’t been.
"With any road scheme you need to keep updating it to keep it looking as nice as possible and also keeping it as safe as possible.
"Some of the surface work didn’t last very long so I’m glad to see it will look better than it has done because it ought to be something we want to advertise about Ashford."
KCC’s cabinet member for highways and transport, Cllr David Brazier (Con), said: “These improvements are essential to ensure the continued upkeep of Ashford Shared Space, which is an important part of the look and feel of the town centre.
“The proposals include various changes to materials and layout to make the Shared Space area more resilient to future damage and easier to maintain.
"On the Lower High Street, we shall be removing the uneven cobbles and replacing them with tarmac, which will provide an even surface and reduce future maintenance cost.
“It will also involve the resetting of uneven York paving slabs, replacing missing ones, as well as missing bollards and also addressing tree root damage – promoting easier access for those with additional needs and disabilities.
“I am pleased that members and officers from KCC and ABC have been working collaboratively to plan these works, ensuring disruption is managed as far as possible.”
ABC leader Cllr Gerry Clarkson (Con) said: “We believe our town centre should be a welcoming and safe place for everyone to visit, which is why I am pleased that the Shared Space area and Lower High Street are set for a major series of footway repairs, carriageway alterations and resurfacing.
"Together, the improvements will lead to a nicer, safer and easier to maintain public realm in the town centre.
“KCC and ABC members and officers have been working collaboratively over recent months to look at the best way to approach this work.
"I would like to acknowledge the role Cllr Bill Barrett and Cllr Peter Feacey have played in championing the need for the improvements to be made by the county council, and in finding a viable way forward for them to proceed.”