Two M20 slip roads that were once used by thousands of motorists every day have been left to nature almost three years after they shut for good.
But why were they closed in the first place and could they ever reopen? Liane Castle reports...
It doesn't take long for nature to take over.
Approaching three years since National Highways closed two slips at Junction 10 in Ashford, it's almost as if they never existed.
The now grass-covered ramps – previously the coastbound on-slip and London-bound off-slip – were blocked off in November 2019 when Junction 10a opened as part of plans to improve Ashford's road network.
It meant the majority of motorway traffic was diverted away from Junction 10 and moved just 700 metres south east to the new £104m junction.
Drivers used to be able to enter and exit the M20 at Junction 10, but can now only access the roundabout if they are heading coastbound from Junction 9.
But with an estimated 627,000 cars now using Junction 10a every month, endless roadworks and Operation Brock causing tailbacks, could reopening the forgotten banks solve congestion issues in the town?
National Highways, the body behind the scheme, says this is not an option.
"The southside slip roads were closed at Junction 10 for a number of reasons," a spokesman said.
"One, Junction 10a now provides access from the southside and has negated the need for Junction 10 slips.
"Two, there is insufficient space between Junction 10a and Junction 10 to accommodate both the Junction 10a northside and Junction 10 southside slips safely."
Ashford Borough Council deputy leader Cllr Paul Bartlett (Con) says while residents didn't want them to close at first, he feels cutting them off has made Junction 10 much safer and easier to use.
"When we had the public inquiry, we made the case to keep them open because we felt it would improve traffic flows but engineers were adamant they could not be reopened, they had to be closed off and grassed over as they did," the Sevington resident said.
"The current congestion around Junction 10a isn’t helped by the work being done on the A2070 to put the traffic lights in.
"But I'm convinced that once all the work has been completed, we will notice a considerable improvement in the way traffic flows around.
"I think 10a does what it was meant to do and the reason why is because there are only two sets of traffic lights whereas Junction 10 had lights at every point."
In recent months, work to replace the nearby Orbital Park roundabout with traffic lights on the A2070 Bad Munstereifel Road has been causing gridlock in Ashford – and disruption is set to continue until October.
The dual carriageway has been reduced to one lane in both directions from the Sevington 'Jet Roundabout', which was built alongside Junction 10a, to the Cloverleaf Roundabout while work on the 'Bellamy Gurner' scheme is carried out.
From today, one lane is set to reopen on the westbound carriageway – towards the Cloverleaf roundabout – to help keep traffic moving while high volumes are expected over the summer holidays.
Away from the A2070, National Highways says it is pleased with the outcome of its work around Junction 10, but the changes have split opinion among driving instructors in the town.
Tony Murphy, who runs a driving school under his own name in Ashford, feels the network was better before the slip roads were closed.
"It was no worse before; I think I preferred the old system because it was more direct and a lot easier to use," he said.
"You had queues of traffic then, and you have queues of traffic now.
"With Ashford growing and all of the extra traffic, it will be even worse.
"Junction 10a is clearer and you don't get the hold-ups but it is a bit of a detour to get there; it's no quicker.
"In Maidstone they have slip roads that are close together and they found ways around it."
Speaking on the A2070 roadworks, Mr Murphy feels traffic lights are wrong for the area.
"I avoid the area because it's total congestion all of the time," he added.
"A bypass is meant to be a quick way of getting somewhere.
"I believe by sticking traffic lights there, the tailbacks will be even worse, people will be using other roads to avoid them."
'"The scheme has achieved its objective of separating long distance and local traffic..."
But Chris Jones from Kingsnorth, who has been a driving instructor in Ashford for 10 years, feels the upgraded road layout at Junctions 10 and 10a has improved the network.
"Even experienced drivers can find it difficult to read the road," he said.
"But I personally think it is clearly signposted. If you're heading on the motorway towards Dover from Ashford, once you enter Junction 10a, it's just a question of following the lines and signs.
"A lot of people drift and don't take up the feeder lanes they are supposed to.
"Ashford is growing and there is a real need to make sure we have got the proper infrastructure for all the houses.
"Now 10a it has been in place for a couple of years, once people realise how to use it, traffic will flow beautifully.
"If you remember, all you needed was a broken down lorry or an accident on the Junction 10 roundabout before, and the whole area came to a standstill.
"At least now we have a nice flow to take us around to Junction 10a."
Speaking on the introduction of traffic lights on the A2070, he said: "I think it will help in the long term so hopefully the ends will justify the means.
"I find that when we use the roundabout the lorry drivers have to wait a very long time to get out of the truck stop Sevington so a traffic light system will be beneficial."
Before 10a was built, the project had been in the pipeline for 11 years.
Initial consultation took place in 2008, with the government giving the scheme the go-ahead in January the following year.
Along with projects including Ashford College and the expansion of the Designer Outlet, the junction was one of Ashford Borough Council's 'Big 8' schemes, seen as essential to the growth of the borough and its financial future.
It was also seen as pivotal for huge housing schemes nearby, such as Chilmington Green, Finberry and yet-to-be-approved Kingsnorth Green – all of which contributed money to the construction cost.
Work officially began in February 2018.
Twice it was suggested that two of Junction 10's slip roads would be closed before 10a was complete, but each time this was postponed following public outcries.
With 10a seen as crucial to Kent's Brexit preparations, Ashford MP Damian Green successfully petitioned Michael Gove to accelerate the opening of a section of the roundabout.
It finally opened on October 31, 2019, but the project was not fully complete until later.
"Junction 10 works better than it used to," Mr Green said.
"There used to be constant dangerous queues at rush-hour around it and the introduction of 10a has completely changed the configuration of all of the entrances and exits on the M20.
"Junction 10a was very necessary even without the Sevington Inland Border Facility (off the A2070 link road)."
"We need to send a message that trees need to be replaced..."
One thing Mr Green said he would like to see is work to make the closed slips more visually attractive and more environmentally friendly.
He suggested tree-planting schemes which would help to absorb carbon should be considered if they are appropriate.
More work to make the slip roads green is something Cllr Bartlett is also calling for.
He added: "They have done a good job at planting in some parts of Junction 10a but I think there is still a lot of work to be done.
"They should be properly grassed over and I think they need to ensure they use all opportunities to introduce flowers and wildlife to encourage pollinators.
"They also need to ensure the trees they planted are well-maintained because I’ve noticed a lot of them have died around Junction 10a and the border facility there seems to be quite a lot that haven't survived the dry spring.
"We need to send a message that those trees need to be replaced."
National Highways says a 'vegetation and environmental enhancements package' it committed too has been fully delivered.
An 'after-care package' will continue for two more years to ensure it is fully established.
The spokesman added: "The aims of the scheme have been achieved and we are pleased with its contribution to local safety, congestion reduction and improved interaction between M20 and local roads.
"The scheme has achieved its objective of separating long distance and local traffic.
"It has reduced congestion and improved safety by providing better connections between the M20, A20 and A2070."