Published: 14:52, 28 July 2021
| Updated: 16:19, 29 July 2021
Work to replace a busy roundabout in Ashford with traffic lights is due to start next week – but there are fears the possible 18 months of disruption will make it difficult for businesses to survive.
Housebuilder Crest Nicholson is expected to start work on the ‘McDonald’s roundabout’ project on Monday, converting the Orbital Park junction on the A2070 Bad Munstereifel Road into a new signalised crossroad 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.
Robin Harnett, who has run the Clipper & Cuts hairdressers at the Ashford Market site for 23 years, says the works – which will include an upgrade to the Finberry housing estate junction – will have a “dramatic impact” on his trade.
He said: “Over the last four years, we’ve had to put up with the Junction 10a works and the cone off on the A2070 to make one lane at the same time they closed Newtown Road for the Designer Outlet works – that affected us badly.
“Our customers couldn’t get to us from either direction and at that point we had cancellations almost every day, with people stuck in traffic or saying they just weren’t going to bother.
“Now, out of nowhere, this plan’s come back again and that will make five whole years of congestion. We’re not going to get five years of customers back.”
Despite conceding it can be difficult to get onto the roundabout at peak times, the 58-year-old bristled at the sheer amount of traffic lights, saying “they gridlock the whole of Ashford and when Chart Road’s dualling starts that could be chaos”.
Coupled with the inability to open due to the pandemic, he fears the struggle to survive will be a difficult one.
Mr Harnett says he now has lost 40% to 50% of his customers compared to pre-pandemic levels and that his hairdressers are often left waiting for the next client to come in.
“I think it’s going to be hard,” he said.
“There’s been weeks where I’m paying my wage bill but not making any money.
“It seems to be one thing after another. I think residents and businesses around the Orbital Park have put up with enough with the Junction 10a works, and all these projects come through late. Why weren’t these works being done throughout the pandemic when the roads were empty?”
He also criticised the lack of consultation ahead of the works – a view echoed by Aylesford and East Stour councillor David Smith (Ashford Independent).
“It is clear that there has been no publicity to the adjoining areas and it has come as a complete shock to many,” Cllr Smith said.
However he says he supports the project, saying: “As far as installing traffic lights is concerned, it is much needed.
“There are problems at rush times with vehicles stopping in and blocking the roundabout so it is impossible to use it.
“When traffic is lighter, people are speeding and straight lining the roundabout creating dangers to other road users.
“The major problem for the adjoining area of South Willesborough and Newtown is lorries accessing the area and causing noise when they are forced to try and turn around.”
In response to the plans, one Newtown resident said the scheme is now outdated.
“This idea of lights at the roundabout was planned 20 years ago, this area has changed in this time and no longer seems the logical answer,” they said.
“It will mean a considerable increase in traffic on the roads and, as we have seen, highways have no concern for the safety of the residents and would only be moving the problem from one area to another where they will claim no responsibility as they have already shown over the last 10 years.”
Another resident was concerned about the effect of having an Aldi store potentially built on Waterbrook Park.
"FM Conway will endeavour to keep disruption to a minimum..."
But Ashford MP Damian Green says he is fully supportive of the A2070 scheme, and states the long-term benefits outweigh the months of disruption.
He said: “Yes, they have been planned since Finberry was first planned and I have seen and been told about lorries that can’t get out of the lorry park on Waterbrook so they just push their way out onto the roundabout.
“One day that will cause a serious accident, so it’s sensible and actually safer for everyone in the long run to have traffic lights there.
“I wonder whether we need the full 18 months to put in lights, but I think they are essential.”
When asked whether the plans were outdated, Mr Green said: “If anything, the modern situation makes it more necessary as the lorry park is bigger than it was 20 years ago and we’ve now got an increasing number of houses on Finberry.
“It just means you can’t delay this any longer.”
In a statement, a spokeswoman for Crest Nicholson said “traffic management will be implemented on the A2070 from early August and works are expected to be completed by the end of September 2022”.
“The improvements are intended to improve highway capacity, to facilitate ongoing development at Finberry and other developments in the local area,” she added.
“The works will be fully funded by Crest Nicholson, in association with its nearby Finberry development in Ashford.
“FM Conway has been appointed to construct the Bellamy Gurner junction on behalf of Crest Nicholson.
“FM Conway will endeavour to keep disruption to a minimum during the works and will maintain access to surrounding areas at all times.”
Elsewhere in Ashford, parts of Hythe Road – between Norton Knatchbull School and Church Road – are currently being closed overnight from 7.30pm and 5am to allow for resurfacing works.
The closures, which saw the section between Albemarle Road and Church Road shut yesterday, will run until Wednesday.