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Plans for controversial traffic lights at busy road junction in Willington Street, Maidstone dropped

Plans to instal traffic lights at a busy road junction have been abandoned.

The lights were proposed by Bellway Homes at the junction of Willington Street with Deringwood Drive in Maidstone.

The junction of Deringwood Drive and Willington Street
The junction of Deringwood Drive and Willington Street

It formed part of a package of mitigation measured offered by the housing developer when it sought planning permission to build 421 homes at Church Road in Otham, half a mile way.

The controversial application had been opposed by both Kent County Council (KCC) and Maidstone council, largely on traffic grounds, but was allowed by a government planning inspector following a public inquiry on the condition that various highway improvement measures were undertaken in the area.

One condition was the installation of lights at the Willington Street junction, which is expected to see more traffic attempting to exit from Deringwood Drive because of the new development, since named Parsonage Place.

But while several road changes have taken place - including at the junction of Spot Lane with the A20, and at the junction of Deringwood Drive with Church Road - the traffic lights have not materialised.

Now it emerges KCC considers that lights at the junction, which is at the foot of two hills, would be unsafe.

Cllr Gary Cooke broke the news
Cllr Gary Cooke broke the news

The revelation was made by Kent County Councillor Gary Cooke (Con) at a meeting of Downswood Parish Council.

Cllr Cooke, who represents Maidstone South, said: "KCC made it very clear throughout the planning process that they objected to the Bellway development on Church Road on grounds of traffic congestion on Willington Street and the surrounding network.

"They also stated that had they still had the powers to do so, they would have directed that planning permission be refused!

"The problem was a planning inspector who disregarded and ignored the views of the Highway Authority and local residents and accepted the arguments put forward by Bellway that the congestion could be mitigated by traffic signals and some other road alignment alterations.

He added: "But while the scheme to introduce traffic controls has been discarded for reasons of safety, KCC and Bellway are continuing to work together to look at other options whereby the junction can be safely improved to assist the flow of traffic."

The news that traffic lights will not go ahead has been treated with both jubilation and dismay.

Duncan Edwards: Worried for cyclists and pedestrians
Duncan Edwards: Worried for cyclists and pedestrians

Some residents felt there were already enough delays along Willington Street without adding more lights, while some sided with KCC in the view that lights at the foot of a dip could be dangerous.

On the other hand, pedestrians and cyclists who cross Willington Street at this point in order to enter Mote Park had been looking forward to the lights.

At present they have to cross in the face of speeding traffic and although there is a pedestrian refuge in the centre of the road, that has previously been wiped out when struck by a speeding vehicles.

Other residents are furious that Bellway will apparently be allowed to renege on one of the planning conditions imposed on the unpopular housing development, with one resident, Malcolm Mackay, estimating that Bellway would now save £500,000, which, he said, they should be obliged to spend elsewhere in the community.

Duncan Edwards is the chairman of the Maidstone Cycle Campaign Forum and lives locally. He said: "At the public inquiry, the inspector was given no evidence that the proposed junction improvements would be unsafe. On the contrary, KCC gave evidence that they had completed a Stage 1 road safety audit and concluded that it would be safe."

An entrance to Mote Park is immediately opposite the junction
An entrance to Mote Park is immediately opposite the junction

Initially, the inspector had ruled that the lights should be in place, before any building proceeded above slab level.

KCC had already allowed a variance of that condition to say that the lights should be in place before the hundredth home was built.

Some residents are now saying that if the lights aren't going ahead, then Bellway should not be allowed to build more than 100 homes.

Mr Edwards said: "Will work on the development have to stop until a safe solution can be found?"

David Hatcher, chairman of the Chapman Road Residents Association, described the decision to cancel the lights as "an absolute disaster".

David Hatcher: We will be stuck on the estate
David Hatcher: We will be stuck on the estate

He said: "KCC is about to consign the residents of Downswood to being effectively trapped in their estate at peak times (because they will be unable to exit into Willington Street)."

A spokesperson for Bellway said: “We are working with KCC and Maidstone council in respect of proposed changes to previously approved planning conditions.

"We are unable to provide any further information on proposed changes at this stage.”

The company would not say whether building would stop at 100 homes.

A KCC spokesperson said: “We are engaging with the developer to design safety improvements for this junction, to include enhanced lining, signing and surfacing, as well as improving the existing crossing point, all aimed at improving safety.”

KCC confirmed traffic lights would not be allowed.

Church Road will be closed for three months
Church Road will be closed for three months

Meanwhile a section of Church Road itself will be closed to through traffic for three months from April 24 to July 23, to enable Walker Construction Limited to undertake carriageway works associated with the Bellway Homes development.

The road will be closed between Rectory Cottage, to the south of the church, and the junction with White Horse Lane.

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