Published: 06:00, 15 October 2020
An Indian restaurant could disappear to make way for a roundabout in an attempt to solve congestion in Maidstone.
The Taj Barming at the Fountain Lane junction with Tonbridge Road would need to be demolished by Kent County Council if a scheme that went before the Maidstone Joint Transportation Board yesterday wins approval.
Confusion was caused when the council's agenda papers were released.
They identified three homes near the junction, as well as the restaurant, and labelled them 'Third Party landowners', making it appear that their land too would be needed for the double roundabout.
But KCC later clarified that these buildings were included for "information and background," and the properties and land within their grounds would not be required.
Vilendra Patel and Elaine Rogers, whose homes were named on the document, both said this week they had heard nothing about it and had no contact from the council.
The papers make it clear that action is needed because of the number of homes already built, or due to be constructed, along Hermitage Lane.
By 2027, Hermitage Lane is due to see around 4,000 new homes built.
Kiron Haque has owned the restaurant for 10 years - it was previously part of the Spice Fusion chain of 11 restaurants, which he also owned.
He said: "I've known about the roundabout plans since before the Covid lockdown.
"The council asked me if I would sell and I told them anything's possible if the price is right."
Mr Haque admitted that the restaurant, where he employs 11 staff, had not been his most profitable venture.
He said: "We had only been open four months when we had a big flood that closed us for three and a half years. Then we opened, had to close, opened, had to close. There was the sinkhole in the road outside that closed us again, and then of course Covid.
"We've probably only traded for about three years out of that 10."
Mr Haque said he had not reached an agreement with KCC to sell. He said: "I've seen the figure [£615,000] they've set aside in their cost analysis to buy the place - and it's laughable."
He's employed his own negotiator to barter a deal.
But said Mr Haque, he thought the roundabout scheme would be good for the residents of Barming.
He said: "The traffic at the junction and along Hermitage Lane is horrendous. I never travel in the rush hour any more.
"It was taking me half an hour to cover the 1.8 miles from one end to the other."
He added: "It's because they've allowed thousands of homes to be built along a country lane with no provision."
There have been nine attempts to find an acceptable scheme to remodel the junction before - all have been abandoned after they were thought not to bring sufficient benefit to justify the cost.
Now KCC has come up with a scheme it says will "reduce the degree of saturation on all four arms of the junction to 75% at peak times".
But officers are warning that if nothing is done, the congestion would be at "over 100%" on all four arms by 2031.
The proposal is for the existing junction, which has traffic lights, to be turned into a dual roundabout.
The Fountain Lane arm approach would be widened into the land currently occupied by the restaurant to reduce queue lengths for traffic wanting to turn left onto the A26 Tonbridge Road.
The main three-arm roundabout would be situated at the existing junction, with the third arm to the south-west linking to a smaller roundabout which would also have three arms.
The smaller roundabout would not be a complete roundabout as vehicles would not be able to make a right turn movement from A26 Tonbridge Road (West) into Farleigh Road.
Instead, vehicles would need to move through the main roundabout and return to the smaller junction, essentially performing a U-turn.
For pedestrian safety, there would be four signalised pedestrian crossings, one on each of the four approaches to the junction.
By reducing congestion, the scheme would improve air quality, it was said.
The trouble is the council does not have the cash for the scheme.
It is sitting on a pot of £621,848 contributed by various housing developers as part of their "Section 106" obligations, but the scheme is initially costed at £3.197million - and that comes with a warning that it is only the initial assessment.
“I’m 68 now and nothing surprises me anymore.”
The other problem is the third party land required.
Officers said: "There is the risk that purchase of this land cannot be negotiated and a Compulsory Purchase Order will be required which will effect the delivery timescale of the project."
Additionally, officers warned that construction would cause "widespread disruption" on a road that is key route to reach Maidstone Hospital.
From a technical angle, BT Openreach cables that lie under the road surface would have to be lowered and that would cost £850,000 on its own.
Psychotherapist Richard Gerrish, 68, owns a home adjacent to the Taj Barming car park in Fountain Lane, where the roundabout would be sited.
His home was also mentioned in the council's papers.
He said: “I hadn’t heard about the proposals, but I’ve been trying to sell the house for three months now and this really scuppers any of those plans.
"Who is going to want to buy this place with this hanging over their head?
“But something does need to be done as the traffic is terrible and the road is always congested."
Mr Gerrish lives at the house with his daughter and his dog and has been there for seven years.
He added: "The traffic problems are what’s not selling the house right now.
"It’s left us in a tricky situation now - we’re meant to be having viewings this weekend.”
When asked whether he was surprised that his name had been included in the council's papers without his knowing, he said: “I’m 68 now and nothing surprises me anymore.”