It’s been three years since a plan to improve nine junctions in and around Maidstone was first approved.
Yet some parts of the Maidstone Integrated Transport Package, which was first proposed by Kent County Council in 2016, are yet to begin.
The scheme was adopted in 2020, with ambitions to improve eight key junctions across the town, and one in the borough of Tonbridge and Malling, with the aid of £8.9m of government funding.
The original deadline for the completion of all the schemes was the summer of 2024.
At a meeting of the Maidstone Joint Transport Board meeting, a written update on the progress revealed very little work had been done.
One scheme, the lane alterations on the Loose Road at the junction with Armstrong Road and Park Way has been almost finished, although a yellow box and and the need to provide a separate filter for traffic turning right into Armstrong Road has still to be added.
The summary of the works were as follows:
A249 Bearsted Road - “Work will commence shortly”
A20 Coldharbour Roundabout/A20 London Road and Hall Road – “Due to commence in January 2024”
A229 Loose Road junction with the A274 Sutton Road (Wheatsheaf junction) – “Expected to start late autumn 2023”
A229 Loose Road junction with Armstrong Road/Park Way – “Complete except for minor remedial work”
A229 Loose Road junction with Sheals Crescent - “Delayed, no date”
A229 Loose Road junction with Cripple Street/Boughton Lane – “Delayed, design not expected to deliver any noticeable benefits”
A20 Ashford Road junction with Willington Street – “Delayed until the A249 Bearsted Road project is complete”
A26 Tonbridge Road junction with Fountain Lane – “The status of this scheme has not changed since the last update six months ago” (ie no date to start)
A274 Sutton Road junction with Willington Street – “Work will start after all other schemes have been completed”
The councillors, both borough and county, were angry that there had been so little progress and that there were no KCC highways officers present at the meeting to be challenged about the schemes.
Sir Paul Carter (Con), who was himself the leader of Kent County Council for 14 years until he stepped down in 2019, said: ”Maidstone has a big problem because it has taken more new houses than its far share. Most of these schemes should have been delivered years ago, and they haven't been.”
Cty Cllr Ian Chittenden (Lib Dem) said: “We cannot scrutinize and we cannot operate properly unless we have highways officers in attendance. I am disappointed that of all these improvements recommended six or seven years ago, only one has been achieved. The Bearsted Road scheme is three years later than planned.”
Cllr Clive English (Lib Dem) observed that the package was out of date and now needed to include Hart Street/Barker Road and have a greater emphasis on progressing Fountain Lane.
He said: “We can’t even seek money for these projects if the design work hasn’t been done. We need to stop messing about. This is just not good enough.”
“We need a root and branch fundamental reform of the interface between KCC and MBC.”
Cllr Brian Clark (Lib Dem) said: “We’ve seen these same stale paragraphs come to us time and time again.”
Cllr Gary Cooke (Con) said: “These junctions improvements have just been going on forever and ever and ever.
“The truth is that 20 years ago we should have built the Leeds/Langley Relief Road.
“All these junction improvements will only have a very limited effect. We should have put the infrastructure in place first, before all the housing came along subsequently.”
Bearsted Parish Cllr Richard Ash, representing the Kent Association of Local Councils, agreed: He said: “All that is proposed here is just tinkering, But it’s tinkering using millions of pounds.”
He described the Bearsted Road scheme, which would create four lanes outside of the Notcutts entrance as “ridiculous”. He said: “A little further on, over the roundabout and you're back into two lanes. It will be a nightmare.”
Cllr Fay Gooch (Ind) said: ”On Fountain Lane, the report says ‘the status of this scheme has not changed.’
“I reckon that phrase is going to be regurgitated meeting after meeting. In 2030, we’re still be reading ‘the status of this scheme has not changed.
The meeting's agenda had merely asked councillors to “note” the report, but they were so angry they refused to do even that.
Cllr English drafted a motion stating that it was impossible to note the report because without officers present to answer councillors’ questions they did not have sufficient information.
Sir Paul added that in the future the board wanted written reports with full details of the start and completion dates for each project in advance, plus officers present at the meeting.
In a rare show of unanimity, all members – county, borough and parish- voted to refuse to note the report and instead to send a letter of complaint to KCC leader Roger Gough (Con) and to the cabinet member for highways, Cllr David Brazier (Con). However, perhaps before the letter arrived, Cllr Brazier has been replaced by Cllr Neil Baker (Con) in a cabinet re-shuffle.
After the meeting, a KCC spokesman said: “We are committed to improving Maidstone’s road network. We also understand people want change, but complex major projects require extensive consultation with local communities and on some of the improvements we have received significant feedback.
“All of this needs to be reviewed by both KCC and the borough council in light of well-documented funding pressures before decisions are taken.”
On the subject of officer attendance, the spokesman said: “Our highways officers have saved thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money by attending Joint Transportation Boards across the county virtually.
“For complicated matters, officers attend meetings in person.”
The county’s district highways manager Susan Laporte did attend the meeting virtually, but she did not speak on the issues.
KCC said: “Due to a combination of leave and ill health, the project managers were not able to attend, but offered to answer questions from members outside of the meeting.”