Published: 14:04, 21 June 2021
| Updated: 16:52, 21 June 2021
A £92million upgrade to the Stockbury roundabout has been given the green light this week after a public inquiry.
Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps has approved major changes at one of the busiest junctions in Kent.
Highways England says the works at Junction 5 of the M2 for Sittingbourne, Sheppey, and Maidstone, the interchange with the A249 at Stockbury, will lead to safer journeys for hundreds of thousands of drivers.
The junction has been described as one of the busiest in the region, with drivers experiencing large queues and heavy congestion on a daily basis, as well as it having one of the highest collision rates in England.
It is predicted that the changes will reduce collisions by around a third.
The existing roundabout will be replaced with a flyover, to provide free-flowing movement on the A249.
Two new slip roads will be created with a left-turn for traffic travelling from the A249 southbound to the M2 London-bound and a left turn from the A249 Sheppey-bound to the M2 coastbound.
'This is a demonstrably disastrous decision...'
Maidstone Road to the A249 Stockbury roundabout will be closed, and Maidstone Road will be re-routed to link with Oad Street. The existing junction of Oad Street with the A249 will be closed with a new link provided south of the existing Oad Street to connect with the roundabout.
The main construction work is expected to start in September, with preparation works taking place beforehand.
Despite claims the improvements will make roads safer, campaigners have been left angered by the Secretary of State's decision.
Stuart Jeffery, of Maidstone Greens, spoke at the public inquiry which was held in November and December, and has labelled the decision a "climate failure".
He said: “In a few month’s time the UK will be hosting the latest round of international climate talks. You would think that such an important meeting would help the government focus on what it needs to do to help stop the planet burning. Clearly not as this ‘climate failure’ of a decision shows.
“The so-called improvements costing £80m will ensure the addition of 100,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere each year as a result of the increase in vehicles. Add to that the worsening air pollution in Maidstone, Sittingbourne and along the A249 and this is a demonstrably disastrous decision.
“The government clearly fails to understand the link between its decisions and the need to secure a future for our children and grandchildren. The Paris Agreement is legally binding and yet this decision will help ensure that we fail in our obligations.
“The £80m could have been spent on slowing the A249 down to make it safer, building a bridge across it to link the communities of Stockbury and be invested in alternatives to car use. The opportunity cost of the decision is huge, but sadly we are under the rule of petrol heads who continue to destroy our collective future.”
Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson has been campaigning for the changes for a number of years.
He said: "The Stockbury Roundabout causes heavy congestion on the A249 on a daily basis, particularly during rush hour periods, and the Maidstone-bound tail-backs often reach the Key Street Roundabout.
"The congestion causes misery for those of my constituents who commute to London, Maidstone, or towards Dover, which is why I have lobbied successive ministers, over several years, highlighting the need for those long-term improvements.
I am pleased the current Secretary of State has now given the green light for these to go ahead and I will be pressing for the work to start as quickly as possible."
Stockbury Parish Council admitted it was "disappointed" by the outcome.
A spokesman said: "The Secretary of State announced his decision on Highways England’s proposals for the redevelopment of M2 Junction 5 (The Stockbury Roundabout) today. Despite representations from Stockbury Parish Council, local residents, the CPRE and many others, Highways England’s plans have been approved without any substantial modification.
"This is clearly a disappointment to the Parish Council as it was acknowledged by the Inspector in her report that there will be an enhanced risk to people entering and leaving Stockbury via Church Hill and that some, having weighed the risks, may not come to the village at all.
"This will clearly have an impact on local businesses. However, those factors were thought to be less important than increasing the speed of traffic on the A249.
"The Parish Council will continue to work with Kent County Council to secure funding for a bridge or signalised junction to mitigate the additional dangers that the new design will cause.
"We will be facing many years of disruption and increased risks to life before mitigating alterations can be introduced even if funding can be secured."
Highways England's south east regional director, Chris Welby-Everard, said: "Improving the Stockbury Interchange will bring real benefits to the drivers who use this junction daily, and it will improve the flow of traffic to provide a safer and more integrated network for everyone.
“I’d like to thank everyone for their engagement and contribution to the development of this scheme to date. We will now progress to the next phase, ready for work to begin in September.”
To find out more about the scheme, visit the project website.