An MP fears an upgrade to Stockbury roundabout will be scuppered after Swale council pulled the plug on its financial contribution towards the improvements.
The scheme won support from Swale and Minster councils but, last week, the borough council faced backlash after revealing it would no longer contribute towards the price tag, which is believed to be £80 million.
Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson, who has been campaigning for the upgrade, said: “Those improvements are crucial if we are to end the traffic congestion on the A249 that so many commuters face on a daily basis.
“Swale council’s contribution towards the £80m cost of the development was a modest 1% of the total, however, that contribution was important in convincing the Department for Transport and Highways England the scheme should go ahead.
“Because of objections by Stockbury Parish Council, planning for the scheme is on hold. The parish council objects to the proposal for a flyover, which is the only logical solution for the long-standing congestion at the roundabout. That flyover pushed the cost of the scheme up from the original estimate of £58m.
“I will continue to lobby Highways England hard to press on with the scheme regardless, because I think it is wrong that an objection from one parish council can prolong the daily misery experienced by so many of my constituents.
“However, I fear the removal of this financial support from Swale council will provide Highways England with an excuse to either revert to the previous unacceptable cheaper scheme, or pull the plug altogether and use its money on schemes in other parts of the country where the local authority is more supportive.”
Council leader Roger Truelove said it would be a “travesty” to try to lay at the door of Swale council any responsibility for the possibility of the improvements being lost.
He said a more dangerous scenario was the scrapping of the project in response to the Prime Minister’s call to cut projects, or an escalation of costs after the Department for Transport's public inquiry into the revamp plans.
He added: “No sensible person would believe that a project listed by Highways England at over £100m would really turn on a contribution from a borough council of £800,000.
“The simple facts are that Kent County Council agreed to carry out work costing £2.5m and somehow hoodwinked the previous borough leadership into promising eight hundred thousand of that, a small share of government and county council expenditure, but over 5% of ours.
“When the coalition came in, we took the view that it is not the job of a borough council to help pay for a national project. I conveyed that view to KCC in June but asked for any written evidence that Swale had committed itself to make a gift to KCC. I have never received that evidence and we have moved on. Had it existed we would have been honour bound to fulfil it.
“Our budget is much smaller than others and we regard it as our responsibility to support our local people with better services and facilities, whilst it is the job of Highways England and the Kent Highways to facilitate improved road networks. We support their wish to improve Junction 5 but we are not handing out gratuities that should rightly be spent on Swale council priorities.”
The public inquiry into the plans is set to open on Tuesday, March 10 at Hempstead House in London Road, Bapchild, and is expected to last about two weeks.
If approved, work would start this summer and the new roundabout would open to the public in late winter 2021 or spring 2022.