For other roads with the same name see List of A21 roads.
The A21 is a trunk road in Southern England, one of several which connect London and various commuter towns to the south coast. It provides a link to Hastings, East Sussex and parts of Kent. Half of the distance covered is over gently undulating terrain, with some hills and bends. Often traffic is slow-moving, particularly on weekdays on the single carriageway stretches; and in summer with holiday traffic. Because of this, people have described the A21 as "a joke" and businesspeople have been reported to "hate coming down the A21". There have been many proposals to upgrade parts of the A21 in response to this.
Parts of the A21 follow the historic turnpike roads: for example the section from Sevenoaks to Tunbridge Wells, opened in 1710; other sections of the road were similarly dealt with later in the century. It is also the location of the first wildlife overbridge in the United Kingdom, near Lamberhurst. The road between the M25 and Hastings is designated a trunk road, and is maintained and managed by Highways England (formerly known as the Highways Agency).
The A21 is used for the 55 miles (89 km) Maydayrun to Hastings in which motorcyclists ride from South London to the Hastings seafront. It claims to be the largest non-organised event in the UK, attracting over 20,000 bikers.
The A21 begins in Lewisham, about 4 miles (6 km) southeast of the centre of London. Passing through Catford, Bromley and Farnborough, twenty miles (32 km) from the start of the journey, it reaches the Kent border and the open countryside. Shortly afterwards the M25 is reached, with which it multiplexes for about 5 miles (8.0 km). At this point, the road becomes a trunk road, a distinction it has held since April 1977. The continuation through Kent heads south east for around 26 miles (42 km). This section is mostly a dual carriageway; but there are a few short stretches of single carriageway, resulting in frequent congestion, especially in peak periods. Beyond the East Sussex border, the road is mostly a single carriageway route, sometimes with steep gradients. Another bypass takes the A21 around the narrow road through Salehurst and Robertsbridge. Immediately before Hastings is the final hill, almost 4 miles (6 km) in length.
Parts of the A21 follow the turnpike roads: one being the section from Sevenoaks to Tunbridge Wells, opened in 1710; other sections of the road were similarly dealt with later in the century.
Sections of the A21 were upgraded to a dual carriageway standard in stages in the 20th century. The Sevenoaks Bypass opened in 1966, followed by the Tonbridge bypass and associated Medway Valley viaduct in July 1971. The Pembury bypass opened in 1988.
The Lamberhurst Bypass was opened on 23 March 2005 to a cost of £18 million. The A21 used to have steep inclines into the village and the valley of the River Bewl. Included in the scheme is Britain's first land bridge at Scotney Castle which facilitates safe migration of wild animals over the road. The scheme was constructed by May Gurney who planted 50,000 trees on the new road.
The A21 starts in Lewisham in London at a junction with the A20 known as "Loampit Vale Junction". From there the road uses various roads in Catford, where the A205 (the South Circular Road) crosses the A21; it runs south east up Bromley Hill to enter the London Borough of Bromley, where there are sections of dual carriageway, on the town‘s gyratory system (part of which is called Kentish Way) .
Up Masons Hill the road reaches Bromley Common, the first large-scale open space negotiated; briefly, just before Farnborough, the road becomes Hastings Road. The original A21 went though the suburb, the High Street is now the B2158. Until now the road has been in a south-easterly direction, but after Green Street Green it turns eastwards towards the valley of the River Darent, and it is at this point that the road pattern makes a complete change from its original route.
The A21 originally entered Kent here and climbed to the scarp of the North Downs at Polhill, and then descended through Dunton Green and up the valley of the River Darent to Sevenoaks; through the town centre and then down into the Medway valley via Hildenborough to Tonbridge. The London Road at the north of the town is now the B245; it continued through the long High Street, over the many bridges of the river (during which time it was also part of the A26 from Maidstone ). As the road began to climb out of the valley it took a left fork; shortly after this the route of the modern A21 is rejoined.
Where the new A21 begins, and also where the A224 joins from the north, the road is called the Sevenoaks Road; at Knockholt (Hewitts Roundabout), the road enters Kent near its junction with a spur from the M25 motorway. The A21 actually multiplexes with the M25 and descends the North Downs Scarp here. The M25 then has to use a slip road in the left lane and the A21 takes priority although is still technically a motorway until the junction with the A25 to Sevenoaks and the M26. The oddness of Junction 5 is due to the M26 once being part of the M25. Before the M25 was built, the A21 was the modern A224 near Polhill and then became the dual carriageway Sevenoaks bypass.
This section of the road is a grade separated 2-lane dual carriageway (aside from a 3-lane section northbound climbing Riverhill). The road passes to the west of the town, running through a nearby valley until it meets the A225 and B245 at a Roundabout Interchange near Sevenoaks Weald. The next section bypasses the original route of the A21 along the B245 through Hildenborough, Tonbridge High Street, and Pembury Road to join the current route near the second A26 junction. Between Leigh and Haysden the road crosses the Medway Valley by the means of a two-span lengthy viaduct which crosses the River Medway and passes Haysden Water.
Around this point, the road enters the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The A21 then meets the two junctions with the A26, providing access to Tonbridge and Southborough.
A short distance south of the second A26 junction, the A21 narrows down to a single carriageway for 1.7 miles (2.7 km) between Castle Hill and Longfield Road Junction, which has, for a long time, been a major traffic blackspot. There have been many proposals to upgrade this section to a dual carriageway standard, however it has been delayed multiple times since the late 1980s. The most recent scheme to upgrade the Castle Hill section was proposed by the Highways Agency and underwent public enquiry in 2013. £92million of government money was made available to the scheme in July 2013 and preparatory works started in September 2014 with completion expected at the end of 2016, to include upgrading the Longfield Road roundabout to a grade-separated dumbbell junction.
The dual carriageway resumes after the Castle Hill bottleneck at Longfield Road Junction, the first roundabout since leaving the M25. The next junction is with the A264 road to Tunbridge Wells and the A228 to Maidstone. This section is known as the Pembury Bypass, bypassing the old route through the village. The road later joins the original alignment at an at-grade junction (leaving a brief gap in the central reservation) not long before it meets a double roundabout at Kippings Cross where another section of single carriageway starts. The next section of A21 is another major bottleneck, being a single carriageway with frequent bends. In October 2005 the "Preferred Route" to upgrade this 3 miles (4.8 km) section was announced. However, the scheme has since been suspended.
In 2014 work began on dualling the section of the A21 between Tonbridge and Pembury. This stretch of road is a single 7.3m wide carriageway with no footways or verges. It carries upwards of 35,000 vehicles every day, significantly higher than its original capacity. Severe congestion is frequent and above the national average of accidents occur on this road. The scheme layout follows the existing carriageway and has a pedestrian and cycle route along its whole length. Nine hectares of ancient woodland was removed in late 2014, coppicing commenced, trees and shrubs were relocated to adjacent land and nesting boxes were installed to protect endangered species such as the dormouse. As a result of the widening of the carriageway a number of buildings have been demolished. A Grade 2 listed 18th century barn is among the buildings that faces demolition. In summer 2015 Longfield Road roundabout was modified to allow work to commence on the new junction. Temporary traffic lights have been erected and a new road layout is in place. From April through October 2015 public traffic will be diverted onto a new off-slip road after the Pembury Walks turning towards Tonbridge while work on the main carriageway is undertaken. By December 2015 northbound traffic should be running on the newly constructed carriageway while southbound traffic is switched onto the new northbound carriageway so that existing roads can be removed and the roadsides can be landscaped. Traffic management will be introduced in mid 2016, the old northbound carriageway will close and all traffic will begin using the newly constructed road. The scheme should be complete by December 2016.
After a junction with the A262, the road returns to a dual carriageway standard along the 2-mile (3.2 km) Lamberhurst bypass where the A21 skirts to the east of the village on a road through various farms until eventually it gets to Scotney Castle where the dual carriageway ends at a roundabout.
The next section of road is a single carriageway which travels past Bewl Water and Kilndown until it once again becomes a dual carriageway for 1.2 miles (1.9 km). This, however has recently been reduced to one lane in each direction to reduce speeding. As the dual Carriageway ends, the road enters East Sussex and meets the A268, taking traffic to/from Rye. The A21 then travels through numerous conjoined villages including Hurst Green where it meets the A265 from Heathfield. After a hill descent, the road reaches a roundabout where the Robertsbridge bypass begins, taking traffic away from the main street in the village. This is built to a single carriageway standard. The road then regains the original route before meeting a roundabout in the hamlet of Johns Cross.
At Johns Cross the original A21 followed the present day A2100 road passing Mountfield and heading through Battle and approaching Silverhill via Hollington. The present route uses the original B2091, A229 and A28 which takes the present route to the east on a relatively straight, though undulating, journey, through Whatlington and bypassing Sedlescombe before climbing a four-mile (6.4 km) long hill to enter Hastings where the first junction reached is the Baldslow Interchange where currently the A28, A2100 and B2093 roads all terminate. The A21 then heads through northern Hastings where the road is known as Sedlescombe road North with access to sub-urban streets until eventually it meets the A2101 which heads for the Town Centre. The A21 then enters Silverhill where it gets to a junction which is sometimes a major bottleneck. Afterwards the A2102 heads for St Leonards and the A21 becomes the high street of Bohemia where the road is narrow. The route then heads down with access to various emergency services and then enters the town centre. From here the original A21 cut through the town centre to meet the A259 at a roundabout near Pelham Crescent however since the town centre has been pedestrianised the A21 heads down on the sub-urban streets to the east. The next section of the A21 heads around partly on a one-way system near the railway station and the new Priory Quarter business development. From here, the southbound stretch of A21 is reserved for buses only and terminates on the A259.
In 2002, it was reported that a 22-kilometre (14 mi) section of the A21 south of Flimwell was the most dangerous road in the south east outside London, and the 38th most dangerous in the country, however it has since been overtaken by the A259 between Pevensey and Bexhill-on-Sea.
Occurrences on the A21:
Large portions of the A21, through Kent mostly, are dual carriageway with intervening stretches of single carriageway. There have long been plans are to upgrade some of the remaining stretches of single carriageway to alleviate congestion, safety and accessibility problems in the villages along the route.
When the Pembury bypass ends at Kippings Cross, the next section of A21 is a low quality single carriageway road with several steep gradients across the Weald. There are few major centres of habitation on the road and limited or no footpaths. There are many houses next to the route and the road has very frequent bends. The Kippings Cross to Lamberhurst section has a high accident rate and congestion occurs particularly at peak times.
It is proposed that this section should be turned into a two-lane dual carriageway with footpaths and is proposed to be completely off-line, although mainly following the existing route, and have improvements to the A262 roundabout. The Bypass is said to cost £40 million.
This scheme has since been suspended following the 2010 spending review.
Plans have been published for a new road between the southern end of the Flimwell bypass and the beginning of the Robertsbridge bypass. The 5.5-mile (8.9 km) improvement will bypass the villages of Flimwell, Hurst Green and Silver Hill. The improvement will commence at the B2079 junction (Lady Oak Lane) on the short section of existing dual carriageway north of Flimwell and terminate at the roundabout at the northern end of the Robertsbridge Bypass. Although part of the road will be brought up to a dual carriageway standard, parts will become a 'wide single carriageway'. This scheme has been postponed until 2015 at the earliest and currently route protection is being lifted.
When the Hastings-Bexhill Link Road opened, more traffic have started to use the already congested road from the A2100/A28 to the A21 at Baldslow Interchange, Hastings. Construction is underway to build a short link road to the A21 south of the interchange and bring more of the A21, from there up past to a new roundabout in an area north of the interchange, to dual carriageway standard. Another option wass to realign the A2100 north of the junction, but this option wass less favourable due to environmental concerns.
Schemes to upgrade the following sections have also been proposed:
Lamberhurst to Flimwell
Robertsbridge to Baldslow