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Lorry route scheme a monumental mistake
A PROPOSAL to create a lorry route through the middle of the site of an ancient monument in the north Cotswolds is being considered as one way of cutting pollution in the centre of Chipping Norton. The proposed route would take HGVs between the A44 and the A3400 right through the middle of the 5,000-year-old Rollright Stones, one of the country's foremost megalithic stone circles. The proposal, which would include the widening of Cross Hands Lane through the ancient site at an estimated cost of 5 million, is one of a number of options being considered as part of an action plan to reduce traffic pollution in Chipping Norton High Street and Horsefair.
Other proposals in the plan considered by West Oxfordshire District Council cabinet members yesterday (wed), include implementation of a system of traffic controls to push queues to the edge of Chipping Norton, the removal of the A44 primary route status in favour of forcing lorries to use alternative routes between Evesham and Oxford, and measures to stop motorists leaving engines of stationary vehicles idling. A proposal to build a Chipping Norton bypass either north or south of the town, at an estimated cost of between 16.5 million and 36 million respectively, is not being put forward at this stage. Neither is a suggested one-way scheme to route traffic along Albion Street, which consultants say would cut traffic in the High Street by 25 to 35 per cent at peak times but double traffic using Albion Street.
The district council is having to look at ways of reducing traffic emissions in the centre of Chipping Norton, which currently fails to meet government targets for nitrogen dioxide levels. But one of the most controversial proposals, which is likely to be included in the list of possible options put out for public consultation early next year, is certain to be the re-routing of HGVs between the A44 and the A3400 from the Cross Hands pub to east of the Rollright Stones. Traffic consultants say this would only be feasible if the current unclassified road, which already bissects the Rollright Stones site, was widened from 5.5metres to 7.3metres. They also say that the junctions at either end of the road would probably need replacing with lit roundabouts. "The most significant impact would be on the area of the Rollright Stones, a Scheduled Ancient Monument," the district council's environment protection and enforcement manager Philip Measures said in his report to councillors.
Karin Attwood, founder of the Rollright Stones Trust, described the proposal as a "non-starter". On both sides of the road you have scheduled monuments and because of the scheduled monument status it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to obtain planning permission. I agree Chippy needs a bypass but it needs to be done at the bottom of the valley not over the ridgeway," said Ms Attwood. The Stones are considered to be a holy place by pagans, and druids celebrate the summer solstice there every year. Mr Measures said: "At the end of the day this is something that has been developed by officers. Ultimately, it is for council members to decide."
REPORT PROPOSES CONSULTATION
ON A ONE-WAY SYSTEM
(Just for the fun of it imagine yourself driving a huge HGV down
the Banbury Road heading for Stow. Where will you get stuck)
|There is a huge new report just published which must have cost tens of thousands to produce. Its trying to find ways of reducing the pollution in Horsefair to acceptable levels. In effect by reducing the number of HGVs going through that bit of the High Street. Consultants (Halcrow and Jacobs), computer models, traffic censuses - they're all in there. Its a serious sized file at over 16 Mb and 100 pages long which will probably give your Adobe Reader a severe case of indigestion. But try downloading it. Its worth a read.
The report dismisses a bypass (cost - 16.5 million for an inner northern route and 36.0 million for an outer southern bypass), throws out road user charging, and doesn't think anyone would cough up 11 million to compulsorily purchase all the houses in the Air Quality zone. The report nods in the direction of Green Strategies, cleaner engines, School Travel Plans and even suggests a new job for PCSOs - handing out tickets to people who leave their engines running while stationary. A lorry route via Cross Hands would mean widening the road and cost 4.95 million - as well as going slap through the Rollright Stones and needing all kinds of special permissions. The report doesn't seem too optimistic about the chances for such a scheme. There's the old standby - developing alternative routes from Oxford to Evesham and signposting them (which is already being done). The report does go one stage further and proposes de-classifying the A44 and introducing weight restrictions through the town. This looks by far and away the most likely way forward. Pity that Halcrow say that the Police would probably not be able to enforce a weight restriction. They don't say why not! One completely new idea will be tested out. Its what they call "Queue Relocation". By introducing lights at the top of New Street and at the mini roundabout by the Police Station, the flow of traffic will be phased to ensure that there are no holdups in Horsefair. (The phasing of lights on the Pedestrian Crossing in the square will be co-ordinated into the scheme they say) What you presumably do is to relocate the polluting queues of lorries to West Street, New Street and the London Road. Which brings us back to the one really radical idea in the whole report - a one way system. Pity it simply won't work! Mainly because of the impossible traffic engineering required by the Police Station (but perhaps that would go) Besides which the huge amount of extra traffic would bring West Street to a complete standstill. The County and District plan to make presentations and carry out a consultation exercise on all this this Wednesday and Saturday ( 27th February and 1st March) so everyone will be able to have their say. If you've got any bright ideas speak now or......
Diverting heavy lorries past Rollright Stones "crazy."
Plans to take heavy lorries out of the centre of an Oxfordshire town, by diverting them past an ancient stone circle, have been labelled "crazy." The scheme to cut traffic in Chipping Norton by sending it along a country road beside the Rollright Stones has surfaced in an air quality action plan to get rid of excessive traffic fumes in the west Oxfordshire town. The plan is now out for public consultation. But the chairman of the Rollright Trustees said they had not been formally consulted and would resist it forcefully. The scheme would see the road, which bisects the national heritage site, widened to take HGVs. It would link the A44 at the Cross Hands pub to the A3400 Oxford to Stratford road, effectively creating a mini-bypass. It would cost close on 5m, plus compulsory purchase of roadside land.
George Lambrick (right), the trustees' chairman, said: "The road goes right through the middle of a significant ancient monument, one of the first 50 scheduled in this country. "This proposal is absolutely crazy, it's nutty, and it's the first we know of it. We haven't been consulted at all. We've had problems with vandalism at the stones. We certainly don't need another form of it, with heavy lorries thundering past. It's just going to wreck what the site stands for. We will be objecting very strongly."
The site attracts thousands of visitors a year. There are two groups of stones, the Whispering Knights and King's Men and a single-standing King's Stone. The scheme would need scheduled ancient monument consent because of the heritage status of the prehistoric stones. It is one of a range of proposals, drawn up by consultants for West Oxfordshire District Council, which went on public exhibition at Chipping Norton town hall.
The town's Horsefair and High Street have nitrogen dioxide levels from traffic significantly above recommended Government levels. Town councillor and member of the A44 Action Group, which campaigns to reduce heavy lorries using the route from Oxford through to Evesham, Worcester and beyond, Eve Coles (left), said the amount of traffic in the town was and remains a key concern for residents. She said: "I'm concerned that people have their say on this. The levels are 50 per cent above what they should be and something needs to be done. Everyone has complained about all the heavy vehicles coming through the town."
The report said alternative traffic diversion schemes via bypasses to the south and north of the town were out of the question, as they would be massively expensive and take at least 10 years to deliver. Cheaper alternatives include imposing weight restrictions to divert heavy lorries out of the town centre on to other routes and to control traffic with a gate to shift congestion to the town outskirts.
AIR QUALITY PROPOSALS
BY-PASS ONE WAY SYSTEM WEIGHT LIMIT
AFTER THE CONSULTATION WE NOW
AWAIT SOME RECOMMENDATIONS!
There were two public consultations on the town's draft air quality action plan on February 27and March 1. In case you missed the exhibition you can catch up with the options here:
Following these public consultations, the draft Action Plan will be agreed between West Oxfordshire District Council and Oxfordshire County Council. It will be put to the Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for final comment before publication.
The Action Plan addresses nitrogen dioxide pollution in Chipping Norton, caused largely by traffic and, in particular, Heavy Goods Vehicles. The plan, which is at a preliminary stage, has considered options such as traffic management initiatives, and supporting initiatives to reduce air pollution. A total of 28 options have been outlined and each one has been appraised on their practicality and cost effectiveness, and whether they show a significant improvement to air quality.
I asked an officer from the County Council what kind of comments the public had made about the options. He said that it was totally clear that people didn't really care which option was chosen - just get rid of all the heavy lorries. That was what everybody wanted.
But after all this work and all the reports it seems that the problem has not been cracked and there is not a viable solution in sight. Only three of the options proposed are going to make any real difference to the volume of HGVs through the town centre and all of those seem to have big problems attached.
First the Cross Hands route. (Problem: Nobody seems to think that the government will provide the millions required and nobody thinks that it will be feasible to increase traffic through the Rollright Stones site. The lobbying has already started!).
Second. The idea of gates and controlling traffic flows so that "queueing" is removed from the town centre. (Problem: You will end up with lorries queuing up New Street!)
Third: New signage and an "environmental" weight restriction through the town. (Problem: Nobody seems to think that "environmental" weight restrictions can actually be enforced. Apparently any overweight lorry will simply say that it was making a delivery - which is allowed. You have to prove that a lorry went right through the town without making a delivery. Not easy to do without eating up resources which nobody has - least of all the Police).
The only practical answer seems to be for everybody to lobby like mad to have the Cross Hands route diverted around the Stones. It will cost millions more but at least such a plan would probably get the support of the Rollright Trust who would surely be pleased to have their site integrated again without any sort of road running through it! The other idea which came up during the consultation was for the Cross Hands route to be "one-way" - with A44 traffic from Oxford continuing to go through the town. This would involve less road widening and so cost much less but still achieve a 50% reduction in HGV's.
Meanwhile, if you haven't filled in a questionnaire as part of the consultation process, pop into the Guildhall and get a form. The more people that have their say the more likely we are to get some meaningful outcome.
HASSLING HGVs - WILL IT WORK
Its certainly worth a try!
Oxfordshire County Council's Trading Standards carried out a four-hour vehicle check on Thursday August 14th in Chipping Norton in response to concerns over the number of HGVs driving through the town. The team was joined by Thames Valley Police and the Vehicle Operator and Services Agency (VOSA) as they stopped 34 vehicles along the town's main road to check for weight and mechanical defects on Thursday (August 14). Of the 25 vehicles which were weighed, four were found to be over-laden, resulting in two vehicles being prohibited from continuing their journey and two drivers being warned. Route maps and advice were also given to 14 HGV drivers in a bid to persuade them to consider using alternative routes avoiding Chipping Norton centre.
Just over a quarter of the vehicles stopped (26 per cent) were found by VOSA to have some form of mechanical defect. Faults included faulty brake lights or no brake lights, loose front bumper, a defective trailer and a tachograph operation offence.
Oxfordshire County Council's Cabinet Member for Community Safety Judith Heathcoat said: "We are very pleased with the results of yesterday's operation. It is vital that drivers and hauliers get the message that they are responsible for ensuring their vehicle is roadworthy and not overloaded. We hope the operation has also persuaded HGV drivers to consider the possibility of using alternative routes which avoid the centre of Chipping Norton."
This new initiative will hopefully be repeated. It has come about after consistent pressure from the County Councillor Hilary Biles to get some action to try and cut down on the weight of HGV traffic through the town. The next major development will be the publication of agreed recommendations on improving Air Quality - due in early September.
EDITOR writes> It is good to see that a report on this road check is featured prominently on the industry website ROADTRANSPORT.com so perhaps other drivers will notice!!
FIVE YEARS ON AND NOTHING TO SHOW ON AIR QUALITY. NOT A DICKY BIRD!
A report on Air Quality in Chipping Norton was presented on 4th September 2008 to the Oxfordshire County Council Cabinet Member for Transport.
The traffic in our town is horrendous and getting worse. The Air Quality in the Town Centre is way below government standards. Five years ago the Town Council proposed in a submission to the Oxfordshire Transport Review that a weight limit should be introduced through the town - to drastically reduce the number of HGVs. (I know all about this because I wrote the submission). It included the following statement: "Chipping Norton Council are convinced that a weight restriction plus an alternative lorry route around the town remains the only viable answer". Our proposal was not accepted because it was claimed there was too much "local" traffic (exempt from a weight limit) which would make policing impossible. The County's consultants Halcrow (paid millions to carry out the review) decided that we should rely instead on a signposting scheme directing heavy goods traffic from Evesham to Oxford along an alternative route via Northleach. The problem of the increasing traffic on the A361 (Swindon to Banbury) was never addressed. Gloucestershire County Council to their credit introduced this signposting scheme. Oxfordshire said they hadn't got the money and to this day have done nothing. In 2005 the area of Horsefair, High Street and West Street was declared an AQMA (Air Quality Management Area). Among other things this means that the County and the District together have to come up with an Action Plan telling the government how pollution levels are to be reduced to meet the required limits. After three years of measurements, surveys, another consultant brought in to advise, studies, reports, consultations (remember the list of 50 ideas which the District published earlier this year - including one-way systems and gated flows) a report was presented last week (4th September 2008) to the Oxfordshire County Council Cabinet Member for Transport. Read the quite surprisingly short report here.
As you read it consider that the cost in fees, time and resources to get this point must be at least hundreds of thousands of taxpayers pounds. All the different ideas which had been put forward and discussed during the consultation - including by-passes of all shapes and sizes - were thrown out . All the ideas that is except just one. A weight limit!
The key finding in this report is:
"...the option which appears to be the most suitable for inclusion in the Action Plan are measures to control lorry passage through the town. It should be stressed in the Action Plan that all of these measures will require the consent of neighbouring authorities, which cannot be guaranteed, and that the effectiveness of such measures in reducing lorry numbers is variable. The measures will require additional investigation before specific proposals can be submitted for approval. This investigation will include imposing an environmental weight limit, including the scope and extent of any limit, costs, timescales and consultation with neighbouring and other affected councils."
The only substantial recommendation is:
The Cabinet Member for Transport is RECOMMENDED to support preparation of an Air Quality Action Plan for Chipping Norton on the basis of measures to reduce lorry movements through the town as the principal action.
So there you have it folks. We have gone full circle. Five years of bureaucratic delay and muddle and not a single step further forward. After rejecting the town's own proposal for a weight limit five years ago, the County have now agreed that a weight limit is the only serious option. I suppose we should be grateful for that but they still don't seem really convinced that its practical. The report sounds less than positive about it all. This is the ONLY recommendation and after five years they still haven't got it sorted properly. Amazing...
The most straightforward method of controlling heavy goods vehicles would be through the imposition of an environmental weight limit through the town. To be effective this would require advance warning and signing of alternative routes. For A44 traffic this could use the existing advisory route via Northleach, for traffic travelling to Banbury via A361 there are no obvious alternatives and this would need to be negotiated with the relevant neighbouring authorities. A weight restriction is already in place on the parallel A3400 through Compton so this route would not be suitable. A complicating factor to this is that the A44 is designated as the national Primary Route between Oxford and Evesham. While this does not preclude the imposition of a weight limit there would be a contradiction if a restriction was placed, given that Primary Routes are a major component of the National Lorry Route Network. This would be likely to place a limit on the level of compliance with any local restriction. Removal of Primary Route status from the A44 would require the designation of an alternative Oxford-Evesham Primary Route with the agreement of the relevant highway authorities and government offices. There would also be considerable cost given that this would require the replacement of green backed signs with white ones without which the change in status would not be evident to drivers. Enforcement is a considerable issue with any environmental weight limit given that the general exception for access makes identification of offending vehicles very difficult. This would be particularly the case for a limit in Chipping Norton where the alternative routes would represent a considerable increase in both distance travelled and time taken.
And so they are recommending yet more investigation and consultation before actually proposing it to government. This makes any action years away! For goodness sake Heathrow Terminal 5 was agreed faster than this. For myself I think they are just having a laugh - at our expense. Nobody has the slightest intention of doing anything about air quality in Chippy! I think both councils (County and District) believe that if the talking can be strung out long enough low emission or even electric lorries and buses will have arrived and the problem will disappear. So meantime carry on wheezing Chippy. Just don't hold your breath.
Air Quality action plan approved
West Oxfordshire District Councils Cabinet has endorsed a plan to improve air quality in Chipping Norton. The plan will involve seeking approval to de-trunk parts of the A44 so that heavy goods vehicles are re-routed away from the town. The area around Horsefair in Chipping Norton was declared an Air Quality Management Area in 2005 because of the high levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution caused largely by traffic and, in particular, heavy goods vehicles. Further investigations followed and a draft action plan was published outlining a number of options. The Plan took into account any adverse impact each option might have, such as transfer of pollution to other areas, increases in noise or congestion or harm to the environment such as the destruction of ecologically sensitive areas and habitats.
Earlier this year the public gave their views on the options and a traffic management proposal was produced by Oxfordshire County Council as the Highways authority. The re-routing proposal includes changing road signs and imposing vehicle weight limit restrictions on traffic coming into Chipping Norton. Approval for this measure is dependent on consultation with neighbouring authorities, as the A44 signage crosses county boundaries and will impact on several local authorities. Oxfordshire County Council will also investigate whether introducing a low emission zone in Chipping Norton will allow for better enforcement of the restrictions.
Cllr David Harvey, Cabinet Member for Environment said, People living in Chipping Norton have had to put up with the effects of heavy traffic for many years and so we are pleased to be supporting this proposal. We are concerned that in the long term it may not solve the air quality problem. Because of this we are asking Oxfordshire County Council to seek regional funding for a more significant scheme. In the meantime we will continue to monitor air quality levels.