Tackling the HGVs through Audlem

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Last year's Parish Plan showed that the local residents' major issue was the large number of Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) passing through the village. The Plan stated that re-newed efforts would be made to de-prime the A525, the East/West road. This view has been supported by local MP Stephen O'Brien. It does not solve the North/South traffic as Cheshire Street/Green Lane is not a Primary Route but would be an important first step in tackling what is a worsening situation.

The following draft submission has been produced by the Parish Plan working group on this issue. If you have any comments, please use 'Contacts' above. Several appendices with supporting evidence are still being prepared but we felt it was important that we published this draft. The final document will go to Government via Stephen O'Brien in September.

Submission to the Ministry of Transport to de-prime the A525 in South CheshireExecutive Summary:

The A525 between Woore (in NE. Shropshire) and Burleydam (S. Cheshire) through Audlem is officially a Primary Route but is in reality a narrow winding country road. Through Audlem, Cheshire, it is so narrow that two cars have difficulty passing. The Primary Route status, however, particularly since satellite-navigation became widely used, attracts many hundreds of long-distance HGVs, regularly blocking the road, posing a massive threat to pedestrians and other road users, causing accidents, hitting houses and causing damage to historical buildings.

Local residents and Audlem Parish Council have campaigned for over thirty years for the ever-worsening problem to be tackled effectively. It is recognised there will never be a by-pass and the police oppose weight limits because of a lack of resources to enforce a weight limit. An experimental signalling system has been tried but doesn't work for months on end, thus worsening the situation. Unofficially, the authorities say it needs deaths before anything can be done!

Audlem's Parish Plan questionnaire amongst residents in 2005 showed this to be the single biggest issue for residents. A similar questionnaire in 1976 showed precisely the same. Yet little, except the installation of failed, broken down flashing lights has been done by the authorities. With the threat of even heavier, larger trucks passing through under new legislation , the only easily enacted solution is to de-prime at least nine miles of the A525 so that the satellite driven HGVs use better, improved routes to the north and south which are easier, faster and more fuel efficient. This is a problem where the solution is of benefit to all parties: residents, truckers and the environment!

After thirty years of successive Governments' failure to act, Audlem Parish Council urges the Minister to take action now as the problem is worsening month by month. The planned increase in HGV weight limits will be catastrophic for Audlem on a prime route with narrow, winding roads. De-priming the A525 is the vital step that will protect Audlem from even worse problems in the future. Article 8 of the European Convention providing for the right to respect for the home has been incorporated into domestic law by the Human Rights Act. De-priming will help ensure residents' rights under that Act are upheld.

The following pages will demonstrate why action has to be taken now.

Introduction

The A525 runs for 16 miles from Newcastle-Under-Lyme in Staffordshire in the east, through Woore in Shropshire, Audlem in Cheshire to Whitchurch in Shropshire in the west (before continuing into North Wales). It is a narrow winding road throughout much of its length, yet is a Primary Route. In Audlem, a village of almost 2,000 residents, the road becomes so narrow, that even small cars pass with difficulty.

Audlem is the current Cheshire Village of the Year; the current Calor Northern Village of the Year and the Defra national Village of the Year for 'Building Community Life'. It is a vibrant village which would, however, prefer not to be vibrating! The village published its Parish Plan in December 2005 after carrying out a survey of residents' views. The HGVs passing through the village was the single biggest issue with 97% wanting them stopped to the greatest possible extent — the other 3% said they had given up hope on this issue! One resident, Jean Caine, summed up the situation graphically: "I know I won't die in my bed but trying to cross Stafford Street."

Where the A525 passes through the village centre past the Post Office and ancient Church of St James, it is tortuous to drive, has unprotected pavements that vehicles mount continuously so they can pass, and in places no pavement whatsoever. Yet this is the prime pedestrian route to the village's primary school, is used by residents of all ages to reach the Post Office and the village centre. There are no pedestrian crossings, no protective bollards, few raised kerbs, indeed no protection for residents. Given the extent of Health & Safety risk assessments in other contexts, it is striking that no real attention seems to have been paid to the risks involved to Audlem residents.

There are blind spots, reverse cambers and numerous incidents including, most recently in June 2006, a young Audlem mother, Kate Parkes and her 2-year old daughter, being forced off the road by French trucker Raphael Bourdevin, who failed to stop until forced to do so by Kate who followed him in her damaged family car. Two days later she was forced off the road again by another left-hand truck cutting a blind corner at speed. Bourdevin, incidentally, claimed he was in a hurry because he was behind schedule for his drop-off in Whitchurch and could not stop.

The Authority's attempted solution has worsened the problem

In 2002, after local pressure, Cheshire County Council acknowledged there was a serious problem and announced at a public meeting that they planned, as the first experiment of its kind in the country, to install flashing lights in the 200 metre particularly narrow and winding stretch of Stafford Street. These would warn of on-coming vehicles in the middle of the road. Concerns were expressed as they were an eyesore in a beautiful conservation area and there were to be no sensors on the side roads and private drives opening on to that stretch of Stafford Street, thereby increasing the hazard to many local residents. They were installed, however, and have been assessed by the Authority in a traffic survey. This showed that the number of 'incidents' increased, yet the Council concluded the experiment had been a success.

For the past three months, however, the system has broken down completely. The lights never flash thus leading some drivers to the mistaken conclusion that the road is clear and they can accelerate through. No attempt has been taken to cover up the signs while they remain unrepaired and thus present an increased threat to the safety of drivers and pedestrians.

The risk to pedestrians

The layout of pavements and lack of protection for pedestrians conspire to assist HGVs navigate their way through Audlem at the expense of the safety and well-being of pedestrians. Where vehicles might mount the pavement, there are no kerbs; where, opposite the church entrance gate, the road is so narrow a large truck might have to slow down, there is no pavement, thus forcing pedestrians to step on to the busy road; despite being the prime pedestrian route to the Primary school, there are no pedestrian crossings to inconvenience the HGVs. Finally, despite a reverse camber outside the Post Office that makes an on-coming truck even more threatening to the queues in the Post Office and those gathered outside, nothing has ever been done to address the issue except for a couple of bollards. These were knocked aside by the HGVs almost immediately and have never been replaced.

Damage to Buildings and Residents

A number of historical buildings are hit regularly by articulated trucks as they attempt the difficult bends through the village centre. The Old Bakery has been hit on numerous occasions, as has the Post Office. The ancient wall of the Church of St James is hit and scraped even more often.

Eight years ago, the worst yet accident occurred when two vehicles hit head-on and a truck exploded in a ball of flame near the village centre (photo below). This was only metres away from houses and was so severe the fire caused the road to melt to a depth of 15cm. Miraculously no one was hurt.

The increased weight of the HGVs, and the likelihood that some are also overweight, means that the old buildings, some Grade 2 listed, next to the road are being shaken to their foundations. The houses were there centuries before the HGVs arrived. Any increase in the weight limits or volume of traffic will have possibly catastrophic consequences for Audlem's historic centre and heritage.

With the increase in the number of non-UK trucks, a more recent phenomenon has been blaring truck horns in the village centre as it is easier, and in some cultures more acceptable, to give repeated blasts on the horn than to slow down. With some truckers also using their mobile phones with one hand, it poses the question as to how they simultaneously steer and blast the horn. Whatever the answer, with the truck noise already deafening in many houses, this is a hugely unwelcome development that will not be stopped by police action as their resources are extremely limited in a rural area. Increasingly the overseas trucks are passing through the village at night, adding to the problems of householders living very near to the road.

There are easier, quicker, more economic, environmentally sensitive alternative routes

Few problems have a solution that is of benefit to all concerned. The de-priming of the A525 through Audlem is, however, one of the few! In both 1976 and 2006, the alternative prime routes to the north (A500/A530 — although the latter stretch is not prime despite being a far superior road to the A525) and to the south (A53) have been compared experimentally between Newcastle-Under-Lyme and Whitchurch, using an HGV, for mileage, time, gear changes and fuel consumption with the A525 (see map below). The mileage may be shorter on the A525, hence its appeal to satellite navigation systems, but the alternatives are quicker, easier and more economical in fuel consumption. Indeed, the argument for the alternatives has been increased since 1976 with major improvements to the A500, including a completely new stretch of dual carriageway and a new Nantwich by-pass.

With such easy alternatives, of benefit to the truckers themselves, it is hard to see the case against de-priming the A525 which is so clearly completely unsuitable for today's HGVs, never mind those of the future with raised weight limits.

De-priming will answer all the above issues as trucks will be taken elsewhere on to better, faster, more environmentally suitable roads using less fuel. The number of incidents in Audlem will reduce as the road returns to the use it was designed for: local traffic, deliveries, farm vehicles and residents' vehicles. Of critical importance, the streets of Audlem's historic village centre will be safer for pedestrians, young and old, and for local road users.

Human Rights Act 1998

Article 8 of the European Convention providing for the right to respect for the home has been incorporated into domestic law by the Human Rights Act. Whilst we are aware that this right has to be balanced against the broader interests of the public, it does draw attention to the problem faced by our village where homes are being assaulted regularly etc. The problem can be solved by a simple de-priming. In our view the balance is clear-cut: everyone gains and nobody loses. Unless investigation reveals evidence or factors of which we are not aware, we feel that a decision not to de-prime would be so unreasonable that no reasonable minister could take that view. We would consider asking for judicial review of any such decision. We would urge you to take the decision to de-prime.