• Tue. May 21st, 2024

Highways England’s response to A34 closures is an ‘insult’, say councillors

Byoxfordnewspaper

Aug 6, 2022

HIGHWAYS England’s response to concerns over night closures on the A34 has been branded an “insult” by angry councillors.

Vale of White Horse District Council’s scrutiny committee collectively expressed dismay that the government-owned operator of the nation’s road network had failed to answer its queries over the choice and effectiveness of designated diversion routes.

The A34 is a major north-south trunk road connecting the M3 and M40 motorways, carrying large volumes of traffic, including lorries, through Oxfordshire.

When parts are closed for maintenance or resurfacing work, traffic is typically diverted along the closest A roads. One such route runs through the south-east area of Wantage.

In order to affect and displace the smallest volume of traffic, closures tend to happen overnight between 10pm and 6am.

The council reports that this has led to Wantage residents suffering “intolerable noise, sleep deprivation and vibration and structural damage to properties”, particularly with lorries travelling through the night.

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In November 2021, the scrutiny committee asked Highways England for detailed risk assessments and a copy of review work carried out related to the diversions, the alternative options including a cost-benefit analysis, a schedule of closures over the past five years, strategies in place to minimise disruption and details of what consideration had been given to using a contraflow – creating one lane of traffic going each way on one side of the dual carriageway while work is conducted on the other.

A meeting was scheduled with Highways England for July but delayed for five days due to what the council described as “non-attendances”.

When it went ahead, the council’s summary reported that Highways England had said data was “not readily available” on past closures, although that may come from other departments at a later date, and that diversion routes for planned works are put together on a case-by-case basis. Published go-to routes cover emergency closures.

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The report read: “National Highways introduced overnight closures for highway maintenance and works in order to reduce the number of vehicles impacted by road closures, and thus reduce the number of vehicles which would travel along the diversion routes during the day.

“Implementing a contraflow would reduce capacity on the road network during higher demands during the daytime and encourage drivers to divert onto minor roads during peak times.”

However, councillors were not impressed. Councillor Andy Crawford (Lib Dem, Wantage Charlton), who brought forward the original motion on this matter, said: “I am really disappointed that it took eight months for National Highways to agree to come to a meeting and then they didn’t bother to turn up.

“When they did turn up, they didn’t turn up with the right people and couldn’t answer half the questions. It doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence, does it?”

He went on to say the council “should continue to push them as hard as possible to come up with some form of sensible answer”.

Scrutiny chair Councillor Nathan Boyd (Con, Stanford) accused Highways England of “treating the district council with complete disdain”, calling it “a fairly large insult to local government”.

It was resolved that Cllr Boyd would liaise with council officers on how best to raise the matter with leader Councillor Emily Smith (Lib Dem, Botley & Sunningwell) “more formally” while keeping the pressure on Highways England for further answers.