For committee to consider a paper on A34 diversion routing.
Councillor Debby Hallett, as Cabinet member for Planning Policy, introduced the report that was written in the Planning Policy Team. The council had no responsibility for diversions however scrutiny committee were asked to review this as there was some negative impact on local residents who live on the diversion routes.
The report provided an introduction to the issue of night-time diversions and some maps of affected routes. The diversions were not under council control, but the committee may suggest alternative options to National Highways to review, and also Oxfordshire County Council (OCC), who have responsibility for the maintenance of routes. Two officers from these organisations were invited and present to help answer questions.
Councillor Hallett invited guest officers to introduce themselves. Keith Stenning represented Oxfordshire County Council, as the Head of Service for Network Management, and coordination of roadworks. Greg Stone represented National Highways (formerly Highways England), as Route Manager for the A34. He was responsible for current and future needs of the network.
Chair invited the guest speakers to speak.
Firstly, Cllr Andrew Crawford spoke to the committee to express his
disappointment in the rerouting, which impacted residents who live
close to the road. He stressed that this was not about temporary
and emergency rerouting but planned night-time closures.
He reported that 25 closures over 3 months on single carriageway roads were disruptive to residents, with a high volume of traffic and large vehicles such as HGV’s using the diversion.
He asked scrutiny committee to consider what evidence exists to justify the rerouting. Why was contraflow not used? Councillor Crawford believed that a comprehensive risk assessment was required. There were concerns about road safety – dark roads, blind bends, parked cars. The added journey time for drivers may encourage speeding to make up time. What influence does OCC have to help?
Dr Bennett spoke to the committee. He represented 34 households, and a local group called the Wantage Traffic Diversions group. Dr Bennett felt frustrated by the lack of response from OCC and National Highways. The residents group had protested the night-time diversions, including contacting a local MP to write to OCC. He confirmed that the last 3 years had been worse, as a resident of the area for 26 years. His concerns were the impact on health, with consecutive nights without sleep from the noise and vibrations. The issues raised were sleep deprivation, noise, structural damage, irresponsible driving (mounting curbs, risks to pedestrians, high speed) on a single carriageway. Concern raised about the sub-contracting of tasks which was viewed as less efficient. Inconvenience of some residents needing to relocate to family / a hotel during planned works, then potential loss of expenses where the works were postponed. Dr Bennett questions whether this was acceptable.
Chair welcomed the committee to ask questions of clarification of the speakers. It was clarified that Dr Bennett spoke based on living in the same home for 26 years, 11 feet from the road, of which the last 3 years were significantly worse in relation to this issue. The committee noted that contraflow systems were a suggested alternative. Due to the protest of the residents group, there was now some warning of diversion routes. Dr Bennett suggested that Sunday daytime diversions could be an option.
Greg Stone then spoke to the committee on behalf of National Highways. He informed committee that the routes were in place for many years and were last reviewed 2.5 / 3 years ago. He was unaware of any difference. He suggested that members could email him with suggested alternatives for consideration. He confirmed that the suggested Sunday daytime closure would not be enough for the maintenance works required on the route. He explained that night-time closures were chosen because of less traffic at night – they had a vehicle counting system ahead of diversions, and they wait for numbers to drop before putting out traffic management. Safety of staff was a priority, and coordination occurs as best as possible to minimise disruption. Multiple tasks were planned per closure, to maximise the efficiency and productivity of the closure.
Keith Stenning from OCC spoke to the committee. Night-time diversions minimise disruption, and there had been a lot of complaints about day-time diversions. Daytime traffic was a bigger problem. The diversion routes were long established and reviewing routes was a difficult problem. Using the next best A-road was the option, and these roads have become more built up over the years. We focused on reducing overall disruption, not the costs involved.
Councillor Crawford expressed disappointment and requested a risk assessment. It was answered that the diversion route team would need to discuss this with OCC. Contraflow could be discussed. Disruption was only if absolutely necessary. The volume of traffic has increased overall.
Committee considered that this was a difficult job and safety was of high importance in deciding the rerouting options. It was suggested that there was not enough information presented to scrutinise the options. Greg Stone suggested that he could provide some more information and gave a suggested timescale of 2 months.
Greg Stone confirmed there was no further major works over the next 3 months, beyond necessary maintenance / resurfacing.
A discussion was had about OCC’s role, and it was confirmed that OCC’s role was to support National Highways to find routes in order to maintain the A34. The strategic diversions were longstanding, aiming to find the quickest route back to a junction.
Chair added that updated maps would be very useful – how often are they updated / reviewed?
In summary, the committee felt that they needed further information, and Greg Stone had suggested a timescale to come back with more information. Committee considered that it was a complex decision for authorities to make, and that we needed to look back to before 2018, before the diversions were perceived to worsen, to find out what has changed so drastically.
The committee suggested the following information be provided / explored:
Chair closed the item by summarising that the next steps would be to allow National Highways to come back with more information, that committee could consider at a future meeting, within the next 3 months or so. Potential to start a task and finish group on this. We would work with the Cabinet member, being mindful that the responsibility doesn’t lie with the council, however we can make recommendations to Cabinet, to ask them / the Leader to approach OCC councillors. It was confirmed that OCC Councillor Bearder would be notified by Keith Stenning.
1. For National Highways to provide further information where possible, as stated above, and
2. For scrutiny committee to review this at a future committee meeting, in order to make an informed recommendation to Cabinet, bearing in mind that council have no authority on this matter, and therefore Cabinet would be advised to liaise with OCC members.
Chair thanked all participants for the time and work on this matter.