JEREMY IRONS has agreed to be patron of a pressure group which is campaigning to keep heavy goods vehicles out of Watlington.
The actor, who has a home in the town, has joined Watlington Against Pollution and HGVs, which is planning to lobby local councils.
The group says it is concerned about the number and size of lorries using the town centre despite a 7.5-tonne weight limit being in place.
It claims that many lorry drivers use Watlington as a short cut to Didcot, Oxford, Reading and the M4. Keith Lovelace, the group’s acting chairman, said: “The overriding aim is to stop the proliferation of big HGVs coming through the town. We have got to be mindful that we need delivery vehicles for the local businesses and homeowners but a big proportion of these large vehicles are foreign lorries using the town as a short cut because it is so well-positioned.”
Irons’ personal assistant is a member of the group and convinced the actor to become its patron.
Mr Lovelace said: “Jeremy Irons is a resident of Watlington and he feels strongly about it so it makes sense for him to be a part of it. We all know that if there is a celebrity behind a cause then it gets better publicity.”
The group was formed following a public meeting in July to discuss a report which showed that Watlington’s air pollution readings were similar to those recorded in the London borough of Lewisham.
Mr Lovelace, managing director of technical design firm Ideas Ltd, said: “In Watlington the effects are made worse because there is almost a canyon effect — the very high buildings trap the pollution caused by the HGVs and it can’t disperse. Watlington is a historic town and was not designed for HGVs, which are too big to navigate some of the bends so they tend to stop traffic.”
Members of the group have taken photographs and made video films as evidence to support their cause. A film shot in August shows how a fire engine was unable to turn right into Couching Street because there was gridlock in all directions after an HGV driver turned left from Couching Street into Ingham Lane.
The emergency vehicle ended up reversing on to the pavement and going back in the direction it had come because there was no way of getting through.
The group has already met with South Oxfordshire district councillor Anna Badcock, district planning officer Paul Lucas and acting area liaison officer Thomas Cockhill and hopes to build links with Watlington Parish Council, Oxfordshire County Council and community groups.
Mr Lovelace said: “We are keen to talk to various authorities and be part of the planning process going forward. There are so many simple things that can be done which we want to be a part of.”
The group has discussed more radical solutions to discourage HGV drivers from using the town, including implementing a congestion charge zone.
Mr Lovelace said: “If you wanted to travel through Watlington as a cut-through then you would pay a charge for it and there would be big penalty fines if you failed to pay. The technology is available, it is just a matter of finance.”
Mr Lovelace, who moved to Howe Road from Thame about a year ago, was shocked to discover the number of lorries passing his new home.
He said: “It suddenly became very apparent that it was not just the odd lorry but convoys of lorries at all hours of the day. It is a straight road and as drivers come round the corner from Ingham Lane it is the point where motorists put their foot down.” The group, which meets fortnightly in order to build momentum, is confident it can make a difference.
“We have a lot of people behind us and we are determined to succeed,” said Mr Lovelace. “We are used to getting things done — it’s all about action, activity and speed.
“We want to engage with residents and encourage them to get in contact with us, share their experiences and come on board because the more people involved in the campaign, the better.
“It is a campaign that affects everybody. There are 2,400 people in the town and we want them all to be aware of the issues and be behind us.”
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