Monday, 27 September 2021

Artists hit by traffic chaos

PARTICIPANTS in the Henley Arts Trail are upset after being hit by traffic chaos caused by

PARTICIPANTS in the Henley Arts Trail are upset after being hit by traffic chaos caused by Tough Mudder.

Both events took place at the weekend but some trail exhibitors lost out on visitors as they were caught up in queues of traffic heading to the endurance event at the Culden Faw estate, near Fawley.

Now the organisers of the 10-year-old open houses arts event say they may have to move it away from the May bank holiday to avoid Tough Mudder, which was held here for the first time last year.

More than 20,000 people took part in the event on Saturday and Sunday with many staying at the estate, which is owned by Swiss financier Urs Schwarzenbach, until the evening.

There were tailbacks of more than two miles on Remenham Hill on Saturday morning as well as traffic jams on Marlow Road throughout the weekend. Some people compared the congestion to the disruption caused by the annual Challenge Henley triathlon before the organisers moved this to Weymouth in 2013 due to the level of complaints.

Jo Keiller, who organised the arts trail, said: “From what I’ve heard, it did interfere quite badly at a couple of venues. It’s a bit frustrating. I know Tough Mudder is a huge commercial event and there’s not a lot you can do about it but last year it was on a different weekend so it caused few problems for us.

“If this continues we may have to consider moving the arts trail to a different weekend.”

Artist Allan Henderson, who was hosting an exhibition at his home studio in Remenham Hill on Saturday, said the traffic outside was at a standstill all morning and as a result he had much fewer visitors than in previous years. He said: “Nobody was coming inside to look at my exhibition and it put people off coming into town generally. I had 10 to 15 people come in before 3pm when normally I’d expect more than 50.

“The whole road was stationary and someone told me the traffic went as far as the Black Boys Inn near Hurley. The arts trail has been going for 10 years and I think it’s a bit sad when a big event takes over and affects something long-standing like that.

“I have friends in Hambleden who said they couldn’t get out and were trapped in their house.

“I’m not entirely sure Tough Mudder brings anything to the town and this sort of thing affects people going in and out of their houses.

“Perhaps Mr Schwarzenbach, instead of going around by helicopter, should try going to his house by car.”

Kate Findlay, who held an exhibition in Church Road, Shiplake, said she had 130 visitors on Saturday but had seen 200 in previous years. Several visitors who came on Sunday and Monday told her they had set out on Saturday but were forced to turn back.

She said: “I think the traffic from Tough Mudder had an impact across Henley. Reports from people who came to us were that the traffic was diabolical and they were queuing for hours on Remenham Hill. It was putting people off coming to see us.

“Almost none of us had even heard of Tough Mudder and certainly didn’t know it was on. Had we known we could perhaps have done something about it.”

Gillian Nahum, who runs Henley Sales and Charter and the Boatique fashion store in Friday Street, said she lost hundreds of pounds in trade on Saturday because customers were unable to reach the town.

Ms Nahum, a director of the Henley Partnership, said she took just £30 all day when she would normally expect to make £500.

She was stuck in traffic herself for an hour while travelling from Hurley to Henley and said the jams were the worst she had seen.

Ms Nahum said: “People have told me they didn’t come into Henley because of the traffic and turned around and went to Marlow instead.

“I’ve never seen tailbacks so big as the ones on Remenham Hill. I know the area so I went down to Wargrave and round that way but it still took me an hour to get back to Henley.

“I would compare it to Challenge. These things are great but there should be a limited number of entries because it puts too much strain on the infrastructure of the town.

“It’s not bringing people in to the town, they are just moving through it. The town is basically in their way.”

Mandy Bowden, who owns the Daisy Boutique in Friday Street, said it was quiet at the shop and its sister store in Marlow on Saturday morning.

Joan Bland, who runs Asquiths teddy bear shop in New Street, said she noticed the heavy traffic all weekend and her trade was significantly down on Sunday.

She said: “We had a really bad day on Sunday but Saturday and Monday were fine.

“I don’t know if it’s anything to do with Tough Mudder but last year it seemed to affect trade really badly.”

Barbara Lewis, chairwoman of Nettlebed Parish Council, saw the jams while passing through Henley on the way to a family party on Saturday  morning.

She said: “Remenham Hill is quite bad generally but I’ve never seen it so busy. There were cars all the way up to Rose Hill and my daughter said it must be because of Tough Mudder.

“They were all trying to get in to Henley. I’ve never seen it like that, even during the regatta.”

John Halsall, Wokingham borough councillor for Remenham, Wargrave and Ruscombe, said: “The traffic was horrific. It went as far back as Remenham village and lasted all day.

“It was terrible but that’s a continuation of something we are getting all the time on that road, which seems to be due to the traffic lights on the bridge. I don’t know if it’s necessarily to do with Tough Mudder.”

A spokeswoman for Tough Mudder said: “Working closely with the local council, we made every effort to minimise the disruption for local residents and limited Saturday sales to the event based on the council’s recommendation.

“A full traffic management plan was put in place, including signage erected weeks in advance to warn of possible delays.

“Given the popularity of the event, we recognise there was some congestion over the event weekend, although the worst delays on Saturday were due to an accident.

“We will, of course, continue to look at ways to minimise the disruption and work with the council to ensure the future success of the event for all involved.”

Alex Dick, estate manager at Culden Faw, said: “I can’t speak for Tough Mudder but we are obviously sorry if anyone was inconvenienced by the traffic in the area. We are genuinely sorry.

“There was a lot of forewarning with signposts on the roads but a lot of people visited the estate over the weekend.”

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