Monday, 06 April 2020

Firm warns of road closures

Firm warns of road closures

ROADS in Henley town centre will be fully or partly closed and parking spaces suspended when contractors begin installing a new internet cable network.

Zzoomm, which is rolling out its service to about 6,800 properties across the town, will start work in New Street on Monday.

Over the next three months the team will proceed along Thames Side, Hart Street, Riverside, Station Road, Reading Road, Queen Street, Duke Street and Bell Street before finishing in early June.

Duke Street will be shut in its entirety from May 25 to June 8 and the southern half of Bell Street, up to its junction with New Street, will be closed from May 11 to 22. Signed diversions will be in place.

The remaining disruption will be as follows: Single lane closures — Thames Side (April 13 to 26) and Station Road between Hobbs of Henley boatyard and Meadow Road (April 23 to 28).

Parking bay suspensions — New Street (March 2 to 13), Thames Side (March 13 to 26), northern side of Hart Street (April 1 to 9), Riverside (April 9 to 22), Station Road (April 24 to May 6), northern end of Reading Road (May 7 to 20) and Queen Street (May 20 to June 2).

Bus stop and taxi rank suspensions — southern side of Hart Street (March 26 to April 1), Station Road (April 24 to May 6).

The company, which has an office at The Hub in Station Road, is laying fibre optic cables between individual properties and its three exchange cabinets. These are much faster than the existing copper connections, which date back decades, and are unaffected by poor weather. It has already installed cabinets in Hop Gardens and St Andrew’s Road, each of which could serve up to 3,000 properties, and will put a third in Reading Road in May.

Zzoomm says it wants to finish work in the town centre before Henley Royal Regatta and the Henley Festival in the first two weeks of July, when thousands of tourists visit and there is extra pressure on roads.

During this period it will complete cable installations in the outskirts, where the service is already available to about 1,800 homes and businesses.

All outstanding work should be completed by late summer.

Since Zzoomm started on September 24, its teams of 37 workmen have excavated more than 25km of trenches on both public and private land to lay cables wrapped in protective ducts.

The company says it is running more than a week ahead of schedule and has planned the road closures with both the town council and Oxfordshire County Council, the highways authority, to minimise disruption.

It was due to meet representatives of about 30 Henley businesses on Wednesday night to explain its plans and argue for the long-term benefits of the service.

Regional director Dave Thrower, who is overseeing the project, said: “The town centre is one of the trickier parts of the build because of the closures and diversions as well as the commercial and residential sensitivities around them.

“We are aware that Henley is a very busy place in the summer and will work around the needs of the community. We’re always able to stop and resume at a more suitable time if needed.

“There will be disruption but pedestrian and emergency access will be maintained at all times and we’ll be talking with retailers to discuss how we can minimise the effect on deliveries.

“We’ve had quite a phenomenal dig rate considering the restrictions and challenges posed by a market town like Henley and the town and county councils have taken a very practical approach. They’ve done everything they can to enable us to proceed quickly, so it’s been short-term pain for long-term gain.

“As far as possible, we don’t want people to even know we’ve been in their street until after we’ve left and cleared up behind us.

“We’re aware of Henley’s traffic issues but we’re building efficiently because we directly employ our contractors and have regular planning meetings.”

The company has hired specialists who will replace the York stone paving slabs in the town centre, which were installed about 10 years ago. There have previously been complaints about utility firms exchanging them for cheaper materials. 

Where Zzoomm must install new manholes, the covers will be in York stone surrounded by a slim metal frame.

Mr Thrower said: “Those are about four times the cost of a regular cover but we’re willing to pay extra to do this properly. We’re aware that it’s a sensitive issue.”

Henley Mayor Ken Arlett said: “Our main concern is that traders don’t lose pavement access to their shops, which would cause an unacceptable reduction in footfall.

“To be fair, we’ve had very few complaints about Zzoomm so far and they’ve been very helpful to anyone who needs access to their houses. Their workmen have guided people reversing on to their driveways and even carried their shopping so we hope they’ll continue in that spirit. It was never going to be an easy task but they shouldn’t cause too many problems.”

Zzoomm, whose head office is in Oxford, says it offers download speeds up to 200 times faster than the current UK average of 50Mbps and is now taking customers.

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