Sunday, 29 November 2020

Grrrridlock: anger over roadworks

ANGER is growing following the start of emergency sewer repairs in Henley.

ANGER is growing following the start of emergency sewer repairs in Henley.

Drivers coming through the town this week faced delays of up to an hour after New Street was closed on Monday, causing congestion at peak times.

Thames Water piled more misery on to residents and town centre workers the day after the Challenge Henley event shut access roads for up to 12 hours.

The company is replacing 80m of broken pipe to prevent flooding and the work is scheduled to last another two weeks.

It will be temporarily re-opened tomorrow (Saturday) when the Henley Show takes place.

Rush-hour tailbacks stretched along Fair Mile, Marlow Road, Reading Road, Greys Road and Deanfield Avenue.

Some drivers ignored road closure signs and ended up having to do a tight U-turn in Bell Street, which caused more delays. Greys Road car park is supposed to be closed but some have been using it normally as a short-cut through the town centre.

On Tuesday morning, Oxfordshire County Council allowed access to New Street from Thames Side to ease some of the congestion. Traffic engineers were on site on Wednesday to investigate possible alternative routes and the work remains under review.

Diversions and signs have been in place from the start and extra signs have been put outside the town telling drivers to avoid Henley if possible.

Drivers complained to the Henley Standard and on Twitter about their experiences.

Suzy Hobbs, marketing exceutive at Hobbs of Henley, said it took her an hour-and-a-quarter to get from Crazies Hill to her home in Stoke Row on Monday.

She said: “I dropped our youngest at Crazies Hill Primary School and came down Remenham Hill and then couldn’t get through the town. It was gridlocked. I am now having to go via Sonning to get to the school. It has been an absolute nightmare.”

Town councillor Dieter Hinke said it took him 25 minutes to get from a meeting at the town hall to his home in Elizabeth Road a mile away.

He said: “I tried to get through Greys Road car park but that was just impossible so I ended up going via Rotherfield Greys by the Maltsters Arms. After Monday I haven’t come into Henley because it was exceptionally bad — traffic was at a standstill.”

Toby Fletcher, who lives in Church Street, said the roadworks are being carried out at the wrong time.

He said: “They could have done it over the school holidays after Henley Royal Regatta. It is an absolute shambles.”

Jeff Rosenmeier, owner of Lovibonds Brewery off Greys Road car park, wrote on Twitter: “Yeah, let’s do major roadworks just as all the kids are back to school and everyone back on the road…. morons.”

Kursha Woodgate, managing director of Mexia Communications at Highlands Farm, off Greys Road, wrote: “Mad traffic in Henley this morning — crazy road closures causing chaos!”

Claire Samson wrote: “It took me less time to drive to Oxford than it has taken me to get to the town hall from Fair Mile.”

Businesses complained that they were losing trade as a result of the disruption.

Kay Hickmott, owner of the Flower Shop in Bell Street, said she has had hardly any customers since the roadworks began. She said: “It has affected me big time. I had three people in the shop on Tuesday. We received no warning about it at all — it would have been nice if the county council or Thames Water had written to us.”

Janet Walford, of Jods Galore in Bell Street, said: “Our takings have definitely been affected and the fumes are very unpleasant, although it is not as bad this far up Bell Street as it is towards town.

“We have nearly lost our window three times. In almost 48 hours there must have been 150 buses, cement mixers, lorries, everything, doing U-turns in the road.”

Stephen Christie-Miller, of Savills estate agents in Bell Street, said: “No one believes the ‘Road closed’ signs, they have to go right up to them and turn round.”

Michael Carlton, co-owner of Bagatelle toys in Bell Street, said: “Sales have diminished but it is very difficult to tell whether that is due to the children going back to school or the roadworks.

“There are certainly fewer people in the town. We were informed about the roadworks some time ago in a letter.”

Joan Bland, who owns Asquiths teddy bear shop in New Street and is a town councillor, said the congestion was “inevitable” but it did have its upside: “It is wonderful not having cars in New Street.” Ed Simons, chairman of the trustees of the Kenton Theatre in New Street, called the roadworks a “nightmare”.

He said: “If it is not the gas, it is the electric and if it’s not the electric then it is the water board and now its sewer works. It affects parking and also our loading and unloading of sets and things.”

Town and county councillor David Nimmo Smith, who is a cabinet member for transport, said the work was necessary and delays were unavoidable.

He said: “The 1.5m deep Victorian sewer is in the middle of the road and partial closure is not possible. I have spoken with the county council and the contractor about the traffic management.

“The main traffic lights are already being manually controlled during the day and there will be more traffic management activity. The work has been planned since mid-summer rather than being under an emergency notice.

“I recognise that there have been hold-ups in the town, delays of one hour to get from Marlow Road to the top end of Greys Road, for example.” Cllr Nimmo Smith, who lives in St Andrews Road, said the diversions were the best and safest option.

He said: “It has been suggested that the answer is to reverse the traffic flow in Bell Street — if the county council officers thought that this would work properly they would have done it and implemented temporary traffic lights at the Market Place junction.

“But this would have resulted in two traffic sources going round the town hall and the professionals did not think that would be any better. We are where we are and the county council is trying, with the contractor, to deal with the traffic displacement.”

A county council spokesman said: “There is a morning rush which brings additional pressure but on average it should take an extra 20 minutes to get through.

“We are monitoring the situation all the time but the diversion routes appear to be working as we would expect.”

The broken sewer in New Street was discovered in March after residents experienced sewer flooding.

Repairs were carried out in April to protect homes and businesses but the full work was delayed until after the regatta.

Sherif Abdalla, site foreman for Contractors Cappagh, said the repairs were going well. “So far there have been no problems and we are working from 8am to 8pm so there is every chance that we could finish early,” he said.

Nigel Emes, contract performance manager for Thames Water, said: “The sewer is in poor condition and, although it is working, we need to replace the broken pipe before it gets worse.

“Having taken a break to allow traffic to flow through the town during the regatta, we are returning to complete this work.

“We’re sorry for any inconvenience this may cause to road-users and residents.

“We are working closely with the local authority to minimise any disruption.”

The company said it had warned businesses by letter.

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