Thursday, 11 August 2022

Road closure chaos warning

Road closure chaos warning

DRIVERS have been warned to expect traffic chaos during the forthcoming closure of the main road between Henley and Reading.

And residents of villages in the area are being told to expect much more traffic as motorists take short cuts rather than follow the official diversion route.

A 100-yard stretch of the A4155 Henley Road between Spring Lane, by the Flowing Spring pub, and the Playhatch roundabout will be closed for an estimated 10 weeks from Tuesday, August 29.

Oxfordshire County Council, the highways authority, is to reinforce the westbound lane of the carriageway with a sheet pile retaining wall after it collapsed earlier this year due to previous flooding. The repairs are expected to cost £1.04 million. That section of the road has been reduced to a single lane with traffic lights since the problem first arose in April.

The council had hoped the work could start at the beginning of this month but it was delayed after a request by Reading Borough Council for the road to be kept open during the Reading Festival next weekend.

This means the road will be closed for only the last part of the summer holidays, when traffic is lighter, and for more of the new school term.

Traffic heading for Henley from Sonning will be diverted almost 25 miles from the Playhatch roundabout along the A4155 through Caversham on to the A4074 to Crowmarsh Gifford and then on to the A4130 to Nettlebed and Henley.

But many drivers are expected to use shorter and faster routes on rural roads through villages such as Binfield Heath, Dunsden, Shiplake, Harpsden, Sonning Common and Peppard.

Parish councillors are particularly concerned about lorry drivers using these roads rather than following the diversion, which must be along equivalent roads to the one being closed.

County councillor David Bartholomew, who represents most of the villages affected, said: “Clearly the period of closure is going to be challenging for local people, particularly those in the smaller villages who are concerned about large vehicles trying to cut through.

“We are doing everything we can to stop that happening. There will be signage on the smaller roads to discourage large vehicles from using them.

“There have been requests from some parish councils to ban HGVs coming through the villages but we can’t do that because there are lorries doing deliveries and buses that need to get through.

“HGV drivers would be foolish to try to go through Binfield Heath, for example. The roads are very, very narrow but need to be used by buses.”

Stefan Gawrysiak, Henley’s county councillor, said that once the work started, council officers would patrol the villages to check whether HGV drivers were keeping to the A-roads.

He said: “David and I drove the route with officers and suggested extra signage. The important thing is to stop HGVs and large vans from using rat runs through the villages. All the villages in the area could see increased traffic.

“This work has to be done and it’s not a small operation to put in 200m of piling.”

Councillor Gawrysiak will monitor air quality levels in Henley during the roadworks as fewer HGVs are expected to come through the town.

He said: “This is because they should be going up to Crowmarsh Gifford from Reading and we should see a reduction in pollution as a consequence.

“I’m going to collect the data over this period to see if there is a reduction.”

The shortest route around the closure, travelling from the Playhatch roundabout to Henley, is through Binfield Heath.

Paul Rollason, chairman of the Binfield Heath Parish Council, said: “I understand the official diversion only uses A-roads, which are obviously nowhere near the village, but we fear the official diversion will be ignored and we will be used as the nearest short cut.

“The main concern is about keeping HGVs out of the village. They just won’t get through, especially if there is one in each direction.

“This will increase traffic considerably for the next few months but there is nothing we can do about that.

“We would like to see some road narrowing or chicanes put in, which would mean small vehicles could get through, but it would be a problem as we don’t want to stop the bus service through the village.”

David Woodward, chairman of Eye & Dunsden Parish Council, said he was concerned about people walking through the villages as few of the roads have pavements.

“The lanes through Dunsden are already very dangerous,” he said. “There are no pavements in Playhatch and there is a real risk of an accident.

“They could mitigate this by imposing a 20mph speed limit and enforce extra patrols. There needs to be regular checks during the work and this needs to be visible so it will act as a deterrent to lorry drivers.

“One thing I am particularly concerned about is the closure of the footpath to Dunsden. I don’t know why it can’t be diverted.

“The footpath links Playhatch to the Flowing Spring pub and is used by lots of walkers, so is going to affect the pub’s livelihood. We would like to see pedestrian routes put in place for the duration of the work.”

Nick Willson, who owns the Flowing Spring pub with his wife Hazel Lucas, said: “We are going to lose most of our passing trade, people stopping in for a pint and a sandwich or a late afternoon lunch. 

“We will have to see how it goes and how it is going to affect us financially. Let’s just hope it is not going to be as bad as we anticipate and that we get support from our lovely customers.”

He said he had asked the county council to try to make the pub accessible to cyclists and walkers and to re-open the road during evenings and on Sundays when no work was taking place but he had not heard back.

Carole Lewis, chairwoman of Sonning Common Parish Council, said drivers may use the B481, which connects Nettlebed to Caversham and passes through the village.

There are already temporary traffic lights in place on a section near the Herb Farm, while pavement works for a new development are being carried out, so traffic is reduced to single file.

Councillor Lewis said she expected long queues to build up.

She said: “We already have our own roadworks outside the Lea Meadow development and clearly the A4155 closure is going to cause extra traffic.

“If this builds up we could see extra cars going along Kennylands Road to try to cut through the village to get around the traffic lights.

“There are already a lot of HGVs using the B481. I drive to Nettlebed every week and the road gets particularly narrow around Highmoor and the HGVs come over on to the other side of the road.”

Councillor Yvonne Constance, cabinet member for the environment at the county council, said: “We know that there will be disruption for people while the work is done and we appreciate everyone’s patience while we have been carrying out the necessary investigations and working out exactly what needs doing to make sure the road is made safe again.

“While we need to get on with the work we are also doing what we can to ensure everyone is able to get around and live as comfortably as possible.

“It almost goes without saying that we only do work like this when it is absolutely essential. In this case it is almost an emergency due to the state of the road and by acting now we will ensure that normal traffic and travel through the area will be restored soon.”

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