Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Construction lorries putting us in danger, say villagers

LORRY drivers delivering materials to the site of a new housing development in Henley are putting lives at risk, claim residents of a neighbouring village.

Gillian Ovey, from Rotherfield Greys, says she was forced off the road by a heavy goods vehicle as it made its way to Highlands Farm, off Greys Road, where Crest Nicholson is building 163 dwellings.

She says many of the HGV drivers speed through the village when approaching or leaving the site, despite the narrowness of the road and a number of sharp bends.

Mrs Ovey, who lives at the Hernes Estate with her husband Richard, criticised South Oxfordshire District Council for permitting the scheme without banning lorries from travelling through the village.

She says they should have to travel through Henley town centre, in the opposite direction along Greys Road, and traffic-calming measures should be introduced to prevent the drivers from speeding.

Her concerns have been echoed by the parish council, of which Mr Ovey is a member.

Mrs Ovey’s near-miss happened as she was driving towards Rotherfield Greys one morning in August.

As she approached the junction with Dog Lane, a lorry came around the bend at speed in the middle of the road and she had to swerve to avoid it, driving across the grass triangle and coming to a stop in the hedgerow opposite. Her car was not damaged and she was not hurt but she says it could have been worse.

Mrs Ovey also says the lorries are damaging the village’s grass verges, particularly at the junction near the war memorial, where the drivers attempt to turn around and go back towards Henley.

On several occasions, they have uprooted the wooden posts which were installed to protect the monument and the grass surrounding it.

Mrs Ovey has raised the matter with district councillor David Nimmo Smith and county councillor David Bartholomew.

She said: “I have asked several councillors whether there could be a restriction on heavy goods vehicles and why it wasn’t brought up when the Highlands Farm planning application was going through.

“They agree that the road isn’t particularly suitable for that kind of vehicle but apparently it wasn’t considered a significant problem at the time, which I think is astonishing and wrong.

“There are no footpaths through Rotherfield Greys and the church, pub and many of the houses back straight on to the road with no pavement, so it’s a real danger.

“The village wasn’t even consulted because Highlands Farm is in Harpsden parish but it seems rather high-handed considering that it affects us too. The lorry I encountered was going too fast around the corner and it’s very lucky that I was in a position to take evasive action. Had we not been near that verge I don’t know what would have happened.

“I gather the work is going on for about four years and I can’t see how this situation will get better unless something is done. I feel the councils have let us down and failed to protect us.”

When outline permission for the Highlands Farm development was sought last year, Oxfordshire County Council's highways officers raised no objections.

Neither Henley Town Council nor Harpsden Parish Council objected but Rotherfield Greys Parish Council did, saying construction traffic would adversely affect the village.

Parish councillor John Hill said: “It’s an ongoing problem which is pretty bad and will only get worse as the construction intensifies. We’re going to have all sorts of vehicles coming through.

“Many properties face straight on to the street and in one recent instance a large digger passed through on the back of a flatbed that took up the entire road.

“I maintain the war memorial as a volunteer and couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve had to repair those posts in recent months. We tried to get the developers to make a contribution towards our community but didn’t get anywhere.

“We’ve spoken to the county council about installing a footpath along the village’s frontages but that would cost at least £50,000 and where would a small parish like us find that money? There are similar problems just outside the village, on the road between Broadplat and Bix – unlike here, that doesn’t even have a 30mph speed limit so lorries really speed along it as they take a shortcut.

“These problems should have been looked at before the application was approved. You could try to ban HGVs but I think you’d have a hell of a job – it would have been easier to make it a planning condition.”

Cllr Bartholomew said: “The fundamental problem is that Highlands Farm has very poor access from all directions and allowing traffic to take whichever route it chooses is the best option.

“It’s an unfortunate consequence of the location but it was chosen for development in the Henley and Harpsden neighbourhood plan.

“If we banned lorries from travelling through Rotherfield Greys, it would create a lot of problems on Greys Road and Gillotts Lane so we would probably get a lot of complaints from Henley residents. There is no easy answer that’s going to please everyone.

“I’ve discussed the issue of a footpath with them and explained that not many people would use it compared with the large amount of money it would cost.

“It’s certainly not something the county council would fund and we also have no direct say over speeding — that is a matter for the police.”

Crest Nicholson has apologised and says it will remind all its contractors of their duty to drive responsibly.

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