Monday, 18 November 2019

Drivers fume as unlawful lorry blocks bridge

CALLS have been made for more signage in and around Whitchurch after an articulated lorry got stuck trying to pass through the village.

The heavy goods vehicle, which was over the 7.5-tonne weight limit on the road between Crays Pond and the village toll bridge, caused severe delays during the evening rush hour on Monday last week.

It was the fourth time in recent months that a lorry had entered Whitchurch unlawfully but was especially disruptive as two cars had collided in the street shortly beforehand.

The lorry, which is believed to have been owned by an Eastern European firm, approached from the B471 at Whitchurch Hill at about 5.15pm.

An operator at the toll booth let the driver cross in order to turn around in the car park at the Pangbourne Club, which is the bridge company’s usual procedure.

Despite the weight limit, the crossing can withstand heavy vehicles after being reinforced in 2014 and this is less disruptive than forcing them to reverse in Eastfield Lane, which previously was the only option.

One of the cars that had collided was blocking the bridge’s southern approach road and couldn’t be moved because its steering column had been damaged.

This meant there was barely enough space for the lorry to pass and it took almost half an hour for the driver to squeeze through, during which long queues built up along the length of High Street.

Some drivers lost their temper and hurled abuse at the toll booth operator.

The car was towed away at about 7pm but the lorry remained in the club car park overnight and left the next morning.

The bridge company has passed the vehicle’s details to Oxfordshire County Council with a request that the haulier is prosecuted.

Secretary Geoff Weir said: “It’s less disruptive now that lorries can cross but, sadly, this one turned up at the worst possible time. We are doing our best to propose solutions and always pass our CCTV to the council whenever someone is in breach.

“We understand that it’s very frustrating, especially during the school run or with people coming home from work, but people need to appreciate that it isn’t our fault. Our toll collector took a lot of abuse and while she’s pretty tough it was still upsetting.

“We’ve told our operators not to direct traffic as it’s too big a responsibility if something goes wrong. We’re not health and safety ‘snowflakes’ but in the past it has taken six police officers to guide lorries off the bridge so it’s potentially very dangerous.”

Kevin Bulmer, the village’s county councillor, said the Government had turned down his request for a ban on lorries using cheaper domestic sat-navs as these don’t warn drivers about weight limits while commercial ones do.

He added: “You’re never going to find a solution that works all the time and if drivers can’t see the existing signage, they’re not going to see anything extra.

“In some cases, ironically, they’re too busy concentrating on their sat-navs to notice the signs. You have to wonder what someone’s doing at the wheel of a lorry if they’re not paying attention.

“I understand people’s concerns but there are no easy answers. Without a change in the law, the only practical solution is to take enforcement action as and when drivers go where they’re not meant to.”

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