Category Archives: Highways

Positive Politics – Labour’s Transport Policies for the South of England

The 2015 parliamentary campaign in the Guildford constituency is already well under way. Almost every day there is some sort of local Labour Party event. Yesterday I took time out to visit Westminster and attend the Labour Southern Group of MPs. Its chairman, Ben Bradshaw, invited Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) from the South East, South West and Eastern regions to attend.

I had already met some of the other PPCs there and it was great to swap campaigning tips and meet the hardworking MPs. I was sitting beside Mike Le-Surf and Chris Vince.

The guest speaker at the meeting was Mary Creagh MP, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary.

Mary Creagh MP, Shadow Transport Secretary

Mary Creagh MP, Shadow Transport Secretary

This was brilliant news because transport issues are so important in Guildford and Surrey generally, as well as in the South East. Also, I’m particularly interested because I have worked in the transport industry for the last 14 years as an airline pilot.

The Department of Transport (DfT) has an annual budget of around £13 billion, spread over a huge range of activities and including many executive agencies like the Highways Agency. Mary was completely on top of all the detail for every part of the brief. It was great to listen to how each part of the transport portfolio meshes with the others and joins up with key policies in other departments, such as housing and the environment.

What really struck me was how positive Labour’s positions on transport are. There is great scope to improve how the transport budget is spent and sustainable transportation, planned properly, could have a massive benefit to a huge number of people.

I had travelled to Westminster by train and tube after parking my car at the station car park. The preceding five days saw me fly 14 flights in and out of Heathrow, spending nights in Munich, Zurich and Newcastle. I hadn’t used boat transport recently, but I felt I understood some of the challenges we were discussing anyway!

In Guildford, we have been campaigning for a cap in the rise of rail fares. This petition has received a great response from local commuters. A big part of the discussion with Mary was “How do we get a better rail network for commuters?”. This is rightly a priority because commuters have been ripped off since 2010 and the service is inadequate. We need a “3rd way on the railways” I think. The private Train Operating Companies seem concerned only with short term profits. I was interested to hear about how they neglect the recruitment and training of new drivers. A high proportion of drivers were trained (very thoroughly) by British Rail. Where will the next generation of skilled drivers come from if the TOCs don’t take responsibility for this?

Bus deregulation has failed many communities including in Surrey. Mary spoke about how communities will have greater say in how their bus services are re-regulated. The centre of Guildford gets gridlocked frequently and only proper local transport planning can alleviate this. Sadly, for residents and businesses, Surrey County Council is not up to the task. I agree that national government should have “last resort” powers to intervene. We saw during the Christmas floods that poor transport planning and traffic gridlock actually endangered lives and property because emergency supplies could not be moved by road around Guildford.

I asked Mary about runway capacity in the South East. Many constituents depend on Heathrow or Gatwick directly or indirectly and those of us who work there are very proud of the contribution we make to the economy of the whole country and continent. David Cameron has been incredibly weak by instructing the Davies Commission not to report its findings until after the 2015 election. Hopefully there will be some progress, such as ruling out Boris Island, before then.

While HS2 has not come up on the doorsteps of Guildford yet, it is a critical issue elsewhere. Instinctively I’m in favour but we need to ensure public money is well-spent too. This is an example of the interconnectedness of transport policy. Rail connections to northern cities are vital to mitigate the overcrowding and housing problems in London and the South East. Without HS2 I don’t see a solution.

We covered so many other issues in a fast-moving stimulating discussion: cycling, transport access to hospitals, home to school transport, bio fuels in aviation, concessionary bus fares for young people to go to college, level crossings, ports and freight transport.

The key message I took was that transport policy needs to be taken by the scruff of the neck, not left to wander wherever the market takes it. It is really pleasing that Mary Creagh is so enthusiastic about what could be achieved and so positive about how we will do it after 2015.


M3 ‘Ground Investigations’ Underway

Here is the latest update of work being undertaken by the Highways Agency to prepare the M3 from J2 to J4a to become a Managed Motorway, where the hard shoulder is used as a running lane.

The Red Road: Something Must Be Done…

… and this is “something”

As I mentioned previously, at last week’s committee meeting of the Windlesham Society it was announced by a county councillor that there would be a new roundabout built on the Red Road in Lightwater at its junction with Lightwater Road. This will be combined with banning right turns onto Red Road from Macdonald Road, so that traffic will travel east initially then do a 180º turn round the new roundabout before travelling back west again.

More details were covered in the press here. As you can see from my comment below the getSurrey article, I don’t think this proposal has much merit.

Safety First?

When I stood in the parish byelection in Lightwater West on 6 Dec 2012, the safety of the Red Road was a major issue on the doorstep. Although I didn’t win the election, the Tories were forced to “do something” again. They reduced the speed limit from 60mph to 50mph. The crashes continued.

If the aim of the recent proposal is to reduce accidents, I thought it would be best to find out what was causing accidents on the Red Road. I submitted a Freedom of Information request to Surrey County Council for the data they hold on accidents here in the last ten years. They responded promptly and I’m grateful to them. They only hold data on accidents where there has been an injury or death. Also, where the age is given as 99, this means that they don’t know the person’s age, not that a 99 year-old was involved.

Here is the data I received for the period from Jan 2003 to June 2013: Accrep_FOI -09645-Red Road Camberley – A3015 The Maultway to A322 Guildford Road Jan2003toJune2013

There is some really interesting detail in there. Behind the basic facts jotted in a police notebook are people whose day has just turned into a crisis. They’ve been injured, their cars are in a ditch, their passengers are in hospital and they’re standing in the rain explaining themselves to the police, sometimes after blowing into a breathalyser with disappointing results. I urge you to read it and decide for yourself what is causing accidents on the Red Road.

Here is a screenshot from showing 6 years of accidents on a map.

Here is a screenshot from showing 6 years of accidents on a map.

Personally, I think banning right turns out of Macdonald Road might have influenced 2 accidents in ten years. The dangerous section of the road, where inexperienced drivers learn about cornering, it seems, is further west. So why spend all this money modifying one junction, at the expense of messing up another, when what we need is a way of stopping people losing control on the bendy hilly section? Speed cameras are unpopular but there is no substitute in this instance.

The new roundabout will halt west-bound traffic while cars are doing the 180º turn. This will be a new source of accidents, as well as slowing the flow of traffic. At busy times, nobody will be able to leave Briar Avenue onto the Red Road because every gap in east-bound traffic will be filled with traffic from Macdonald Road. This proposal will harm the flow of traffic, as well as make the road more dangerous.

Keep Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’

I think our dependence on the car in this area is destructive. It worsens our quality of life. Instead of spending lots of money on a new roundabout just to be seen to be doing something, we should be building a safe cycle route parallel to the Red Road. In Google Maps it looks like a track already exists. The new Deepcut development will have a network of cycle routes which could link up to this and permit safe cycling between Deepcut and Lightwater and later perhaps Camberley and Windlesham and further.

The proposed roundabout would allow even more rat-running through Windlesham to get to the M3. The A322 gets so congested that desperate drivers go down Broadway Road, Church Road and New Road to approach the junction from the north. At peak times, it is already difficult to get out of Windmill Field in Windlesham. This hastily conceived plan might placate a few residents near the Macdonald Road junction but it will be at the expense of many residents in Windlesham.

We need to break with the mindset that forces us to destroy our environment, our climate and our health by being enslaved to the car. We need leadership from our elected officials to promote sustainable transport and facilities to work from home. Those who have to rely on cars, should at least expect the roads to be safe, not test tracks for budding Lewis Hamiltons.

Instead of this ill-conceived plan, I suggest:

  • Safe cycle routes,
  • Speed cameras, and
  • A change of mindset. Please.

New Acoustic Barriers to Protect Windlesham!

Excellent news has just come in from the Highways Agency. They have agreed to install noise attenuation barriers to protect Windlesham from the increased noise that will be generated by the M3 when it becomes a Managed Motorway. Here is the latest message I received from the project manager:

Dear Mr Wilson
Thank you for your contribution to the statutory instrument consultation for the M3 J2-4a scheme, your comments have been noted.
Environmental assesments and design work are currently ongoing, however I shall seek to address the points that you raise.

To mitigate the effects of additional noise on local residents, the design proposal will provide noise attenuation barriers. This does however mean that some of the trees which currently screen the motorway from the village will need to be removed; but they will be replaced by new planting.

There are no plans to extend the use of noise attenuation barriers as far as Chobham common and it is not the Highways Agency’s policy to provide noise fencing for non-residential areas. The effectiveness of a noise attenuation barrier diminishes the further away the receptor is from it, which means that properties more than 100m away will experience little or no benefit.

The hard shoulder will be resurfaced with low noise surfacing as part of the M3 managed motorway project and there is likely to be some resurfacing of sections of the other lanes where queue protection loops are installed. The aims of this project are to install the infrastructure needed for the M3 to operate as a MM-ALR and therefore we are not proposing to resurface the whole carriageway. However, resurfacing of the M3 is in the area team’s scheduled maintenance plans.

When determing the position of the lit variable message signs and gantries, a number of factors are considered. There is the requirement to appropriately advise the motorist of the prevailing speed limit sufficiently frequently, and convey other information. The attached leaflets give more infomation on the design which you may find helpful. You will see that the new all lane running design makes greater use of roadside mounted gantries and signs rather than the overhead ones spanning the carriageway that you may be familiar with from managed motorways on other parts of the network. There is also the visual intrusion impact on local properties that we take into account; where possible infrastructure is located sensitively or screened with planting. It is not usual to screen open countryside per se, but we are aware of the protective designations assigned to Chobham Common and are taking the necessary measures.

As I say, design work and environmental assessments are ongoing, and we are planning to hold public information exhibitions in the area later in the year when this work is complete. We will write to you nearer the time with the details.

Should you have any other queries regarding the scheme please feel free to contact me via the project email address or by telephoning the HA information line on 0300 123 5000.

Yours sincerely

Simon Kirby 

Project Support 

MM Fact Sheets 6- Design i MM Fact Sheets 4- The Controlled Environment ii MM Fact Sheets 4- The Controlled Environment i MM Fact Sheets 6- Design ii


M3 Managed Motorway Public Exhibitions Postponed!

I reported the planned public exhibitions about the M3 Managed Motorway scheme here a couple of weeks ago. Then today I received this email:

Public Exhibitions Postponed

There must have been some serious re-thinking required to justify postponing the public exhibitions. I’ll try to find out what happened and report it here.

M3 Motorway Consultation Ends 24 May

The Highways Agency has a plan to increase the capacity of the M3 on the section passing Windlesham. As I wrote before, I agree with the ‘Managed Motorway’ plan in principle but I have some reservations.

The consultation period ends on 24 May, so you only have a week left to make your views known. Here is the latest reply I have received from the Highways Agency. The webpage for the project is here

They say that there will be ‘public exhibitions’ next month. I’ll look out for these and post details here when available.

If you live in Windlesham, you will probably have had the Windlesham Society leaflet through your letter box about the consultation. For anyone who has missed it, here it is:

Leaflet published by the Windlesham Society

Leaflet published by the Windlesham Society

M3: Managed Motorway to the Sea

Like many local issues in Surrey Heath, this one revolves around traffic, car traffic in particular and how to minimise the damage it does. The M3 links our area to the M25 and London. This provides one of the advantages of living here – we can get to London quickly by car. In theory.

Unfortunately, travelling by petrol- or diesel-powered cars is not sustainable. They produce climate changing, and other harmful, emissions, noise, congestion and are less safe than other methods of transport. However, while campaigning for sustainable methods of transport, we need to accept the car will be with us for the time being and try to mitigate its harm.

The Highways Agency has a plan to increase the capacity of the M3 between junctions 2 and 4a by using the hard shoulder as a normal traffic lane during busy periods. There are several advantages of doing this:

  • If the M3 can carry more traffic, the surrounding roads will be less congested.
  • People, including local residents, will be able to get to and from London without getting stuck in so many traffic jams.
  • By using the hard shoulder, we will not lose any more of the countryside, in particular Chobham Common, under the motorway’s tarmac.

The scheme is called a Managed Motorway Scheme and also includes varying the speed limit depending on the traffic conditions. In heavy traffic, imposing a lower speed limit actually increases the number of cars which pass along the road in a given time. The science of this is similar to fluid dynamics. It maintains a steady flow of traffic instead of the big variations in speed which quickly cause tailbacks and take a long time to clear.

Personally, I am in favour of this scheme in principle. It could be a cost-effective, and relatively environmentally friendly way of increasing the motorway’s capacity which, regretfully, is necessary to boost economic growth and reduce emissions and congestion. However, I do have some serious concerns which I wrote to my MP, Michael Gove, about. (Incidentally, he performed a spectacular U-turn in parliament today on education policy. I hope he doesn’t attempt this manoeuvre on a motorway!) He passed on my concerns to his cabinet colleague, the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, and here is his reply: McLoughlin Letter.

My concerns are as follows:

Firstly, I would like to see Windlesham protected from the noise that the extra traffic will bring by the installation of acoustic fencing alongside the motorway. Many other sections of the M3 already have this and it is part of the planning application for the DERA development too. This could be done, along with some tree planting, very cheaply during the construction.

Secondly, the hard shoulder and possibly other lanes should be surfaced with the lowest noise producing material possible. The Secretary of State seems to acknowledge this too.

Thirdly, the many additional signs and gantries should be screened from nearby viewpoints like houses and footpaths that are enjoyed for country walks. There is a danger of creating a blot on the landscape. I’m particularly concerned about the effect of light pollution from lighted signs.

Finally, I suggest that the speed limit be set to a maximum of 50mph. The disadvantage of using the hard shoulder for traffic is that any crashes will have a greater effect. It will be more difficult for emergency vehicles to reach them and there will be nowhere to move stranded cars to get out of the way of the traffic. A lower speed limit would reduce the number and severity of crashes and make little difference to journey times. It would also reduce the increase in noise.

If you would like to find out more about the M3 Managed Motorway Scheme, click here for the Highways Agency website.

You can also find more information about how to comment on the scheme on the Windlesham Society’s website.

Work will begin on the scheme in early 2014 but there will be a public exhibition about it by the Highways Agency later this year. Check back here for more details. In the meantime, keep pushing for sustainable methods of transport like trains, buses and safe cycle routes.

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