Pirton construction access route through Holwell rejected again

PUBLISHED: 20:57 15 March 2018 | UPDATED: 07:17 16 March 2018

HGVs using the pavement in Pirton Road, Holwell.

HGVs using the pavement in Pirton Road, Holwell.

Archant

Developers set to build 78 homes in a village near Hitchin have again been frustrated as another plan to get construction traffic to the site was refused tonight.

Following a heated debate at Letchworth’s historic Spirella Ballroom, North Herts District Council planning control committee chairman Councillor David Barnard used his deciding ballot after a tied vote to refuse the application on safety grounds.

Heavy vehicle access to the site on the eastern edge of Pirton had been proposed to come through neighbouring Holwell, with CALA Homes proposing to direct construction traffic from the A600 Bedford Road through the village lanes 60 times a day – every six minutes – for up to three years.

CALA already has planning permission for the 78 homes at Elm Tree Farm. Its construction access proposals had already been rejected by the committee twice, and CALA had lodged an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate ahead of tonight’s meeting.

District council planning officer Simon Ellis opened the discussion by saying there were now four additional measures being presented – construction traffic signs at each end of the route, motion-activated signs on each side of the bend in Waterloo Lane, remote holding bays on the A1, and the requirement of a week’s notice for any vehicles longer than 10 metres.

John Burden of the Holwell Against CALA Traffic group spoke on behalf of objectors from both Holwell and Pirton, as villagers in the public gallery held up large pictures of vehicles trying to pass each other in the narrow lanes.

He called CALA’s traffic analysis “stage-managed” and “doctored”, saying it was unreasonable to rely on vehicles being of the right size in the right place at the right time, and cited a new off-road route as the only safe and feasible option.

The new motion-activated signs at Waterloo Lane, he said, would only lead to large vehicles attempting to reverse around the bend to avoid each other.

Councillor Claire Strong – who represents Hitchwood, Offa & Hoo ward – spoke as a member advocate, and pointed out that the new mitigations focused solely on Waterloo Lane, and did not take into account the narrow width of Pirton Road in Holwell.

“This is going to have a really devastating effect on the community,” she said, before urging them to have the “strength in your convictions” to reject the plan again ahead of the appeal.

Philip Wright, from CALA Homes, said it was “not fair or reasonable” to require further mitigation measures and that CALA’s team had gone “above and beyond” what was required of them. He reiterated that a traffic analysis commissioned by CALA had concluded that the route was safe.

He said the motion-activated signs on each side of the Waterloo Lane bend would be sufficient for drivers to “take evasive action” if necessary.

The meeting was briefly suspended following Mr Wright’s representation due to an outburst from the public gallery.

Manjinder Sehmi, of Herts County Council’s Highways department, said smaller vehicles could escort the heavy ones along the route – a suggestion that prompted much laughter from villagers looking on.

Councillor Harry Spencer-Smith said the safety audits presented were based on “current traffic conditions and not what’s proposed”, and pointed to the pictures held up in the public gallery.

“Two lorries cannot pass,” he said. “This is on a straight bit, never mind a bendy bit. This is an existing situation.

“How can it have been signed off by two different road traffic experts? How can it be?”

Councillor Jean Green said: “I’m beginning to wonder whether CALA Homes have even considered the villagers’ driving abilities. All they can hear is that when their sensors are working, these people can reverse back up into a space.

“But what happens if there’s more than one vehicle? Do they all have to back up?

“I think this is quite a poor show for CALA Homes, and I won’t be for it.”

But Councillor Tony Hunter said it was up to Herts County Council’s Highways department to make the call regarding road safety, and that if the committee rejected the plan the inspector would point this out.

“Our officers are asking us to actually put it back to the experts at Highways,” he said. “It’s their job to sort it out. It’s not our job to redesign roads.”

Councillor Michael Muir seconded the motion, saying that Highways had the power to refuse anything from CALA that they were unhappy with.

The vote was tied at six councillors to six, with Mr Barnard using his deciding ballot to send the matter to the inspector.

The inspector will consider CALA’s appeal based on written representations. The district council has until April 10 to submit written evidence in support of the decision to reject the construction management plan.

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