North Herts Local Plan hearings cause concerns for roads in Letchworth and Baldock

Members of Save the World's First Garden City held a mock funeral outside the Icknield Centre where

Members of Save the World's First Garden City held a mock funeral outside the Icknield Centre where local plan hearings were set to take place. Picture: Sigi DLABAL - Credit: Archant

Concerns about whether roads in Letchworth and Baldock can cope with a dramatic increase in traffic if thousands of new homes are built dominated hearings of North Herts District Council’s Local Plan this week.

The latest hearings at the Icknield Centre overseen by a government appointed planning inspector saw residents turn out to air their views.

How Baldock’s roads will cope with the proposed 3,386 new homes including the largest site called BA1 at Blackhorse Farm with 2,800, was centre stage.

NHDC officer Louise Symes outlined possible solutions including a north link road towards the Baldock bypass connecting the A507 London Road and the A505 which would include a new railway bridge and help ensure traffic from the BA1 site doesn’t add congestion to the town centre particularly at the Baldock traffic lights – the four way junction for Royston Road, Clothall Road, Whitehorse Street and Station Road.

The council says that this junction is currently at environmental capacity, with an average of three minute waiting time during peak hours.

Ms Symes said: “The land owner is in discussions with Network Rail – which are moving in the right direction – to look at getting a bridge over the railway tracks.

“The proposal is to provide a north link road towards the Baldock bypass. There is a requirement to connect the A507 London Road and the A505.”

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Other ways of reducing additional traffic including installing technologically advanced ‘mova’ traffic lights which are designed to minimalise delays were discussed as were cycle and pedestrian routes which would help ensure the new estate is not cut off from the town.

Planning Inspector Simon Berkeley told the district council: “Policy requires both the link road and the pedestrian and cycling paths – they are essential to the delivery of the site. Network Rail need to be quite specific in what they are saying.”

Pedestrian access will be especially crucial as the BA1 estate includes two primary schools and a secondary school.

But other’s were not so convinced. Participant Dr Andrew Wheen argued that the introduction of a new road and traffic lights would be ineffective in facilitating the extra traffic through Baldock town centre.

“What I call the ‘Baldock bottleneck’ – traffic light junction – is a major problem that the council have so far failed to solve”, he said.

“The plan has already described this as problematic. It’s surprising and disappointing that the review identifies the problem, but offers no solution.”

Similarly, Letchworth participants were concerned about the traffic issues that would come at as a result of large development plans.

The Local Plan provides for some 2,167 new homes in the town.

The largest is the LG1 site north of the town which would be built on Green belt land.

NHDC plans to alleviate traffic by building an access road running into the site – which is owned by the Heritage Foundation – coming in through Western Way.

Tom Coates from Save the World’s First Garden City group was one of those who remain unconvinced.

He said: “Letchworth’s roads were designed for a population of 32,000. Car use was assumed to be low because the workplaces, schools and commercial centre were all within easy walking distance of the residential areas.

“Hence, the roads are narrow. They can’t now be widened because the broad grass verges are studded with specimen trees, some of them rare.

“So the extra traffic generated by the 900 new homes of LG1 will inevitably jam and consequently the level of air pollution will soar.”

Before the hearing on Monday, the group staged a ‘mock funeral’ for garden City principles standing outside the Icknield Centre wearing all black and holding signs.

The hearings continue on February 26 when Great Ashby, Graveley and Knebworth will be top of the agenda.

The inspector will then make a judgement on whether the Local Plan can be adopted or needs to be modified.