The Saga of the Pedestrian Crossing on the A303

As most of you will be aware, the pedestrian controlled crossing on the A303 was put out of action around the time of the summer solstice by a less than attentive car driver.  It was clear that replacing it was going to take a little while, as the Siemens control box was crushed out of all recognisable shape.

It is fair to say that Highways England were fairly quick off the the mark in installing a set of temporary lights, but first managed to create a traffic hazard with them and then managed to block the pavement.   Worse still, the batteries failed every couple of days and it took a few more days for them to be replaced.   Eventually, these lights were replaced by a smaller, yellow set.  Not small enough, as one of them was destroyed by a passing truck after only a few days.  At least the batteries seem to last a bit longer…

The Parish Council, along with some of you, have been chasing Highways England since the outset for updates, using the only routes available to us – Highways England’s generic email address and 0300 telephone number, with absolutely no response.  We raised not only the pedestrian crossing, but the general state of the road, the “Keep Clear” box at the end of Church Street and a collapsing fibre duct close to the western gate of Manor Farm (having just got superfast broadband in the village, it would be rather ironic if these trunk fibres were cut or damaged!).

Wiltshire Council also approached Highways England on our behalf – and as far as we know met with a similar lack of response.  John Glen MP was also copied into some of the correspondence, but even that didn’t seem to help.

At the start of September, we got hold of the email address of the CEO of Highways England, Jim O’Sullivan.  At first, this seemed to get a reaction and the complaint was passed to the High Level Correspondence Team, we were promised an update within 15 working days and of course – absolutely nothing happened.  When the second light was hit on 5th September, we wrote to him again – still nothing. So, the CEO of Highways England didn’t appear to be able to get an answer out of his own employees.

At the start of October, after many more fruitless emails and phone calls, we wrote again to Jim O’Sullivan and copied our email to BBC Wiltshire – which is why Andy was at the end of Church Street with a reporter at 7:00am last Tuesday.   Oddly enough, with the threat of publicity in the air, Highways England managed to produce an update and projected timescale for repairs for the BBC, within a few hours.  As Andy said on the 7:30am news when first told of this – “…this wouldn’t have happened without the intervention of BBC Wiltshire.  Thank you BBC!”

Finally, today, we got a formal response from Highways England.   This is what it says:

 

A303 Winterbourne Stoke

Nick Harris
Operations Executive Director Bridge House
Walnut Tree Close
Guildford
Surrey
GU1 4LZ

www.highways.gov.uk

6 October 2017

Thank you for your recent correspondence addressed to Jim O’Sullivan, regarding your concerns with the maintenance of the A303 in Winterbourne Stoke. I have been asked to reply to you as this issue falls within my area of responsibility.

Please accept my apologies for the delay in dealing with your concerns. I understand Tim Ashton, the Business Services Team Manager in the South West, has made contact in this respect; I would like to reaffirm our commitment to improving the quality of our service in the future.

We understand the important role the pedestrian crossing plays in keeping road users safe in Winterbourne Stoke. Following the damage to the traffic signals, the installation of temporary signals has been particularly challenging. The width of the road and pavement provide very little space to safely site the equipment. We have tried as far as possible to limit the potential obstruction to both the carriageway and footpath. Installation of the permanent signals is currently scheduled to take place on 18 and 19 October.

We have investigated the lack of a response to your reports of the defective pavement. An administrative error prevented your report from reaching our maintenance team, for which I sincerely apologise. We have taken steps to ensure the error is not repeated. A maintenance service manager will be visiting the site today to carry out an inspection and arrange for any necessary repairs.

The road surface through Winterbourne Stoke is subject to regular inspections to identify defects which may need attention. Priority is given to any defects which are causing an immediate hazard, with other issues being prioritised based on their severity. We also seek to coordinate and combine works where we can to minimise the impact on road users and the local community.

We have identified that the eastbound lane of the A303 requires resurfacing as its skid resistance is starting to deteriorate. This work is currently scheduled to be carried out in February 2018. While we have no current plans to resurface the westbound lane in the immediate future, we are looking into the feasibility of refreshing the “Keep Clear” road markings.

Yours sincerely

Nick Harris
Operations Executive Director

So, there you have it.   Of course, the temporary lights have failed again today and it has proved impossible to contact anyone by phone…

A final thought for you all.  Highways England are the body charged with organising the construction of the bypass and the Stonehenge Tunnel, possibly the UK’s most sensitive road scheme of all time, of commissioning it and running it when complete.   Their seeming inability to repair a damaged set of lights, or even give an early indication of when that might be achieved, hardly fills one with confidence they can cope with a bigger issue.  Completion of the repair on 18-19 October might help restore confidence, a little.

What Lies Beneath?

Earlier on today,we noticed that Wiltshire Archaeology were back in the recently harvested field between the Berwick St James road and the River Till.  When they were last there, back in the spring before the Oilseed Rape had even sprouted, they were conducting a magnetometer survey to see if there was anything of interest in the ground that could impact on plans for a southern bypass route for Winterbourne Stoke.  Today, they had upped the ante, and were using ground penetrating radar (GPR) – a technique that can, depending on the terrain and soil composition, look deeper in the ground than magnetometry and also establish the depth of buried archaeology.

We have to ask ourselves: “Why?”

Speculation is all we have for the moment, which isn’t ideal, but there would seem to be two likely situations.  First, that the magnetometer survey found nothing and the GPR survey is something of a belt and braces activity to double-check; as once covered by a dual carriageway if the Southern route was selected, it wouldn’t be possible to look again. So it’s being done for completeness.

Second, the magnetometer survey found something interesting and they are now back for a more detailed look.  Time will tell.

The only certainty is, that along with all the other archaeology and environmental surveys for both the northern and southern routes that have been undertaken on behalf of Highways England for the A303 Stonehenge to Berwick Down Scheme, all the results SHOULD be made public.

 

Mended Stile

We are delighted to be able to say that the stile into the meadow at the southern end of Church Street has now been mended, and very robust it now looks as well.  For the first time in many years we have an upright that is tall enough to provide some useful support, nice thick treads that don’t flex as you stand on them and rounded ends so you don’t gouge your shins or knees on the corners.

 

Thanks to Druid’s Lodge Estate for fixing it so promptly on this occasion.  Wiltshire Council have been advised of the repair.

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