Thursday, 17 August 2017

So, if AI can’t use Birdcage Lane…

... without damaging other people’s property - without the necessary space to allow the unrestricted two-way flow of HGV traffic called for by DCC - what’s left?

Site access problems have dogged Aggregate Industries from the start. Click on the maps below to see the three ideas that have been proposed for Straitgate Farm so far.

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Having discarded the Straitgate Farm entrance itself as being too dangerous, AI’s first idea for site access was on the west side of the site. In November 2012, residents found out what that would have been like, when they woke up to find this on their doorstep without warning. The idea was quickly discarded, for a multitude of reasons.

AI’s second idea for site access was at the northern end of the site. Numerous residents had concerns over that idea, and Hugo Swire MP met with the company to voice them. It transpired, in any case, that AI had no rights to use the land in the way it intended - something we'd warned about two years before - and the planning application that relied upon it was subsequently withdrawn.

'If planning is eventually granted then I do feel that DCC should explore alternative entry and exit points to mitigate the disruption that this development will cause.'
AI is now on its third idea. The company's Transport Assessment - the one with the fictional traffic figures for the Exeter Road - reckoned this was an improvement on the previous idea:
The presently proposed access is better for goods vehicle movements from Straitgate Farm than the initially proposed route. 9.29
But that was obviously without taking third party property, trees or the width of the lane into account.

If AI can’t use Birdcage Lane or land to the north, what’s left? Last year, after the first application was withdrawn, AI had looked at another option: Little Straitgate.

It was an odd decision, because Little Straitgate - 75m to the west of Birdcage Lane - 75m closer to the brow of a hill - had already been deemed too dangerous in the company's first application:
Initially two possible locations for site access at Straitgate Farm were assessed, one being in the south of the site and the other at the northern end of the site. 5.43
The southern option, onto the B3174, was dismissed early in the process on highway safety grounds. It would have been too close to existing accesses, including the access to Straitgate Farmhouse, and the vertical alignment of the highway at this point would compromise visibility. It was decided therefore to create a new access at the northern end of the site... 5.44
Nevertheless, AI prepared some access plans for Little Straitgate. This was the option that a Road Safety Audit suggested should be left turn only - not right, the way AI needed to go; the option that subsequently involved installing traffic lights on the B3174. Concerns were raised by DCC, including on visibility splays, and - after the high vis jackets meeting - the whole idea was dropped in favour of Birdcage Lane.

If AI was to revisit Little Straitgate - it would have to factor in the cows too - the ones that would need to cross the road 4 times a day to find replacement pasture - the ones that would need two more entrances onto the Exeter Road; one of which would be between the Little Straitgate and Straitgate Farm entrances, and one opposite. Would the HGVs and cows each have their own set of traffic lights?? It’s all looking very complicated. Perhaps it would be simpler if AI helicoptered the sand and gravel out.

But don’t quarry companies always find a way around these things? Not always. In June of this year, an attempt by Tarmac to reopen a quarry was blocked by councillors over road safety concerns:
I’m not quite sure that the proposals to improve the signage and cut back vegetation to improve views is the answer.
Sound familiar? Tarmac was looking at "up to 13 vehicle movements per hour" onto a 50mph road; here, it’s up to 20 per hour, onto a 60mph road, on a hill.