This document is intended for discussion and as an update for the parish regarding a request that was recently refused in Hoe for a reduced ‘buffer’ speed limit to be introduced on the Holt Road (B1146) from a point north of Brick Kiln Farm to the 30mph restriction in Quebec Road. This would be approximately the same length as the very successful 40mph buffer installed further along the B1146 in Hoe after it becomes Fakenham Road, extending from ‘Corners’ to the Beetley parish boundary. Unfortunately things have changed in the 12 years or so since that buffer limit was approved and it is clear that any requests for speed limit management will now be refused for anywhere unless a series of fatal or serious accidents have already taken place at the location concerned. It will be argued here that this wholly retrospective approach does not comply with the majority of the relevant local authority policy, can be clearly shown not to work and that it is wasteful of money, lives, wellbeing and the considerable local knowledge that exists in many parishes.
Some 450 metres north of where the 30mph limit starts in Quebec Road, Dereham there is a collection of five houses just within the parish of Hoe, situated immediately adjacent to the road, which have their origins in a sixteenth century farmstead. Whereas the road traffic would once have comprised horse-drawn vehicles it is now designated by Norfolk County Council as a main haulage route and is signposted to accommodate all of the heavy goods, tourist and domestic traffic travelling between the north and northwest Norfolk coast and the A47 at Dereham. The road (Holt Road,B1146) is subject to the national speed limit of 60mph and traffic is almost entirely invisible to residents of the five houses attempting to leave or enter their driveways. The lack of vision, traffic speed and its sheer volume conspire to create daily conflict, near misses and inevitable accidents.
Despite residents reporting that accidents occur regularly there is no central record of this retained by the highways authority who only record accidents where victims are killed or seriously injured (KSI) and none of the more recent incidents at this location have resulted in either outcome. As the road is invariably blocked when an accident does occur however the police attend and have consistently marvelled that happenstance and nothing more has prevented a death. That drivers in the oncoming traffic have only a split-second to react to a resident’s slow moving vehicle crossing a lane led the most recent officer attending to incredulously observe that the situation is ‘incredibly dangerous’.
Despite the clear danger our highways authority have refused over time to countenance the introduction of a reduced speed limit as a preventative measure and always justified this by the record showing no history of deaths or serious injury at the location. This response, in effect, reduced the ‘Norfolk Speed Management Strategy’, a benign, flexible document governing the speed limit policy, from 27 pages to just part of one page without any public consultation. It laid bare the fact that in practice most of the policy is ignored and inflexibly applied to exclude all proactive accident prevention measures. A wholly reactive approach is adopted with action only being sanctioned where accidents with serious outcomes have already taken place. For many years, in fact, a change to existing speed limits has only been considered at points on the county road network where there is evidence of a whole cluster of KSI accidents and not where those incidents are limited in number or there is clear potential for a tragedy.
The result of this very narrowly focused approach, is referred to in the ‘speed management strategy’ as ‘Speed management has contributed to a considerable reduction of road collisions in Norfolk with a reduction in killed and seriously injured (KSI) from 862 to 353 over the period 2000 to 2010. This represents a 59% reduction over that 10 year period’. It fails to acknowledge however that the reduction in KSI accidents resulted from belated action being taken at points where several fatal/life changing accidents had already taken place and so those figures had dropped out of subsequent totals only after they had risen through preventive inaction. It also overlooks that once enough time had elapsed to show up all of the worst recurring serious accident sites there came a point around 2008 where the problems with those sites had been addressed and substantially ceased to exist. Since then the KSI rate has settled into a steady average of around 350-380 each year. Last year it reached 414 which is 25% higher than the ‘target’ of ‘310 or fewer by 2020’ stated in the speed management strategy.
Despite the speed strategy clearly failing to reduce accident numbers for almost a decade the county have stuck doggedly to the insistence that evidence of persistent KSI is required before any action will be considered to reduce a speed limit. This pursuit of a failing policy is hard to understand, particularly when its failure has occurred at a time when budgets are squeezed and in most parts of all local authorities the use of all expenditure and the scope for future efficiencies has been minutely examined. The latest print of the speed management strategy (2014) states ‘….the speed management strategy for Norfolk retains the current approach to setting local speed limits which has been in place since 2001’. Clearly there is no perceived need to change anything and parishes have not been consulted on the issue.
One of the features of the (written) strategy is that ‘buffer’ speed limits can be introduced to slow traffic in stages rather than expecting it to reduce speed abruptly. Many examples of this exist that were installed some time ago, predominantly adjacent to built-up areas, including a number at the approaches to Dereham and one approximately half a mile north of the group of five homes referred to earlier, where the speed limit was reduced from 60mph to 40mph; this is also on the B1146 at the Hoe/Beetley Border. It has been very successful at reducing the speed of traffic along its length which includes fairly gentle bends, a public road junction and three house entrances whereas the buffer recently refused contains a whole series of distinct hazards which will be referred to in the following paragraphs.
After a recent accident as a vehicle left the driveway of one of the homes in Holt Road and another one 450 metres south at the commencement of the 30mph restriction in Quebec Road, I requested that a highways professional accompany me along the road length between the accident sites with a view to re-considering its suitability for a buffer speed limit. At the conclusion he also met with local residents and informed them that he would support the case for introducing the buffer and recommend it to those deciding the issue.
During the journey I had been able to point out not only the hazard at the five houses but also
- one within 150 metres comprising a double bend with one (known as Gingerbread Corner) that is extremely acute, subject to flooding, with two house entrances and an intersecting junction with poor visibility. This has been the scene of several vehicles leaving the road and ‘bottoming’ in the surrounding woodland over time, that were clearly travelling too fast and any avoidance of death or injury has occurred purely by chance.
- After a further 150 metres there is the entrance to a complex comprising a care home and 43 bungalows for the elderly who are looked after by 31 staff. There is a bus stop each side of the road for residents who are forced to wait, in all weathers, at the kerbside of a 60mph road in order to hail busses and to reach one stop it is necessary to first cross the road: all of the residents move slowly and a very high percentage have mobility aids. The staff report that the traffic is accelerating in both directions as it passes the entrance and both residents and staff encounter daily difficulties caused by vehicle speed.
- A further 150 metres onwards the 30mph restriction begins on a bend where the road enters a downward gradient and one of the speed limit signs is hidden by the trunk of a very large tree. The compliance with the speed limit is poor and this may be compounded by both the steep gradient and that motorists do not see the restriction sign until they are passing it. The first 150 metres within the speed limit contains four road junctions, a very busy golf club and a secondary school with almost 1,000 pupils: to reach the school entrance it is necessary to cross the road at a point where the bend severely restricts the view of oncoming traffic and which is well within the stopping distance of a heavy goods vehicle travelling at 55 mph (100 yards on a flat dry road with an alert driver). It has become necessary to place a member of staff at the school gate to supervise pupils crossing since the recent accident where a lorry blocked the road and a severely injured casualty was airlifted to hospital in a helicopter which landed on the adjacent school field. I understand the accident resulted in life-changing injuries.
The staff and residents of Quebec Hall, the secretary of the golf club, house residents, Northgate High School and Dereham Town Council have all unequivocally expressed their support for the introduction of a 40mph ‘buffer’ continuing north from the 30mph limit in Quebec Road. This will clearly have safety benefits to prevent accidents at all of the ‘hazard’ points referred to here. It would also have lifestyle benefits by safely supporting national and local government encouragement for active retirement and more children walking to school. It would improve the environment because slower moving vehicles would gradually rather than suddenly reduce speed and by spreading out the traffic would also mitigate the tailbacks of stationary vehicles with their engines running, which occur at the Quebec Road/Swaffham Hill Junction daily. This same feature would encourage cycling and facilitate the use of the pavement which has recently been extended to cover most of the ‘buffer’ section of road to access promoted local walks.
Finally a buffer limit, where the entrance of Northgate School is so close to the start of the 30mph speed restriction will become a necessary prerequisite anyway to implement the county policy to establish 20mph speed limits at all school entrances. The introduction of this measure again forms part of the ‘speed management strategy’ and cannot possibly take place in Quebec Road if the speed of the traffic is required to suddenly reduce from 60mph to 20mph, particularly when it is very clearly currently challenged to reduce to 30mph.
As indicated here the current speed management strategy is not working to reduce the number of KSI accidents and has not throughout the current decade. The annual total has remained stubbornly well in excess of the ‘target’ figure during that time and currently exceeds it by a considerable margin. Nevertheless there is no move to change its entirely ‘reactive’ implementation or to either seek or respond to local feedback regarding a more preventive approach; in effect an approach that does not work is favoured over one which might work. This is extremely surprising at a time when the budget available for traffic network safety has been drastically reduced and ‘value for money’ solutions that work are more important than ever.
It is of course laudable that the number of KSI accidents was reduced from the 862 it had reached in 2000 but the strategy of bringing it down by identifying points where there were existing clusters demonstrated the inadequate or ineffective previous intervention which had allowed that situation to come about. With more than one KSI accident still taking place every day where lives are either ended or completely changed, there is clearly still much to do.
Our parish meeting (supported by Dereham Town Council) is confident it has made a solid case for the introduction of a reduced ‘buffer’ speed limit which complies with the speed management strategy whist having safety, social, environmental and economic advantages, all of which are features of the speed management strategy but not the strategy for implementing it. We are encouraged that it is supported by such a wide body of people which includes those who live locally, manage a busy leisure facility, have responsibility for a huge number of the most vulnerable members of our local families, a highways officer and two elected parish bodies. It is of course Norfolk County Council that is responsible for speed management and there are four county councillors who are elected in the area concerned who can therefore influence both the outcome for the case that has been made for a buffer zone referred to here and whether there should be a reconsideration of the criteria currently adopted in implementing the speed management strategy.
As indicated, our parish has consistently been informed that a speed limit reduction is only possible where there is a repeat history of KSI accidents. As outlined that approach has demonstrably failed for several years and as it relies on casualties occurring before action is considered it is difficult to see how it can be ethically sound.
When we have pressed on the matter of adopting a more proactive and preventative approach we have been informed of the following obstacles…..
- At a time when budgets are being cut a more proactive approach cannot be financed and any intervention would have to be supported by accident history. This underscores the very questionable ethics that deaths and serious injuries must precede any action. It also surrenders to the unfathomable logic that it is justifiable to finance something which demonstrably no longer works whilst diverting the same funds to something which may work is unaffordable.
- It would be impossible to finance every request made by parishes and the county council must be consistent.
By showing consistency in rejecting any request for a reduced speed limit where there is no established KSI history the opportunity to avert tragedies is entirely lost. In effect, however compelling the reasons behind a request made by a parish it must be refused because to be consistent either every request must be granted or every request must be refused. This is not only nonsense but it insultingly devalues the local knowledge of parishes as a resource in accident prevention. In the current case, where a huge number of people speak with one voice with fears about the overt danger, it leaves the two parishes concerned entirely impotent until those fears are realised a number of times. This raises clear questions about the morality of such an approach which perhaps should demonstrate consistency by allowing all parishes who make a sound to case to receive support and all parishes with inadequate cases to fail.
This is a major part of the county route hierarchy and vehicles must be allowed to make good progress.
At the current speed limit of 60mph it is theoretically possible for this quarter mile stretch to be covered in fifteen seconds. In practice any vehicle attempting it would have to frantically reduce speed from 60mph to 30mph just before where the school children cross, have managed not to crash at Gingerbread Corner, as so many have in the past and avoided accidents at the other hazard points. Reducing the speed limit over the same short stretch to 40mph would increase the theoretical journey time to 20seconds and given the potential it would have to prevent serious or fatal outcomes such a minor delay is extremely unlikely to be opposed or resented.
As already indicated all of the traffic heading south to the town and A47 is funnelled into Quebec Road where there is invariably a wait to join Swaffham Hill at most times of the day. A reduced speed limit as suggested would mitigate this delay and it is very likely that vehicle journey times would therefore be decreased as a result.
- All speed limits must appear credible to motorists or they will be ignored.
With the occurrence of the closely grouped hazards described here it will be entirely clear to motorists why a reduced speed limit is in force, although some signed indication that the town centre is approaching would remove any room for doubt. It should be remembered that the road is designated to deliberately cater for a high volume of goods and tourist traffic and therefore it is inevitable that a large number of drivers will be unfamiliar with the area and road layout. A reduced speed limit would assist the perception that the town hinterland is approaching and increased hazards are present.
Over several years there have been repeated promises made to introduce traffic calming measures on both carriageways near the five homes referred to. If the promises had been kept along with a reduced speed limit then ‘slow’ signs (one of the things promised) would perhaps have underscored the necessity for the speed restriction. On their own their impact would be limited because they wear off and there are already eight (partially visible) ‘slow’ signs in the four mile stretch of road leading from the location referred to here which makes them very common features and therefore less visible.
This document commenced with reference to the existing situation where the homes of five local families access Holt Road (B1146). Within half a mile on the same road there are two sites where action was only eventually taken after several fatal and serious injury accidents. The residents of the five homes live in daily fear that they will also become victims of this approach to implementing the speed management strategy. Some life-long residents have stopped attempting to turn right when they leave their home and take a lengthy detour to reach local services. Other former residents who concluded it was only a matter of time before an inevitable fatality occurred moved out when they became parents, despite being unable to sell their house because of the road danger. It was subsequently possible to let the property but only to a succession of tenants who have moved on at the earliest opportunity because of the road.
The parish meeting continues to pursue some action that will bring about a buffer speed limit as a pre-emptive safety measure and to that end will seek the support of the county councillors able to take the matter forward. All future developments will be reported on our website.
Trevor Wood (Parish chairman)