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Highways Site Visit (August 2021)

27 August 2021

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On 20th August 2021 Cllr. Andrew Reid (SCC Councillor for Wilford Ward), Cllr. Paul West (SCC Councillor and Cabinet Member for Highways) and Mr Peter Sparrow (SCC Highways Engineer) met with a resident of Hollesley to discuss a number of Highways related matters. The full report on these matters is here:

"To confirm the discussion held during our site visit on the 20/08/2021.

We discussed the parking arrangements for the shop and issues around vehicles entering and exiting the car park, especially when deliveries are being made. This was part of a request to reduce the speed limit. We discussed this on site and decided that it was not justified to seek a 20mph speed limit along this road and as a private access the responsibility is on users to ensure they manoeuvre safely when entering and exiting the shop carpark. On the whole, during my time on site, most users behaved responsibly.

We also briefly touched on making School Lane a one way road, possibly including the route from Duck Corner along Rectory Road, this was decided to be unsuitable due to it being difficult to justify the need and concerns around access for the school bus and deliveries etc. It could also potentially increase the speed along the road. Especially as the road only appears to have issues during road closures. We did discuss the possible placing of “Unsuitable Diversion” signs here to try and stop vehicles using the road. We cannot stop them from using the road, but this may help alleviate the issue.

The main part of our discussion revolved around road closures that have been put in place frequently in a relatively short period of time.

As I explained at the time, Suffolk Highways, through the Network Assurance Team, works with utilities to minimalize their impact on the travelling public. This includes encouragement to avoid closures wherever possible and if a closure is required, we will try to get them to work at times to minimalize disruption, so avoiding peak times at the start and end of the day, school pick up and drop off etc and work in the evening or at weekends depending on the location and type of work carried out this is not always possible.

Where there are periods of time where work is not being undertaken it is sometimes possible for a closure to be reduced to traffic lights or other methods in order to allow traffic to flow. Sometimes road closures are used when they are not needed at all. If you feel that the road is closed without good reason, please report this to us immediately.

Works that do not make use of active traffic management, i.e. temporary traffic lights, stop/go boards etc, and do not involve digging into the surface of the Highway, do not necessarily require a permit to be requested, therefore these may not be recorded on our systems. These could be something like BT lifting a footway cover to inspect it and having only barriers around the cover whilst it is open.

On minor roads there is an option to use a short duration closure, this has particular rules to follow, including that traffic can only be held for 15 mins at a time, so any works will need to be able to clear the road in quick time. This is not suitable for all road types and speed limits but is something available as an alternative to a full closure in some cases.

Normally whether a road closure is necessary or not depends on the road width and available space around the works. In order to maintain one running lane a minimum width of 2.5m is required on roads without buses, HGVs or other large vehicles expected. On roads that form part of a route for large vehicles a minimum of 3m is required. There is also a requirement for a safety zone to be maintained between the operative and live traffic of 0.5m in speed limits of 40mph and under and 1.2m in limits over 40mph.

This information comes from the Accepted Code of Practice called "Safety at Street Works and Road Works" and it can be viewed in full on the UK Government website here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/safety-at-street-works-and-road-works

It is worth noting that we cannot control when a utility company puts in an urgent or emergency permit to work, we have to accept them. We can investigate after the fact and take appropriate action if we feel that the works were not urgent. As we discussed on site also, we cannot refuse an urgent or emergency works without very good reason as we would be taking liability for any consequences. We are not experts in the different fields that the utility companies operate therefore we can only judge these on face value based on the information we are supplied.

It was acknowledged on site that in some cases genuine urgent and emergency works are sometimes known about for a few days prior to the closure being set up by the organisation responsible, as workforce, resources and equipment will need to be organised and deployed, but as soon as everything is ready the works will go ahead.

It is also not unknown for undertakers of work to use the emergency process to bypass timescales required for planned works, we have powers to fine or censure in other ways those we find doing this repeatedly without good reason.

In the case of emergency and urgent works the requirement is to inform the local Highways Authority (Suffolk Highways Network Assurance Team in this case) up to two working hours after the works start so we may not be aware until after the closure is in place that works are going ahead. This can make it difficult to co-ordinate and in rare situations there can be a closure on a diversion route for another closure, it is the responsibility of the party putting out the traffic management on the diversion to ensure traffic is not restricted. Where we are made aware of this happening we will do our best rectify the situation to reduce disruption.

We also discussed the issues around Sat Navs, Google Maps and One.Network updating with road closure and other traffic management information. I explained that the information on traffic management, road closures etc. is publicly available via the One.Network site and, within network and data transfer limitations. As soon as the road works are recorded on our system they are sent to One.Network.  My understanding is that SatNav companies, Google Maps etc, access this data.

It was mentioned that this tends not to work in Suffolk, to which I do not have an answer and may be an issue between One.Network and the associated companies. One.Network, SatNavs and Google Maps etc are outside of SCC’s control. I will make our Network Assurance Team aware of this issue in case they have recourse to make One.Network aware.

We discussed the possibility of improved notice around road closures. The normal standard for planned road closures, which require a notice period of between 6 weeks and 3 months, lay out that a letter drop to those within the closure area and forward warning signs be placed out 2 weeks prior to the start of works. There is also provision given for advance advertising in local newspapers etc.

Concerns were raised around the signage for a diversion route, especially regarding where the road is closed. New standards are being implemented for planned closures which require more information placed at the start of diversions indicating where the road is closed, for example that access is only available up to a certain point along the road. These signs tend to be made as and when required and are not always available for emergency closures due to the timescales involved and uncertain nature of the works.

For emergency/urgent works this is not possible due to constricted time frames and the need for the works to go ahead as soon as possible. One.Network does operate a notification service which individuals can sign up for that will alert them to planned and urgent works. This can be set up via the One.Network site and any issues can be reported directly to them via the site. You can also manually search for upcoming road works planned up to the next 12 months.

I will raise this issue internally to try and improve communication in this regard wherever possible with Suffolk Highways works.

I will pass on the concerns raised around traffic management, apparently excessive road closures and the possibility of having “Unsuitable Diversion” signs placed at the entrance to School Lane and Rectory Road when necessary to our Network Assurance Team to make them aware of the ongoing concerns here."

I would also like to ask that any issues resulting from road closure, traffic management and road works generally and Highway related issues be reported via our online reporting tool: https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/roads-and-transport/highway-maintenance/report-a-highways-issue/ or via our Call Centre for emergency situations 0345 606 6171. We will then investigate and take the appropriate action to resolve issues as they occur.