Call for urgent action on notorious traffic blackspot

The saga of traffic gridlock at the notorious Air Balloon roundabout in the Cotswolds took another turn this week.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson is calling for urgent action at the Air Balloon roundabout

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson says enough is enough at the Air Balloon roundabout (photo courtesy of Wilts & Glos Standard)

Gloucestershire County Council’s Environment Scrutiny Committee has written to the Highways Agency asking for progress to be made on the A417 ‘Missing Link’ and finding a solution to the traffic and pollution problems.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) is a member of that committee and helped to create the letter with other councillors on the committee.

He led the campaign earlier this year against a proposal to stop drivers turning right at the roundabout and now wants a long term solution:

“After the debacle of the ‘no right turn’ suggestion earlier this year, we are left with ever-increasing traffic jams at the Air Balloon, air pollution issues and a blot on the local economy.

“What this letter is doing is asking the Highways Agency to come up with a proper solution and to engage with councillors and residents. We have waited too long and patience has run out.

“One of the residents at the Air Balloon has moved out, having sold their property for a song. They had had enough of bad health caused by the pollution. The Highways Agency has a duty to act quickly for the sake of the other resident who is left there.”

The County’s Environment Committee is hoping for a positive response to the latest initiative.

Dismay at A&E closure

A decision to close Cheltenham’s A&E unit to emergency cases overnight has led to dismay in the Cotswolds.

At a meeting held last week at the NHS Foundation Trust in Brockworth, the clinical commissioning group governing body voted to restrict the hospital’s A&E admissions between the hours of 8pm and 8am. From August, patients with a critical illness who need treatment from emergency medicine doctors will need to go to Gloucester Royal Hospital.

The proposals were consulted on between February and May this year. However, few people locally have been aware of this.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (right) next to Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood, protesting against the A&E closure

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (right) next to Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood, protesting against the A&E closure

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, CDC Lib Dem Leader spoke after the decision was made, “I’m dismayed by the decision. How many Cotswolds residents were aware of this proposal? I was only made aware recently and it will impact in a big way on the Cotswolds – particularly to the north, east and south east of Cheltenham. “

“The proposal may lead to higher mortality rates – a study undertaken previously stated that mortality rates rise by 1% for every extra 10kms travelled.”

“There may be increased waiting  times at Gloucester Hospital.”

“For a large chunk of the Cotswolds, Cheltenham hospital is the nearest and most direct place to go to for emergency treatment. This decision was made by unelected people in the face of opposition from the Cheltenham MP and thousands of residents.”

“24/7 A&E facilities are vital for the areas surrounding Cheltenham.”

 

 

All ears for launch of noise campaign

A group of residents and councillors from along the A419 and A417 have launched a brand new campaign against excessive noise from the road.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson with 40 residents, councillors and the Cotswold MP at the launch of the campaign.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson with 40 residents and councillors at the launch of the cross-party, parish and county campaign.

The issue of noise from the dual carriageway has been a running sore for residents since it was first built in 1998. Various attempts to reduce the sound have been made over the years without success so far.

Now, a group of 14 people have come forward to get the campaign moving again and have been meeting since last summer. They  held an official launch yesterday.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (CDC, Churn Valley) is chairing the group which has called itself A419 NAG (Noise Action Group) and believes the will is there to take action at last, “Those of us living north of Cirencester suffer just as much from excessive and irritating noise from the road as those around the Water Park area, north Wiltshire and parts of Cirencester. People have been raising the issue again and we agreed something fundamental had to be done about this.”

“This is about righting a wrong – since the completion of the dual carriageway, people living along this section of the road have suffered excessive noise pollution. This massively disruptive problem to everyday life is caused not just by the sheer weight of traffic but by the surface used – concrete.”

“At the time of its construction the estimates for noise generated by the road were far below what we now experience. The decision to use concrete, rather than more environmentally friendly asphalt, was based on cost benefits but the payback is it has brought misery to thousands living along this stretch of the road. This problem is affecting people’s health, enjoyment of their homes and local businesses are also feeling the impact.”

The group consists of representatives from Baunton, Bagendon, Latton, Down Ampney and Cerney Wick parish councils, along with Cirencester and Water Park councillors and residents. 

George Philips from Driffield first contacted the Cotswolds MP in 2003 when he was a Parish Councillor to complain about the public nuisance, “Since then, we received confirmation that the resurfacing would be completed in the period 2004/5 to 2006/7 but we are still waiting for any action whilst the human impact increases.”

”Who can we turn to for revised vigour and action as the problem of excessive noise continues to be exacerbated by vastly increased traffic flows and higher speeds? I feel that the battle for a solution has not been lost as the real offensive has never been started!”

Janet Sharpe is a Latton resident who has been working on a Parish Plan for the village,  “We have found that the A419 noise is of real concern to residents as its getting increasingly more disruptive to lives. People are reporting being unable to sleep, unable to open windows and enjoy their homes and gardens. It feels like those who have the power and budgets to deal with these issues are not listening to citizens’ concerns and this gives the message that people don’t matter.”

Cllr Hodgkinson added, “We believe that all who suffer the horrible consequence of this miscalculation deserve to be given the road they were promised. This can be achieved by resurfacing the concrete with a quieter and more suitable material.”

“We invite others to join the campaign and help us realise what was promised. A good way to contribute is by completing our survey online at our website – www.a419nag.co.uk.”

 

Cotswold TV features Air Balloon proposals

The controversial proposal by the Highways Agency to launch an ‘experimental layout’ later this year is now the subject of a new video.

Cotswold TV interviewed Cllr Paul Hodgkinson and County Council candidate Nigel Robbins recently about the plans.

You can see the video at this link:

Air Balloon roundabout proposals

The video gives full details of the proposals and gives residents’ views.

More news to follow on this topic.

 

 

 

 

County Council backs Air Balloon ‘experiment’ despite residents’ opposition

A proposal by the Highways Agency to change the junction lay out at the notorious Air Balloon roundabout has provoked an outcry from local residents. Gloucestershire County Council has confirmed it supports a trial change and is part funding it.

MeJaneNigelAirB

L to R: Road safety campaigners Nigel Robbins and Jane Edwards with Cllr Paul Hodgkinson at the Air Balloon roundabout

A combination of air pollution and gridlocked traffic has prompted the Agency to come up with an ‘experimental layout change’ at the junction. The change would mean that traffic coming from the Cirencester and Swindon directions will only be able to turn left to Gloucester, with barriers preventing it going to the Leckhampton Hill and A436 exits.

Cars coming from the Gloucester direction will have free unimpeded access onto the roundabout, meaning that it will be free flowing. The experiment is understood to last for 6 months.

Many local residents have reacted to the news with dismay. Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Churn Valley) has received over 100 emails and letters from people opposed to the scheme, “It’s been incredibly difficult getting hold of the Highways Agency to let them know the depth of feeling about this proposal. However, I’m due to speak to them shortly to let them know how people feel.”

“The cost of this experimental scheme will be £100,000 but from the HA’s own modelling air pollution will only show a slight decrease whilst CO2 emissions will rise along with journey times on other roads. All this for a projected saving of just 1 or 2 minutes for those using the A417!”

Nigel Robbins, road safety campaigner and ex principal of Cirencester College, is concerned about the impact on nearby villages, “This proposal – if it goes ahead – will lead to drivers using villages like Elkstone, Birdlip, Coberley and Winstone as rat runs to get to their destination. Traffic trying to get out of the A436 onto the roundabout will also cause longer tailbacks.”

We will keep you updated on the latest developments on this issue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Air Balloon madness

Proposed changes to a notorious roundabout have been branded ‘madness’ by a leading councillor.

Air Balloon proposals

The Air Balloon roundabout has become infamous for accidents and bottlenecks as the A417 dual carriageway reduces to just one lane in each direction at Birdlip. Now, in an attempt to cut air pollution and solve the gridlock, the Highways Agency have come up with a ‘trial’ scheme.

The scheme would allow only traffic from Cirencester to turn left at the roundabout (towards Gloucester). In turn, traffic coming up the steep hill from Gloucester will have unimpeded access onto the roundabout.

Now, local residents are up in arms over the proposals. 

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Churn Valley) has described the proposals as ‘madness’,  “The Highways Agency does not plan to consult on their plan which is crazy. This could have a major impact on villages surrounding the Air Balloon and the A435 as drivers try to find other ways of getting to their destination. For example,  traffic from Cirencester may well use the A435 to get to Cheltenham instead of the A417.

“The HA’s own figures say that there would only be a slight reduction in air pollution at the roundabout if this scheme were implemented. They also say that CO2 emissions would actually go up!

“What about the people who live along the A436? Won’t their air quality plummet as cars are stuck for ages trying to access the roundabout?

“I’ve already had 100 emails and letters, of which all but 3 are opposed to this. The very least we should expect is a full consultation with those whose lives will be impacted on. We can’t possibly  have a situation where this scheme goes ahead regardless of public opinion.”

Cllr Hodgkinson has now written formally to the Highways Agency listing his concerns and pressing them to consult. A public meeting is likely in January to enable residents to have their say. More details to follow.

Air Balloon Roundabout Campaign Continues

MEP for the Liberal Democrats in Gloucestershire Sir Graham Watson has now taken the campaign to reduce air pollution at the Air Balloon roundabout on the A417 to the Highways Agency.

The Air Balloon roundabout has huge amounts of traffic and is a notorious blackspot for accidents and pollution

This follows on from a letter sent to the Department for the Environment (DEFRA) earlier in the autumn and further discussions between local district Councillor Paul Hodgkinson (Churn Valley) with local campaigners. In their response, DEFRA highlighted that no enforcement action had been taken against local councils for failing to adhere to air quality regulations. They also stated that it is up to the District and County authorities to work with the Highways Agency to tackle these matters.

Despite a disclosure from DEFRA of a number of planned improvements to the roundabout, Councillor Hodgkinson does not believe this will be enough and also believes the work between authorities has been frustratingly slow.

In agreement with Coberley Parish Council and local residents, the Cotswold District Councillor believes a compulsory purchase order should be placed on the affected properties. Watson has written to the Highways Agency to encourage them to look urgently into these proposals.

Watson commented, ”Whilst I am pleased to see that the Highways Agency is looking at ways to reduce pollution, clearly the local community feels one possible option is being neglected. That is why I have written to the Highways Agency, who are now responsible for working with the county’s highways department, to ask if this option could be seriously considered.

“I have also highlighted the slow progress which has been made and urged all parties to step up the necessary work. The people affected around the junction have waited far too long for action.”

Councillor Hodgkinson, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Cotswold District Council, commented, “It is a sad situation we face in which residents fear for their ongoing health whilst there appears to be no real will to face the problem and tackle it head on. Compulsorily purchasing the houses instead of changing the junction layout will take away the air quality problem for those homeowners once and for all.”

“The proposed junction changes barely change the air pollution according to the Highways Agency’s own estimates. Not only that but they may have a huge adverse impact on traffic levels in the surrounding villages and that’s why there must be a full consultation on them before any pilot happens.”

Demand for action over Birdlip pollution

Lib Dem MEP for Gloucestershire Sir Graham Watson has written to the new Secretary of State for the Environment Owen Paterson demanding an investigation into the high levels of air pollution in the Birdlip area following discussions with Cotswold District Councillor for Churn Valley Paul Hodgkinson.

The Air Balloon roundabout in the Cotswolds

Councillor Hodgkinson approached Sir Graham to ask what could be done about the high levels of Nitrogen Oxide (NO2) in the area off the A417. Whilst air quality policy falls under EU law, it is up to central government and local authorities to meet targets to reduce air pollution in the interests of public health. Currently the South West is failing to meet its targets to reduce air pollution, particularly when it comes to transport.

Sir Graham commented,  “We need Whitehall to get to the bottom of this. Already a number of local residents are beginning to show signs of asthma and for too long this issue has been passed from one department to the other like a hot potato.

“Since the abolition of regional bodies such as the Government Office of the South West, it appears not enough is being done to bring local councils and bodies such as the Highways Agency together to see what can be done to tackle issues such as air pollution.

“I will await the answers of the Secretary of State. I hope DEFRA will take these concerns very seriously and ensure something can be done to sort this out and tackle what is a major public health issue. I also wish to see more steps being taken to bring communities together to discuss proposals on reducing air pollution. Whilst public transport in rural areas has always been a systemic problem, more can and should be done.

Councillor Hodgkinson, also opposition leader at Cotswold District Council commented, “Residents living near the Air Balloon junction are very concerned about the effects of pollution. Their lives have been transformed as the road has got busier and busier and they are unable to sit outside due to the constant traffic right outside their homes. Having spoken to them all they want is action to be taken – I’m very pleased our MEP acknowledges that DEFRA should act to improve the situation.”

A417 campaign group restarts its journey

A group of residents and councilors from along the A417 and A419 are relaunching the campaign against excessive noise from the road.

Paul Hodgkinson and Bagendon resident Jan Yates pictured here in 2007 when they first started campaigning about road noise - now the campaign has begun motoring again

The team, originally planned to meet last autumn, has regrouped and meets next week to refocus its efforts.

The issue of noise from the dual carriageway has been a running sore for residents since it was first built in 1996. Last autumn, a public meeting was held in Latton to which 60 people turned up. The consensus of the meeting was to that a steering group should be set up to drive the campaign forwards and put pressure on the Government to take action.

Now, a group of ten people have come forward to get the campaign moving again.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (CDC, Churn Valley) is chairing the first meeting of the group next week and believes the will is there to take action at last, “Those of us living north of Cirencester suffer just as much from excessive and irritating noise from the road as those around the Water Park area and parts of Cirencester. Some of my constituents raised the issue with me again and we agreed something fundamental had to be done about this.”

“I put a note out to all those who’d expressed interest in getting involved with this campaign and we will have a good spread of people at our first meeting, which is a great start.”

The group also consists of representatives from Bagendon, Latton, Down Ampney and Cerney Wick parish councils, along with Cirencester and Water Park councilors and residents.

Cllr Hodgkinson added, “The aim of our first meeting is to work out a strategy for highlighting the issue to a wider audience and lobby the Government, the road company which maintains the road and other organisations who have an interest in the issue.”

“At stake here is the quality of life of all those thousands of people who live near and along the dual carriageway. The road should never have been built in concrete near to areas of population.”

The Group will be meeting in South Cerney on Thursday 19 July and will be issuing a further statement following their discussions.

Rendcomb Cycle Path – options heard

The Churn Valley Safer Cycle and Walkers Path was up for discussion last week.

Rendcomb

A meeting of the volunteers group which has been working on the path for four years was held at Rendcomb College on May 1. The meeting – chaired by Cllr Paul Hodgkinson – heard about a number of options for extending the path from North Cerney to Rendcomb.

Cllr Hodgkinson said, “The path at the moment runs along the existing bridlepath between Stratton and North Cerney, winding its way through Baunton and Perrotts Brook. Now, we are considering a number of potential routes so that walkers and mountain bikers can safely go to Rendcomb without having to use the more dangerous A435.

Members of the group will walk various routes shortly and are working with Glos County Council Rights of Way officer Mike Barton to find the best route.

Paul added, “We’re talking to landowners to make sure that any route is fine by them. Using existing bridlepaths means we keep the costs to an absolute minimum whilst getting something in place which will be of real value to the local villages and College.”

We will keep you posted on the route when more has been agreed.