Traffic through Overthorpe

Following the increase in traffic through Overthorpe in recent weeks (caused by the roadworks on A422/M40 Junction 11 roundabout), there have been a large number of posts on What’sApp with suggestions of how to mitigate the problems.

Usually, around this time of year, there would be a Parish Meeting – an opportunity for residents to put forward their concerns to Parish, District and County Councillors. Obviously, as a consequence of Covid19 restrictions, we cannot hold a meeting this year.

All of the issues raised via What’sApp have been raised at some time in the last 30 years – either through the Parish Council, or previously the Residents Association, so we thought it would be useful to review past proposals, ideas and action:

Firstly, some context: management of highways is the responsibility of Northamptonshire County Council. Currently, they contract out the day-to-day running to Kier, and our contact there is Helen Howard. Her name will appear frequently in most of the sections below. In May next year, Northamptonshire County Council (NCC) will disappear, along with it South Northants District Council, to be replaced by West Northamptonshire Council, a unitary authority. We don’t yet know how this will affect Kier or their management of the County’s roads. We maintain regular contact with Helen Howard.

HS2

Thank you to everyone who registered a complaint with HS2 regarding the impact of the roadworks – it appears everyone receive an almost identical reply, stating that the existing Traffic Regulation provided sufficient restrictions, and placing responsibility with NCC. Praise needed as at least they came to Overthorpe to see for themselves.

The additional response from Helen Howard that “enforcement is responsibility of police” is disingenuous because she knows full well that a lack of resources means that no action will be taken.

Since announcement of HS2 we have been concerned about the potential for increased traffic through Overthorpe, and we have raised the issue with Rebecca Breese (our County Councillor). When work commences, there will be up to 40 lorry movements per hour between Sulgrave and the M40 junction, and car drivers will seek to avoid consequent congestion. At least the current roadworks have helped raise the profile of Overthorpe with HS2’s management.

We will keep monitoring traffic volumes (see below) and keep pressure on HS2 whenever we can.

20MPH Speed Limit

On two occasions over the last 15 years we have approached NCC regarding reduction of speed limit to 20mph. They have refused on both occasions. The first time, they stated that any speed limit must not be more than 4mph less than the existing average speed through village (at that time recorded as 27mph), in order that no enforcement would be necessary, i.e. if you already have no problem with speeding cars, you can have a lower limit.

Subsequently, with many Councils around the UK adopting 20mph limits for all residential roads (e.g. Portsmouth, Bristol, Oxford, York, and most London Boroughs), in 2016 we asked Helen Howard if 20mph could be re-visited. Instead of acting on our request, she proposed revocation of the Traffic Regulation Order (TRO). Thankfully, after a petition, many vocal objections, and a fractious meeting between NCC and the Parish Council, the TRO was retained.

Therefore we have no intention of raising subject of speed limits until a national policy of 20mph for residential roads is implemented.

In the meantime, we will participate in Speedwatch (volunteers will be required) as and when the programme is re-started. We would ask all residents to observe their own 20mph limit when driving through Overthorpe.

Footpath

Well before the creation of Overthorpe Parish Council, the Residents Association campaigned for construction of a footpath down the hill towards Banbury. It would benefit not only our residents, but also many from Middleton Cheney who walk through Overthorpe.

We have been consistently told it is not a priority for NCC (despite the sad death of a teenager from Middleton as he walked down the hill to work about 15 years ago).

The last time we were quoted a cost of a path (about 10 years ago), it was £50,000. No doubt it would cost more now. However, we may have access to a grant, and we had planned to raise this with Helen Howard in March, but the lockdown has put everything on hold.

We have also contacted the owner of the land to right hand side to get the hedgerow cut back in order to provide refuge for pedestrians.

Surveys & Enforcement

Over the last 15 years we have conducted several surveys to record the volume of traffic through Overthorpe.

Before Hennef Way was turned into dual carriageway (completed 2005), the congestion around the M40 junction would cause westbound traffic to queue all the way back up to the A422 roundabout at Middleton Cheney. The dualling massively improved traffic flow around the Wildmere roundabout, although subsequent developments (e.g. Gateway Retail Park, Overthorpe Trading Estate) have reduced to gains.

In 2008 we conducted several surveys to highlight the continued use of Overthorpe as a rat-run. These found (obviously) that the highest volumes were 7.30-9.00 in the morning, and 3.30 to 5.30 in the afternoon. The results showed an average of 80 vehicles per hour in the key periods, of which 24 were residents or legitimate visitors.

In 2016 NCC installed recording devices (as part of our installation of speed signs) and over a 9 day period logged an average of 372 vehicles per day at the eastern end of the village, although they chose to record while schools were on holiday, so traffic volumes would be lower. At the same time, they recorded traffic passing Chetwode, and reported 2,500 vehicles per day. We took this data to the police but it was made clear to us that they consider our problems minor compared with other demands on their resources. The police would like the TRO revoked (in this respect we mean Northamptonshire Constabulary, the opinion of Thames Valley police officers may differ…).

A few weeks ago, following the start of roadworks at J11, we completed a (slightly less detailed) survey, and found that in same time periods as 2008 survey, we observed 1% fewer vehicles.

When we have presented our surveys previously to police and NCC, we have been told that even where we recorded vehicle details (including photos of car and driver), no action would be taken by police.

No-Entry/Road Closure

Two solutions previously suggested when NCC proposed revoking the TRO, were to either close of the road at one end of the village, or put No-Entry signs at one end (as was implemented in Nethercote by Dogs For Good when the queues on A422 were still lengthy). These options were put to residents at the 2017 Parish Meeting to gauge opinion, but there was not sufficient support to take forward a particular option.

Firstly, a section restricted to ‘one way’:

This would solve only 50%of the problem, i.e. either stopping the morning or afternoons. The most practical approach seemed to be to stop traffic heading westbound by placing No-Entry signs at the eastern end of the village at the Warkworth Road crossroads, as by a small margin, residents more frequently enter Overthorpe from the western (Banbury) end. However, the higher volumes of drivers flouting the TRO are in the afternoon heading eastbound.

Secondly, closing access at one end:

This would resolve all of the ‘rat-run’ issues but would greatly inconvenience a large number of residents, so needs 100% unequivocal support. There are practical problems to resolve, e.g. access for bin lorries/goods vehicles making deliveries needing to turn round. In addition it would result in many residents needing to divert through Warkworth, and the right turn from the Kings Sutton road into the village is also quite risky given its current limited visibility.

Conclusion

The Parish Council welcomes any suggestions you may have that may help to resolve traffic problems. If you can bring a fresh perspective on any of these issues, get in touch. If you can muster support for any particular action, or get involved in making things happen, call us. Please bear in mind though, that the last time we rattled NCC’s cage, it nearly resulted in revocation of the TRO.

And finally

When NCC wants to, they can act swiftly and decisively. Residents of Blacklocks Hill (which is part of Overthorpe Parish) complained about HGV’s parking overnight causing problems. NCC implemented a 7.5 tonne weight limit at our request. No fuss, no bother, they recognised the problem and resolved it.

We have also raised issue of visibility and traffic speeds causing problems at the crossroads on Warkworth Road, and NCC have responded positively, although lockdown has meant we have been unable to make progress.