Some of you remember the pre-M25 days when the 244 was a quiet B-class road. Many of us would like to revert to those days but of course it isn’t possible.
We may never have been consulted or made aware, but the A244 through Oxshott has become a strategically important route from the perspective of Surrey Highways; as one of their officers said, “We want traffic to go through Oxshott”. Who knows if we could have headed-off some of the problems earlier had we been consulted, but we now have to start from the current position which includes further threats on the horizon such as possible major works at J10 of the M25 and increased pollution controls impacting the A243.
It seems that historically Surrey has tended to oppose major settlements or industrial development and so has not received nationally-funded infrastructure investment. Its plans have also been London-centric - the last major road building in Surrey was the M25 which was constructed primarily for the benefit of London, not Surrey. The county is heavily linked to London for work opportunities and rail links are good (if not always service) so roads have been seen to be less important to development than in other counties. Surrey is unusual in that few of its major towns allowed by-passes when these were seen as essential and being built in other parts of the country.
The consequence is that, as Surrey has become a desirable place to live, many of its roads have become ever more congested. Motorways through the county carry 80 percent more traffic than the average for the South East and Surrey’s A-class roads have 66 percent more traffic than the national average. Against this background it isn’t surprising that there is ever more traffic on what is now the A244. The impact of this general trend is exacerbated by its natural choice as a cut through to or from the M25, a trend we strongly suspect is influenced by the increased use of SatNav devices (particularly those in commercial vehicles) which select fastest routes based on the smallest of time benefits. The speed controls and Low Emission Zone on the A243 north of Malden Rushett through Chessington, which otherwise would be a more natural route to/from London for some traffic, are a further problem.
What is FEDORA doing?
The process for getting change is amazingly bureaucratic, which takes time, and history has shown progress will fail without perseverance by the local community. We cannot simply rely on other bodies to do the right thing for Oxshott.
All highways work that creates change requires a feasibility study (often meaning that evidence has to be gathered) usually followed by a public consultation, approval by councillors and a successful bid for funding (from Surrey and/or Elmbridge) in competition with other parts of the borough. Other bodies often need to be involved, notably Surrey Police who are generally unwilling to support any changes which require additional resources from them for enforcement. Importantly, though, we have confirmed directly with them that their role is advisory only. The decisions on the changes we wish to see are the responsibility of Surrey County Council (SCC) although Police support would always be preferable.
Our A244 petition and its consideration by the Elmbridge Local Committee was a first step in this process. As reported previously, the initial response from Surrey Highways was disappointing but the debate at the Local Committee meeting elicited an acknowledgment that Oxshott has been let down in recent years and a commitment from Tim Oliver, the SCC leader, to support our major requests.
To ensure that we are working as effectively as possible FEDORA has:
- Secured the services of an independent highways engineer to help formulate our proposals and advise on the Surrey Highways responses
- Spoken to other residents’ bodies in Elmbridge, notably Cobham, to learn from their experience.
- Kept in close touch with our local and other relevant councillors. We are grateful for the support of our local councillors. At least some of these may change after the forthcoming elections so we have already engaged with potential successors to ensure continuity of support.
- Engaged directly with other relevant bodies such as Surrey Police and Network Rail.
We are also seeking to build a closer working relationship with Surrey Highways and SCC more generally. We have been warned by others that the Surrey Highways team is under-resourced which is one of the reasons that the bureaucratic process moves slowly. We therefore need to do what we can to simplify the process, for example when it comes to the required public consultation. We also need to ensure we are engaged with SCC on proposed new developments which could exacerbate existing problems, to avoid a repeat of the sorry outcome at Merrileas.
What is the Current Position?
As explained in one of our emails to supporters, Tim Oliver has agreed to support key proposals from our petition even if they are not supported by a recommendation from the Surrey Highways team. These are:
- The installation of average speed cameras for travel through the village. This would put the speed restrictions on a par with the A243 and potentially impact SatNav guidance;
- A night time ban on HGVs travelling through the village. A 24-hour ban is unrealistic given the priority status of the A244 but the real problem we need to address has been the increase in night time HGV traffic;
- A 20mph speed limit in the centre of the village supported by road modifications to encourage compliance. This was one proposal in our petition which in principle was supported by Surrey Highways. This will be a prerequisite to other improvements we would like to see made to the centre of the village;
- Enhanced footpaths from the south into the centre of the village with the aim of improving convenience and safety for pedestrians. Ultimately this will mean creating continuous footpaths on both sides of the road but this will probably have to be achieved in stages.
FEDORA now meets regularly with SCC representatives to keep up momentum and the discussions have extended to issues that were not included in the petition. In particular, we are in the initial stages of exploring the possibility of creating a footbridge to the side of the railway bridge on the A244. The current pavement is very narrow (less than today’s safety standards for new pavements) and there have been accidents. The bridge is owned by Network Rail and they would be responsible for rail service disruption during construction, so a first step is to get their agreement which SCC is investigating. Construction of even a simple footbridge would be expensive and could involve the procurement of additional land but we will pursue options for both a technical solution and funding.
We have also questioned whether a road bridge built for the horse and cart in the century before last is capable of supporting today’s heavy vehicles and traffic volumes. FEDORA has raised this directly with both Network Rail as the bridge owner, and Surrey Highways who are responsible for road safety. The simple answer is that our Victorian forefathers over-engineered and remarkably the bridge is considered safe for even the heaviest of loads allowed today.
This is an ambitious agenda so it is important we remain focussed. We have not been able to pursue every wish of local residents, notably for cycle lanes for which there simply isn’t room on a narrow road, although restrictions on vehicle speed would make the road inherently safer for all road users. Surrey Highways are, though, preparing a Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan for Elmbridge, to which we will seek to have input.
Finally, many thanks to the more than 900 residents who supported the FEDORA A244 petition last autumn. From responses to our email updates, it is clear that there is significant support for what we are seeking to do on behalf of the village.