Calls for restrictions on ‘dangerous’ March road gather speed at public meeting

Public meeting at the Oliver Cromwell Hotel about Wimblington Rd speeding.

Public meeting at the Oliver Cromwell Hotel about Wimblington Rd speeding. - Credit: Archant

A LIST of residents’ demands on improvements along Wimblington Road, March, received the backing of councillors at a special public meeting.

Public meeting at the Oliver Cromwell Hotel about Wimblington Rd speeding.

Public meeting at the Oliver Cromwell Hotel about Wimblington Rd speeding. - Credit: Archant

Last Tuesday’s public meeting was organised after former teacher Chris Hill, a Wimblington Road resident, was prevented from raising concerns about the speed limit at a March Town Council meeting last month (February).

Wimblington Road March. Front hedge taken down in crash.

Wimblington Road March. Front hedge taken down in crash. - Credit: Archant

The matter had last been discussed by the town council five months and 24 days earlier - and a standing order which dictates that you have to wait six months to re-visit an issue was upheld.

Wimblington Road March. Front wall taken down in crash.

Wimblington Road March. Front wall taken down in crash. - Credit: Archant

Some 60 people, mostly residents of Wimblington Road, attended the meeting to plead for improvements.

Wimblington Road crash.

Wimblington Road crash. - Credit: Archant

A special report by editor JOHN ELWORTHY, who chaired the meeting.

Chris Hill on the 60mph stretch of the Wimblington Road, March.

Chris Hill on the 60mph stretch of the Wimblington Road, March. - Credit: Archant

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IN they came with their photographs, documents and stories of promises made, promises broken, token action and many collisions - some fatal - that have blighted their lives for 25 years.

Fittingly the top table that included town, district and county councillors stayed silent while residents told how they had tried, failed and been let down in past efforts to secure a speed reduction along Wimblington Road, March.

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The meeting – chaired by Cambs Times editor John Elworthy and organised by the Mayor of March, Councillor Jan French, and March councillor Rob Skoulding - attracted a vociferous and at times angry group of 60, mostly residents of Wimblington Road.

During the course of the meeting, held at the Oliver Cromwell Hotel, residents gained the support needed to begin a fresh assault on council budgets to get improvements under way.

Their list of demands, supported by councillors, includes:

• Securing speed reductions along most of the road from 40mph to 30mph

• Where the current limit is 60mph, reducing that to 40mph

• Introduction of traffic calming measures to reduce overall speeds

• Substantial improvements to street lighting

• Better footpaths

• Work on existing trees to improve visibility for motorists and pedestrians

The unofficial action group pledged to re-convene within three to six months to evaluate progress but were assured money could be made available if necessary.

Mr Elworthy spoke of “a dynamic at work here. Anyone looking at Wimblington Road cannot but testify to the need for improvements. And where speed limits exist how often have they been monitored- it would be interesting to have a note of prosecutions as a consequence of existing limits.”

Wimblington Road resident Ken Hannah said he had campaigned since the 1990s to secure improvements and often had witnessed collisions where police had not been called. As a result, the collision had not been recorded.

Speed cameras work for a while, he said, but “the only people who generally get caught are the muppets who think it is their friends flashing them in oncoming cars”.

He called for computerised speed monitoring which he claimed had not been done along Wimblington Road for many years.

He recalled that police had visited him as far back as 1995 in response to his persistent plea for action and had agreed there was a problem. One survey showed 45,000 motorists using the road in a seven-day period of which 1,300 were travelling at such speeds “as to satisfy the police’s normal prosecution criteria”.

That equated to 185 people a day breaking the limit, he said.

In 2003 a similar result was obtained in a single day of observation – it would have been a longer period of monitoring but someone cut a cable, he said.

“There is a traffic problem, I think it should be addressed”, he said.

Retired teacher Chris Hill reminded the audience that on either side of his Wimblington Road home there had been three fatal collisions within 18 months.

“It was a dreadful thing to happen,” he said. “At time it must have meant in terms of statistics that piece of road was probably the worst in Cambridgeshire.”

He said the footpaths were dangerous, too, and where Wimblington Road’s speed limits change from 40mph to 60mph and if two lorries, for example, meet each other, wing mirrors from the vehicles hang over the curb.

Once a cameraman was filming for local television and his equipment was nearly knocked over, said Mr Hill.

He said that where motorists come from the 40mph limit into the 60mph zone “they are already speeding up knowing it is coming. If it was 40mph all the way they wouldn’t. They would have less of a mindset to know to speed up”.

Mr Hill said there had been numerous collisions along Wimblington Road. In his 20 years of living there he had seen cars in the ditch outside his home and at one time “there was a shunt once a fortnight as cars turned into Mill Hill Garage.”

Mark Gibson, another resident, said that about four years ago he and a neighbour organised a petition following several collisions in the area.

He said: “A friend had left my house and was hit by a car crossing the road one evening. We got a number of signatures to the council to make our case but highways said there had not been enough collisions there.

“We realised we were fighting a losing case and dropped it.”

At one point Mr Gibson was involved in a Speedwatch campaign with a PCSO and they found up to 40 per cent of cars were speeding.

Alex Wright said: “40mph is as safe as you want it to be.” He added that most mornings when he drove along Wimblington Road he spotted drivers “going to like a bat out of hell; it’s not safe there for motorists or for those on the pavements”.

Malcolm Harris, a resident of 29 years, said he too had organised a petition in 1990 and handed it to Malcolm Moss, then NE Cambs MP, “and presumably we asked him to do something with it. We had some visits from police but that was that.

“You go to your local MP and still nothing happens - there is only so much you, as an individual, can do.”

Nicola German said that she had not lived there long but had realised early on there was an issue with speeding along the road, but highway officials told her if residents wanted the speed reduced they would have to raise the money.

She said when she approached March Town Council she was told councillors had already chosen where to spend its money this year – on a footpath in Elwyn Road.

Sue Beel said she found it “amazing we have to wait for accidents to happen”. Common sense should prevail, she said, and 30mph should be the limit for most, if not all, of Wimblington Ropad.

Cllr French said the Localism Act means “that it is now for you to tell us what you like and if it is feasible for us to do something, as Mayor I promise you, the town council will help you”.

Graham Chappell, who formed the Fenland Road Safety Campaign (Charlotte’s Way) five years ago, told the audience they need to be “focused in what you are doing”. He spoke of his campaign for barriers along the Sixteen Foot Bank but also his work supporting Fenland villages.

He said that villages such as Christchurch, Guyhirn and Coldham all previously had speeding concerns “and had been campaigning for many years without success. Last summer and autumn it was like Christmas had come early - negotiations with highways department have now possibly secured reductions in those areas.”

Past efforts had met with “intransigence and dismissal” he said but this was no longer necessarily the case.

He said: “Things have come together with the arrival of localism principle.”

County and district councillor John Clark said communities could win improvements today even where police might not support them.

He said residents should lobby councillors and “with localism you have power in your hands”. He promised that if councils made it a priority he would support speed reduction at county council level.

One other resident told the meeting that they shouldn’t have to wait for collisions to happen before something is done.

“You don’t see planes flying and people waiting for a crash until safety is improved,” he said.

It was wrong that in Wimblington Road “cars come along at unbelievable speed. We also need footpaths cleaning, improved lights and a speed limit reduction”.

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