Traffic Survey Blues

The latest turn in our planning journey has occurred.  As part of pre-planning we send an early draft of our submission tried to consult with LPA Highways department and got this reply:

Thank you for your email and voicemail message. I have received it but extremely busy juggling lots of applications.

In the first instance, in order to reduce the visibility splays we require a speed survey, as indicated within our guidance point 4.5.5 on page 13, to demonstrate the 85th %ile speeds are lower than 30MPH at this point of the proposed access(s).  I trust this is sufficient for now.

We will have two drives and access onto the road from our plot which is being divided onto two: the existing drive which will serve the new house at the bottom of our garden, and a new drive will be added in the reduced plot left with the old house.  We initially planned to have turning provision in both hard standings, but on the LPA case officer’s recommendation we removed the turning area from the new house (as we like everyone else on the street reverse out, and trimmed the turning area for the new house a little) — he was very keen to retain as much of the existing stone walls and planting as possible.  He also dismissed the idea of needing a speed survey during his site visit, since it was clear to him that that traffic wouldn’t get anywhere near 30mph.

So despite the DaS clearly stating:

  1. that the new drive has a turning head and that we will instate the splays required by the LPA
  2. that on the LPAs advice the additional turning head had been removed from the existing drive to maximise green planting

we had the following response from the Highways officer:

At pre-application stage, the LHA advised a shared access with the existing dwelling from the existing access, as to not be within 25m of the junction for highway safety reasons. There are no turning facilities on either plot resulting in vehicles reversing onto the highway from two access, as an intensification and the existing property obstructs the inter-vehicle visibility splay towards the junction.

We recommend the proposal is withdrawn and amend the application to reconsider the access proposals base on the conditions for the a shared private drive, 4.5m in width over the initial 10m, surfacing within the highway boundary and the initial 5m to be hard bound, gradient should not exceed 1:15, positive drainage and the required pedestrian visibility 2.4m x 2.4m (2m x 2m where turning facilities) and inter-vehicle visibility splays of 2m x 43m* in both directions.

*This can be reduced on receipt of a speed survey resulting in the 85 percentile of speeds are lower than 30MPH.

After reviewing the proposal carefully, we object to the current proposals as the applicant has failed to demonstrate that the proposed access meets our highway safety requirements

So they hadn’t bothered to read the DaS; had invented a mythical pre-application advice, and were playing hard-ball (see my highlight).  I now had to find a course between the conflicting advice of the case officer and the Highways people who seemed to want us to demolish our boundary stone walls and turn the garden into a car park.  After a quick chat with the case office, he then confirmed by email:

On the matter of the unresolved access issues, my Team Leader has agreed that we cannot support your application whilst we have a clear objection from Northamptonshire Highways, and whilst we have no other technical or expert evidence to counter their objection.

But at least, he informally confirmed that we’d cleared all other pending issues, but that we should still withdraw our application until we could resubmit complete with traffic survey :(  And so after discussing options for survey companies with a couple of eBuilders, I selected a few more local ones through Google (I found the best search term was Highways speed survey TA22).  I talked to / swapped emails with 4 of them.  Their general advice was consistent: a radar gun based survey would be impractical because the traffic down the road is so low that it would take hours or days to get the vehicle numbers needed to make the survey meaningful; a 7-day loop on the road survey was both cheaper and more appropriate in these circumstances.  Two only offered gun surveys and the others were in the £250 + VAT range.  In the end I chose PCC Traffic Information Consultancy because they were based reasonably near to us and their engineer was very helpful and knowledgeable. He also asked us to check a couple of issues with the local Highways.

So I then phoned the Highways and during the conversation, the Local Highways Engineer casually dropped into the conversation that there wasn’t really any hurry because they don’t accept surveys taken during school and other holiday periods, so another two months hold-up!

We had our next wobble with Highways, because the just wouldn’t agree about our lines of sight at our proposed new access. The Highways officer said that it was only X metres to critical north side, but we measured Y on the ground.  We eventually tracked this discrepancy down to the fact that our TA had used the OS 1:1200 map for his road layout, but which ever OS bod had digitised the road in the 1970s or 1980s from the aerial photo had taken a shadow-line from some trees as the line of the road, and hence the road (as shown on the map) bent by an extra metre just past our house.  Not much, but enough to shift the minimum stopping distance that we would require by over 5 metres.  In the end, the survey came back supporting our claim that our proposed drive was within the Highways guidelines (luckily thanks to the 5m adjustment), and we can now prepare a second application for submission.

End of panic, and a lot of hassle and delays.

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