On March 16, 2012, a public meeting was held in Swarland to allow residents to show their concerns and put forward their views regarding the section of the A1 adjacent to the village.
This was prompted by the latest in a number of fatal road accidents involving vehicles attempting to cross over the A1.
With the realisation that residents on their own would in all likelihood be ignored, invitations to attend were sent to our MP Alan Beith, our county councillor Trevor Thorne, the police and indeed the Northumberland Gazette.
Although the Highways Agency declined to attend, at the conclusion of the meeting I had hoped that the force of local opinion backed up by accident statistics would push the Agency to make some improvements.
I am afraid to say all the subsequent efforts over several months proved to be fruitless.
With this in mind it was galling to read the reported comments from Coun Thorne following the latest fatal accident. I would remind him that at the 2012 meeting he volunteered to arrange a meeting of a delegation from the village with officers from the County Highways Department and the Highways Agency. I am still awaiting news of when that meeting is to take place or indeed a response to my emails on the matter.
I would be keen to know what exactly he means to do to ‘put some serious pressure on to make it a safer road’ and who exactly are ‘we’.
To aid his efforts, whatever they may be, I would like to put forward a few facts. This section of road was completed in 1981 when Swarland was a very small community and when there was considerably less traffic than currently using the A1. At that time the junctions and crossing points were almost certainly adequate for their intended purpose.
In subsequent years, Swarland has grown out of all proportion. Housing development has mushroomed, a very large-scale country park has been developed with hundreds of caravans and lodges, a golf course has a been established, a small haulage firm has blossomed into a lorry park and until recently there was a commercial equestrian centre. I suspect that such developments have increased car numbers by a factor of many hundreds.
To add to this problem, the village is no longer served by public transport and we no longer have a village shop. Car usage is not a luxury in such circumstances, it is a necessity. I am at a loss to understand how the planning authorities continue to allow development in the area, without considering the coping capabilities of the local infrastructure.
I disagree with Coun Thorne that better signage would have any major impact on the safety of the road. I am of the opinion that the problems are a combination of the speed that the cars travel along this section of the road, the volume of vehicles crossing and joining the A1 and at the southern Swarland junction the poor lines of sight due to the undulating nature of the road. The Guyzance crossing is a disaster waiting to happen, not least because the poor/non-existent road markings totally confuse drivers with regard to who exactly has right of way when entering the central crossing section.
I know that many drivers hate the idea of a 50mph speed limit on a dual carriageway together with enforcement cameras, but until the Highways Agency is convinced that the road is dangerous and not fit for purpose this could perhaps be a temporary solution.
In addition, when Coun Thorne is in attendance at the North Area Planning Committee he might like to consider the holistic impact of any development proposal and whether the local infrastructure can cope with the resultant increase in car numbers.
I do agree that we can’t stand back. The ‘we’ I refer to are local residents and indeed we really do have to put some serious pressure onto the Highways Agency, the county council and our political representatives at local and national level.