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Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Station Hill Closure: Residents' concerns put to Southern Gas Networks and Surrey County Council

Residents and local business owners have expressed concerns about the timing and lack of consultation over the closure of Station Hill in Farnham from 20th September for 6 weeks to allow a gas main to be replaced.

Javed, pictured, from Station Hill Stores is concerned about the impact on his business from the closure and subsequent likely congestion across south Farnham.  He asks why the works cannot be delayed until the summer holiday of 2011, when local peak-hours traffic is noticeably lighter when the schools are closed for summer.

Another business owner who doesn't wish to be named is concerned about the possible closure of parking bays in Station Hill and claims that, bar a short leaflet, no-one has taken the time to explain in detail how the closure will affect them and their business or ask for their views.

Residents and business owners are also concerned about the potential for widespread congestion across south Farnham during peak hours and the lack of advanced notification for this - the third attempt- to complete these essential gas works.

The simple answer is that these works are unavoidable and it is necessary to close the road in order to replace the old cast iron gas main.  But questions remain on the timing, apparent lack of consultation with some residents, and reasonably short notice period.

A spokesperson from Surrey County Council told me this morning that the council had tried very hard to take on board the concerns of residents.  Specifically they had requested [presumably after it became apparent that the works couldn't be completed in summer 2010] that the works be delayed until summer 2011, however they were informed by Southern Gas Networks (SGN) that the works could not wait until next summer.

On the issue of notification the spokesperson told me "it is the responsibility of the utility company [SGN] to communicate with residents" but explained specific demands were made for schools, "we insisted before the summer holidays they [SGN] told the schools what was going to happen, so that the schools didn't come back surprised [by the road closure] ... and Southern Gas produced a leaflet which they distributed to the schools so they were aware.  We also asked them [SGN] not to start on the very first day of term so the schools had a chance to ease themselves back in before they started."

Yet a resident of nearby Southern Way claims they only received notification of the most recent planned start date via a leaflet (posted here) sometime after the start of September.  This raises the question why schools were notified before the summer break but at least some residents had to wait 6 weeks before they were informed.

I spoke to SGN before I interviewed Surrey County Council so I've been unable to put the specific point about the alleged late notification of some residents.  I've put in a request for clarification with their press office and will update this post if anyone gets back to me.

A spokesperson from Southern Gas Networks explained to me on Monday that the works, originally scheduled for the end of March 2010, were first postponed until summer after listening to and taking on board the concerns of residents.

The spokesman explained that a complication arose due to a clash with works occurring over summer in Weydon Lane - Network Rail works - and also separate works after that in Echo Barn Lane, and the council made a request that the works be postponed for a second time.

"The reason the works can't wait until summer next year [2011] is that the work involves replacing old metal gas mains with new plastic pipes and we need to get this project done now - it's already been postponed twice - and we're carrying out the work to ensure a safe gas supply for everyone. Whilst the gas main remains safe at the moment, the works do need to happen now."

After talking to everyone concerned I feel it's absolutely clear that both SGN and Surrey County Council have done their utmost to try and minimise the disruption.

SGN listened to initial concerns back in spring, yet due to the unfortunate yet somewhat unforeseeable conflict were forced to postpone a second time.

The residents and business owners affected do have legitimate worries, and are absolutely right to raise their concerns - but having looked at the facts I don't see what else can be done.  The works can't wait until next summer, so I feel the question now moves onto whether any practical steps can be taken to ease the predicted pain, notably at the point the A287 meets Arthur Road and Alfred Road at Firgrove Hill.

I'm somewhat reassured that the issue was discussed at Farnham Town Council meeting on 9th September.  An attendee at the meeting reports that possible measures to ease congestion were discussed, including having police on hand to direct traffic during peak times if congestion gets out of hand.

I also wonder whether some temporary parking restrictions, for example along Arthur Road, might ease the way for those who choose not to follow the official diversion.  Or, taking self interest into account, ease the way for me and my fellow residents in the Weydon area given the likely increase in traffic!


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