Time for action to rid lorries from notorious Grove Hill bottleneck in Stansted, say frustrated residents
It was 10 years ago that the village was labelled 'Standstill Mountfitchet' in a newspaper article citing the problems of heavy goods vehicles flouting the 7.5-tonne weight restriction going up Grove Hill.
A decade on and residents on the notorious bottleneck heading out of Lower Street up towards Elsenham are more frustrated than ever and pleading to be listened to.
They live with the constant fear that their homes will be struck by oversized lorries negotiating a road they shouldn't even be using one way or, even worse, that pedestrians could be hit as traffic bumps up the pavement to squeeze past one another. Only this month a tractor towing a harrow clawed flintwork out of Mountfitchet Castle's 300-year-old boundary wall, causing extensive damage.
Residents want bollards installed to add some level of interim protection and for their voices to be heard as Essex County Council continues to considers how to tackle the long-standing problem.
But short of "knocking down the houses on Grove Hill to widen the road or building a bypass", it was an almost impossible conundrum to solve, according to Stansted's county councillor Ray Gooding, who revealed a traffic survey would begin shortly to assess the types of vehicles using the route and where they were coming from with the possibility of downgrading the B road to a declassified route.
"There is no argument with what people are witnessing, the difficulty is what to do about it. I would like to stop big lorries driving through the middle of Stansted, but in order to do that we have to consider whether it's possible to downgrade the road and that isn't straightforward," he said.
"This survey will try to establish whether it's possible to make an application. On that basis we can then get onto the commercial sat nav operators to remove it. But if it was downgraded it wouldn't get the same financial support as higher-level roads. While it would be desirable to get rid of traffic from the middle of the village, there is a downside."
Campaigner Andrew McDonnell has been at the forefront of calls for action. The Grove Hill home he shares with his partner, Claire Rivers, suffered £60,000 of structural damage after it was hit by a lorry several years ago.
But he has been told to stop bombarding Essex highways and Cllr Gooding with photographic evidence of the daily breaches by lorries and to instead compile a dossier for consideration.
Mr McDonnell said residents were simply presenting the facts. In a letter to Mr Gooding, district and parish councillors, he wrote: "Unfortunately there is a bit of frustration from our side as residents try to get things done. We are in no way trying to make things more difficult for anyone involved and we do want to work with everyone to get the best outcome for all involved.
"We have been providing evidence of these very real infringements and presenting appropriately our case for years and, before me, other Grove Hill residents have done the same.
"I fully understand that there are a lot of emails and a lot of evidence to go through, but that is the reality of this situation which gets worse by the day and stating you 'do not and cannot combine that evidence into a case that will be sufficiently cogent to use as evidence' leads us to believe as residents that nothing is actually being done at all.
"It surely is not the remit of Grove Hill residents to curb their anger and frustration into a carefully-worded PowerPoint presentation once a week/month to appease the powers that be that hopefully are/should be working on our behalf to resolve these serious issues in their constituencies."
As traffic increases, Grove Hill's air quality has also suffered - at one point becoming Uttlesford's most polluted area. Fellow campaigner Ray Woodcock has been assisting residents with the issue and said their photographs "proved beyond any doubt" that Grove Hill was a major problem area.
He said: "We are asking the most democratic of all requests and that is please, please Essex highways include us in your meetings so that we can present the facts to you. We have the evidence, we want to talk with and be involved with county highways so that the facts can be integrated into whatever plan they have to improve the situation."
Resident Diane McFarlane said they were fed up of being "fobbed off" and it was now time for action before a serious accident happened. "It's only a matter of time before someone gets hurt," she said. "They (Essex highways) won't have a conversation with us at any level, but we want action too, things they can do in the meantime to help make our lives less blighted by the whole issue."
Mr Gooding said he understood residents' concerns and they were not being ignored. "We are doing our best with what is an almost impossible situation," he said. "We understand the frustrations, but we are not ignoring this under any circumstances, it's just a case of finding something that is achievable."