13 August 2008
Will 'weak bridge' lorry ban handicap Westbury's trading estates?
Briefing by Pat Kinnersly, White Horse Alliance
From our conversations with local firms it seems that the Wiltshire County Council is not consulting them about its proposals for imposing a 3-tonne weight limit on the bridge over the railway in Station Road, Westbury.
As far as we know the only communication to local businesses was a small public notice in local papers and, perhaps, a chance to view the information when it was available at the Laverton hall in Westbury between 18 - 25 July. We believe that WCC has not yet issued a press release and has not consulted business organisations or the Road Haulage and Freight Transport associations or the Freight Quality Partnership.
We believe that most firms have no idea about what is planned - a total ban on even the smallest lorries taking the direct route between the town and the trading estates, whether or not a bypass is built. So I am including the files below, from WCC, in case you have not seen them already and might want to use them as background for a news report.
The letter from the council(PDF) explaining how to comment on the plans.
The note they wrote for the inspectors(PDF) at the bypass public inquiry explaining the proposed weight limit.
A plan(PDF) showing weight limits and signs around the whole area and a picture of the proposed 'Weak bridge' sign.
The council's project manager, David Bullock, told the inquiry before it was adjourned on 24 July that the weight limit would be imposed anyway, ahead of any bypass construction. He said the council would not be seeking to have the bridge replaced or strengthened and the weight ban would stay in place anyway.
In other words it seems the primary purpose of the weight limit is not to protect public safety but to force lorries to use the bypass instead of taking the shorter route through town.
But what happens in the meantime? Even if the inspectors recommend in favour of the scheme and the government agrees, it is unlikely that the Glenmore Link and eastern bypass could be completed much before 2011.
We note that the proposed weight-limit sign does not say 'Except for access'. This could be a problem for Network Rail and its contractors who need to be able to move vehicles and plant from one side of the tracks to the other.
One firm with a haulage yard to the south of the bridge told us a lorry ban would add about four miles to a journey to the West Wilts Trading Estate. For a large truck, the round trip could use the best part of a gallon of diesel.
The 3-tonne limit would be designed to stop any vehicle with a laden weight of more than three tonnes. The smallest tipper truck with a load of sand or gravel would have to find another way in or out of town.
We are still not sure that buses will be allowed over the bridge. WCC seems to want an exemption for buses. As the weight of buses is now creeping up towards 20 tonnes, this does seem to cast doubt on the safety case for a 3-tonne structural weight limit and 'Weak bridge' sign.
Correspondence between WCC and Network Rail (available from WHA on request) shows:
a long-running discussion about possible weight limits. A limit of 7.5 t is discussed but there is no mention of 3 tonnes.
that replacing the bridge deck would cost £100,000.
that the bridge has carried a 96 tonne abnormal load!
The person to contact at NR appears to be John Holdway at Swindon. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org or phone number 01793 515336
The planning inquiry into the proposed A350 Westbury bypass reconvenes on 4 September.