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HGV causes gridlock in Sevenoaks

This was the scene on 25 April 2013 when a lorry belonging to SCS Haulage Ltd of Northampton backed into the scaffolding in front of Francis Jones, the jewellers at the top of the High Street, blocking access to both London Road and the High Street and causing severe disruption and traffic congestion for hours. Luckily no-one was hurt.

The incident occurred at lunchtime and the unsafe scaffolding was finally taken down by the emergency services at 9pm. Traffic was forced to find alternative routes and trade in the town’s shops was badly hit. It would appear that the driver was trying to find a route back to London after delivering in Otford: having realised that the lorry was too high to go under the Riverhead railway bridge and finding himself in the town he attempted a right turn from the High Street into London Road.

In recent years the Society has highlighted the risks of HGVs travelling through the town, in terms of the damage to roads, pavements and buildings, the impact on the environment, public safety and traffic congestion. In October 2009 the Society, working together with the Sevenoaks Chronicle, launched a campaign to seek a ban on the heaviest HGVs from the Upper High Street, from Sevenoaks School to the Red House, and to control the transit of lorries through other town centre streets. The roads are clearly not wide enough to accommodate large trucks and in recent years several have in fact hit buildings causing significant damage.

The footpaths are very narrow at certain points making it dangerous for pedestrians. Some of these buildings of course have considerable historical importance. For example in May 2012 an articulated lorry hit the front of the Loch Fyne restaurant, the 15th century building that was once the residence of the agent of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Over 2000 people signed a petition in support of a ban; but all the efforts were to no effect. Despite initial proposals and resolutions by the authorities, nothing appears to have been done. And although the Society has continued to warn of the risks and to press for some form of control, such as notices stating that the town centre is unsuitable for HGVs, and discussions with the satnav companies (who are held partly to blame for directing through traffic into Sevenoaks, rather than along the A21), heavy lorries still trundle through the town centre on a daily basis, and this incident clearly shows that the problem remains an acute one (See footnote*).

Deliveries do have to be made. But to their credit, some retailers in the town centre have made appropriate transport arrangements and worked with their suppliers so that large delivery vehicles avoid the High Street. All the main supermarkets – Tesco, Waitrose and the new M&S – can be supplied without using the High Street.

Finding alternative routes that will not cause similar problems elsewhere, eg in Riverhead, is not easy. But some incidents such as the above are avoidable with better routing, more effective signage and weight restrictions. It is obvious that more needs to be done and the Society has once more raised this important issue with the various bodies concerned, and will continue to press for action.

CLICK HERE for the Society’s letter to The Sevenoaks Chronicle.

In September 2010, Kent Highway Services announced the launch of a programme to tackle the problem of lorries causing chaos and delays on the county’s town and village roads. Restrictions on lorries in Sevenoaks High Street were to be included in the new programme.

The project “will involve a complete overhaul of Kent’s current lorry-route map, a county-wide review of lorry directional and regulatory signs, a review of Traffic Regulation Orders such as weight, height and width restrictions – which set out where Heavy Goods Vehicles are prevented from driving – and working with satellite navigation firms to ensure this new information is provided to drivers.” So what happened …..? We are endeavouring to find out and to discuss with the authorities what more can be done.

Let us know your own views, for and against some form of restriction, and any other ideas for dealing with the problem, via our usual email address: info@sevenoakssociety.org.uk