Updates from Day 4 of the reopened public inquiry around Cuadrilla’s plans to drill and frack at Roseacre Wood in the Fylde district of Lancashire.
The inquiry, at Blackpool Football Club, is hearing from Cuadrilla’s consultants about revised plans to manage lorry deliveries to the site. They include two additional proposed lorry routes, 39 passing places and new traffic signals. The hearings are also hearing from opponents of the scheme, Lancashire County Council and Roseacre Awareness Group (RAG), representing campaign groups and parish councils. Key facts about the inquiry and links to all the DrillOrDrop reports from the inquiry here
Key points from today’s hearing
- Lancashire County Council’s traffic witness continues giving evidence
- Cuadrilla questions the council on its objections to the company’s highway scheme
- Council’s traffic witness casts doubt on effectiveness and safety of proposed traffic signals and convex mirror
- Cuadrilla will bear the cost of road widening and passing places
13.56 Hearing adjourned
The inquiry resumes at 0930 on Tuesday with continuing cross-examination of Neil Stevens, the county council’s traffic witness
Council traffic witness questions
Nathalie Lieven, for Cuadrilla, cross-examines Neil Stevens, the county council’s strategic highways planning manager
13.47 Passing places and hedges
In his evidence, Mr Stevens raised concerns about passing places coming right up to hedgerows.
Ms Lieven puts it to him that if there is concern over the impact of a digger on a hedgerow, you could dig the verge out by hand to create the passing place. Mr Stevens says: You need to consider effect on the root ball. In tight locations, how do you stop soil collapsing in, he asks.
Ms Lieven puts it to him that it is digging to only 600mm. Mr Stevens says there could be damage to the hedge. Ms Lieven says conditions could require the hedge to be replanted.
Mr Stevens replies that solutions need to be on highway land. The landowner is responsible for the hedge, he says. You will need a detailed survey for each location. This will show what can be provided, he says. You will then need to ask whether this location can provide what is needed.
13.21 Passing places and flooding
Mr Stevens had also raised the issue of water pooling in passing places. Ms Lieven put it to him that some of Cuadrilla’s proposals were road widening, rather than passing places. Puddling will not change road safety, she says.
Mr Stevens says: “I disagree. Drivers need an understanding on where the edge of the highway is.” He says heavy goods vehicles will go through water. But passing places may be submerged in water. How will a driver know if there is a verge or a passing place, he asks.
Ms Lieven says In the worst case, this would lead to HGVs using more verges than normal. This is a verge protection issue, not a safety issue, she says.
Mr Stevens says it is a safety issue because drivers won’t know what they are driving into. There is already a reasonable amount of flooding on the lanes.
Ms Lieven says:
“Could we have a sprinkling of reality. Drivers are going off the road onto the verge by a few inches, not going into the unknown.”
Mr Steven replies they won’t know where the verge is.
Ms Lieven proposes grading the surface of a passing place on the Green route, south of Elswick, to the required gradient. Mr Stevens replies there is localised surface water there. Mr Lieven suggests a permeable material at this section. Mr Stevens says this won’t work because mud from the verges would block the porous materials. He says:
“If there was a simple solution, I would have suggested it”.
Ms Lieven asks:
“Are you seriously suggesting this is an insoluble problem?”
Mr Stevens replies that the solution needs to be able to be delivered reasonably. There is no evidence that a solution will work in all locations, he says.
Ms Lieven ask:
“Can we agree there are solutions – it may differ from site to site”.
She says there may be a cost but Cuadrilla will pay the full cost of road widening and passing places. It must be possible to find solution to localised flooding, she says. Mr Stevens says the cost risk to Cuadrilla is unknown. Ms Lieven says the company can decide not to take up the planning permission if the cost is too high.
The Inspector, Melvyn Middleton, asks about the practicalities of permeable asphalt and why roads currently flood. Mr Stevens says permeable asphalt needs constant use to stay clean and is not suitable on short stretches.
Asked by the inspector about whether the issues can be resolved, Mr Stevens says the cost of the solution is an issue. Mr Middleton says Cuadrilla will pay.
Asked by Ms Lieven whether he accepts there are solutions in every location, Mr Stevens says the council would only deliver solutions it was willing to maintain and were appropriate for the highway.
13.11 Visibility across fields
One of the key issues is whether lorry drivers would be able to see above hedges to the road ahead. Mr Stevens had said the council won’t know there is a problem until it is reported.
Ms Lieven says there are places where there is good visibility across fields and the hedges are in good conditions. Mr Stevens says there is evidence in isolated locations of hedges hedges growing higher than previously.
Ms Lieven suggests it is in local farmers’ interests to manage the hedges. Mr Stevens says on Dagger Road, the landowners let hedges and trees grow to provide privacy.
Ms Lieven says lorry drivers could report any problems with hedges, as a condition of the traffic management plan. The council has a legal mechanism to require landowner to reduce height of hedge, she says Your concern is that it takes time, she suggested. But she said this is only 14-28 days. Mr Stevens says it an be a drawn-out process if it requires a court hearing. He adds that in some passing places the landowner will need to cut back the hedges regularly.
The inspector, Melvyn Middleton, has to report on whether highway safety concerns raised at the last inquiry can be resolved.
Ms Lieven puts it to Mr Stevens that there have been no incidents involving HGVs or equestrians over the past five years. Mr Steven says these figures are for recorded incidents. Ms Lieven says the concern is about personal injury accidents. Mr Stevens says unrecorded incidents can show weakness in network. Ms Lieven asks if there is any other evidence that these roads are causing a problem. Mr Stevens accepts he is not presenting any further evidence. But he says increasing traffic movements will increase risk of accidents.
Ms Lieven says past history is the best evidence of future accidents. She says the inspector should give weight to negative accident evidence. Mr Stevens says the Roseacre Wood site will change the dynamics of the road network and a cautious approach is needed.
Ms Lieven asks if there is any policy support for this approach. Mr Stevens replies:
“I rely on my experience as an engineer.”
“So no policy support”, Ms Lieven asks.
Mr Stevens says: “I refer to my previous reply.”
Ms Lieven suggests that where two HGVs approached on a narrow stretch of road, one would pull onto the verge. Mr Stevens says “If there is a verge”. He says there could be a head-on collision or one of the HGVs might need to reverse, a difficult manoeuvre with poor visibility. He says the vehicles would be closing at 30mph if they were both doing 15mph.
Ms Lieven raises Mr Stevens’ concerns about mud on the road. She says an agricultural vehicle coming off a view would spread more mud than an HGV on the verge. Mr Stevens says mud and water thrown onto the highway in sudden manoeuvres is a risk. Life is a risk, Ms Lieven says, and this one is minimal. Mr Stevens says this is a risk to cyclists who may not expect mud away from gateways.
Ms Lieven asks if there is evidence this is causing a problem to cyclists.No, says Mr Stevens.
If an HGV had to reverse it would have beepers and lights to alert other road users, Ms Lieven says. Approaching cyclists and vehicles may not expect this, Mr Stevens says. Ms Lieven puts it to him:
“A cyclist can hear beeper, see lights. You would need to be semi-blind and semi-deaf.”
Mr Stevens replies: “Cyclists may put their head down and power ahead.”
Ms Lieven says a head-on collision would be slow and unlikely to result in personal injury. Mr Stevens says there is a need to consider cyclists, which would result in a serious incident. There are families cycling during the week, he says, in response to the suggestion that weekday cyclists are often experienced.
12.25 Traffic Management Plan (TMP)
The inspector at the 2016 inquiry had been concerned that lorries approaching the site would be held in a layby that was not under Cuadrilla’s control.
The company now proposes three routes. Ms Lieven says the only place Cuadrilla vehicles would meet was on the shared section of the green and red routes. Mr Stevens says this assumes vehicles are not put on the same route, at least two routes are open and not blocked by floods or protesters.
Ms Lieven suggests this can be delivered through the traffic management plan (TMP). Mr Stevens says the TMP is followed:
“In the real world this may not happen.”
Ms Lieven says there is no incentive for Cuadrilla to send vehicles to meet. Mr Steven you can’t foresee what might happen in real world.
Ms Lieven says the TMP can require Cuadrilla takes action over driver error. Mr Steven says this doesn’t mean it won’t happen again. Ms Lieven says only four or five departures from the TMP at Preston New Road were because of driver error.
11.42 Traffic generation
The inquiry hears that the estimated split of heavy goods vehicles, based on Preston New Road data, is 80% rigid HGVs and 20% articulated.
Ms Lieven says there is no reason why the Roseacre Wood site will not get permission to treat surface onsite to avoid tankering it off. Mr Stevens agrees.
If surface water treatment were allowed, it would reduce HGV movements to Roseacre Wood from 3,717 to 2,338 for wells 1 and 2 and from 2,808 to 1,736 for wells 3 and 4 the inquiry hears.
Ms Lieven says that for 88% of the project duration, there would be 24 HGV movements per day or less. Mr Stevens agrees.
Assuming two routes, used by 12 HGVs in each direction, this means there would be six two-way journeys on each route per day, Ms Lieven says.
Mr Stevens agrees but says there will be levels of uncertainty. Ms Lieven says that over a working day, this is less than 1 an hour in each direction. Mr Stevens argues that this depends on the traffic profile, which is unknown.
Parts of the program with more than 25 movements or more are largely construction or restoration says Ms Lieven. Mr Stevens argues that fracking may generate similar levels. Ms Lieven says no peaks of 40 or more during fracking. Peak periods have more than 80% tipper trucks.
Mr Stevens argues that a cautious approach must be taken. This argument relies on Cuadrilla applying for permit in a timely manner. Maybe this should be a planning condition. Ms Lieven says she can see no problem with this, subject to consulting client. At Preston New Road, Environment Agency wanted some data before giving permit.
Ms Lieven refers to statement of common ground, saying council accept baseline traffic data. Mr Stevens agrees. Traffic data collection over a period of 2 weeks for most of the sites, outside school holidays. Mr Stevens says he is not disputing the data. Data is split into classes of HGVs, and shows how many vehicles of each class are on the routes during the route working hours.
Ms Lieven argues that it is unlikely from the figures that 2 class 10 HGVs will meet. Mr Stevens says you have to consider a class 10 meeting any other HGV.
Ms Lieven asks Mr Stevens to accept that two class 10 vehicles meeting on a narrow point is very low. Mr Stevens repeats that you have to consider other HGVs and agricultural vehicles.
Ms Lieven argues that the class of HGV does matter, as smaller HGVs are more manoeuvrable at junctions. Regarding passing, it does make some difference as larger vehicles may take longer to stop and be less manoeuvrable. Mr Stevens says large rigid vehicles can drive differently.
Ms Lieven refers to journey data for Roseacre Road and says this includes agricultural vehicles whose drivers will be very familiar with local conditions. Mr Stevens disputes this, saying agricultural contractors may be used. Ms Lieven suggests they will still know local network. Mr Steven says he can’t accept this.
11.37 Vulnerable users
Ms Lieven for Cuadrilla starts her cross examination of Mr Stevens
Ms Lieven says the county council raised no issues on surveys of vulnerable users. Mr Stevens confirms this is so.
Ms Lieven says the weather on days vulnerable users survey was done has been checked. Survey was undertaken in summer months to pick up maximum levels of vulnerable users. On every day of survey, it was not raining and sunny or relatively sunny. Therefore, she asks, no reason to cast doubt on surveys due to weather. Mr Stevens agrees.
Clearly, says Ms Lieven, a survey can’t pick up every vulnerable user. Mr Stevens agrees.
At the last inquiry, says Ms Lievens, the county council challenged the effectiveness of the surveys done, and the inspector found that the survey did underestimate levels of use. At this inquiry, you are not challenging the conduct of the surveys. Mr Stevens agrees.
11.33 Inquiry resumes
11.16 Adjourned until 1130
Council evidence continues
Alan Evans, Lancashire County Council’s barrister, continues his case with Neil Stevens, the authority’s strategic highways planning manager.
11.05 Traffic Management Plan (TMP)
Mr Evans asks how confident you can be that TMP is adhered to, bearing in mind the Preston New Road experience.
Mr Stevens says the 248 breaches at Preston New Road were departures from the preferred way of working.
Quoting a police letter, “deliberate obstruction of passing places by protestor vehicles will need to be dealt with by the police”. The police also say “the risks cannot be mitigated entirely”.
TMPs can go through several iterations. It is reasonable to suppose that the hours of operation and routing may have to be changed at police direction – it has happened at Preston New Road.
There is a huge level of reliance on driver education. Route information will be provided one hour before arrival. However conditions can change in an instant. Number Plate recognition to be used to monitor vehicles, but Cuadrilla can only really control the exit rate of vehicles from the site. Can’t predict effects of legal protest or levels of traffic on the network.
This doesn’t take account of any illegal protest that any occur.
10.45 Risk to vulnerable road users
Mr Evans asks about the risks to vulnerable road users.
Mr Stevens says that on the blue route there is 2.6 km where road is less than 6m wide. Green route has 2.7km and red route has 2.5 km of roads less than 6m. The blue route has 1.6km of road width less than 5.2m wide (this accommodates HGV meeting 4×4), green route 2.3km and red route 0.4km
There are risks at present, and there is not currently an accident issue. However, you have to look at risks from extra HGVs, says Mr Stevens.
Regarding cyclists, good information has been collected. Between 30 and 132 cyclists have been observed at various locations. Blue route and red route are part of the Northern Loop cycle route. Green route is also used.
A single cyclist is less visible, while groups may not cycle in single file.
Survey suggests a nominal number of pedestrians, but there are pedestrians and numbers may change between locations. Also need to consider protestors, whether at site or on the routes. No understanding of what their tactics will be.
Number of stables. Limited number of horses recorded. However there will be horses on the network, and we don’t know where or when. Removing verges lessens their safety.
Intimidation and fear from increasing number and size of HGVs. Huge increase of large HGVS, says Mr Stevens.
Unfamiliar drivers, and style of driving can be an issue. Cuadrilla drivers will be trained, good idea for drivers to cycle the route. However, says Mr Stevens, this idea is not realistic. Drivers change, and some may not have the same level of training as others. Traffic Management Plan relies on driver training.
Mr Stevens says he felt vulnerable when parked at proposed passing places as nowhere to jump to.
Mr Evans puts to Mr Stevens that accident record doesn’t suggest conflict between HGVs and vulnerable users.
Mr Stevens says he considers the network to be reasonably safe, although there are accidents. Additional large vehicles means we can’t assume network will continue to be safe. Need to take a very cautious approach. The level of incident can only increase. Also have to have regard for the severity of an incident between HGV and vulnerable user.
There will be times where HGVs will need to reverse back to a passing place, this introduces new risks.
10.27 Dagger Lane traffic lights
Some changes have been made to originally submitted proposals says Mr Stevens.
On a high speed road there should be a minimum of 600mm, ideally 1.2 m between road edge and any equipment. Here it is 400mm. Road will be widened to 6m, to accommodate two vehicles plus wing mirrors. At this point, there will only be 200mm between wing mirror and signal head – width of a piece of paper. There is little margin for error.
The height of the signal will match the height of the wing mirror, leading to a potential conflict.
Nathalie Lieven for Cuadrilla says it is difficult to follow the detailed argument without a written version and asks for Mr Stevens to submit a written document so her client can study it and suggest mitigations.
Regarding deliverability of the signals, Mr Stevens suggests signals will cause confusion to other drivers as only part-time – switched on when HGVs coming from opposite directions. We won’t know about failure until a conflict arises.
If a signal appears at red, drivers could get confused – stop suddenly, causing a shunt, or proceeding and meeting HGV. Following drivers will be confused if HGV stops at signal which other driver can’t see.
Cyclists could also cause problems. The side access road serves one or two properties, a farm and a private road. Visibility is quite good, but vehicles could emerge from side roads and fields, some of which could be large agricultural vehicles.
Signal timings – will drivers think signals are stuck on red? Assuming 900m between stop lines, speed is round 20 mph. It will take 1 minute 48 seconds for the HGV to traverse the route, Drivers at the red light waiting for nearly two minutes may make drivers waiting think lights have failed. Drivers may also not realise why the signals are there.
10.22 Mirror at Inskip
Mr Evans moves on to the suggestion that a tight bend at Inskip should be fitted with a convex mirror to aid visibility.
Mr Stevens calls this bend a “significant hazard”, and mentions that this was one reason why Arup previously rejected this route.
Convex mirrors are generally used on private drives, and used by drivers who are stationary to aid visibility. In this situation, the driver will be concentrating on dealing with the bend rather than looking at a relatively small convex mirror. Drivers will have to take their eyes off the road to check the image for oncoming vehicles.
The mirror, says Mr Stevens, is more of a hazard than a benefit
10.08 Junction manoeuvres
Mr Evans invites Mr Stevens to comment on manoeuvres at junctions.
Mr Stevens accepts OS surveys as correct, but looking at swept paths of vehicles from a realistic rather than theoretical point of view. HGV may need to stop before a left turn, to allow vehicle in road to turn right out of road. Car behind may not anticipate a stop, or may attempt to overtake, causing head on crash with car exiting from road.
In another example, vehicles may need to synchronise their movements to allow particular manoeuvres to take place. In practice, the other driver may not realise this is required.
At the Inskip junction, Mr Stevens argues that swept path plans indicate that vehicle manoeuvres will exceed carriageway width – and this is for an ideal manoeuvre designed theoretically.
At Hand and Dagger junction, swept path shows only one vehicle can be between Station Road and Dagger Road. If drivers are coming from North and South, will the drivers realise that only one vehicle can be on the intersection. Drivers will not be local, may not know where passing places and pinch points are. This could lead to a situation where HGV on Dagger Road may have to reverse, a dangerous manoeuvre.
10.00 Visibility splays
Mr Evans asks about the junction of High Street and Roseacre Road at Elswick.
Mr Stevens says full visibility needs to be achieved, not just to centre line of road. In this junction there are no islands or double white lines to stop drivers crossing to wrong side of road.
This junction has shop and residential properties. Double yellow lines are not always adhered to – an example on Google maps shows vehicle parked on road, leading to drivers having to cross to other side to pass. Vehicles regularly park outside shop, ignoring yellow lines, and could cross the road to park.
Visibility is measured 2.4m back from the stop line, to take account of the length of the bonnet in front of the driver. Some studies have used 1.5m which is length from bonnet to driver for typical HGV, but this doesn’t take account of very large or specialist HGVs
9.35am Visibility requirements
Mr Evans raises the next topic – visibility across hedgerows and third-party land. This relates particularly to bends, on Thistleton Road and Lodge Lane for example.
Mr Stevens states that hedgerows and their maintenance are not under County Council control. It is the responsibility of the landowner to maintain hedges, but not all landowners follow a strict regime. Council can only serve notice when they are aware there is an issue.
Some passing places are very close to the highway boundary, so hedges will need to be cut back. After being informed, the council writes to landowner who has 14 days to carry out the works. The council then checks the work, the landowner can appeal. This all takes time. The county can cut hedges back, but takes time to assemble resource needed.
Mr Stevens refers to photographs of Lodge Lane on the red route showing hedgerows and an overhanging tree. Road width round the bend reduces to 5.7m. He points out the growth in the tree between photos taken in 2009 and 2017.
Mr Stevens refers to another photograph where a van is partially obscured. Points out that visibility is not just HGV to HGV, but HGV to cyclist and to other road users.
Mr Stevens refers to another example on the Green route where there are several places where visibility is required over third-party land. To see from passing point 12 to passing point 13, Mr Stevens points out that the view needed crosses 4 separate hedgelines on private land. Drivers need to know where passing places are, and how and when to react, so need good visibility some way ahead. Not only do drivers need to see other vehicles, they also need to be able to see the next passing place
9.30am Hearing begins
The inquiry inspector, Melvyn Middleton opens the hearing.
The chairman discusses timings and procedures for site visits. The inspector asks whether RAG should join with Mr Bird and Mr Stevens to view junctions, so that there can be clarity on which can be agreed and where disagreements arise. It’s decided that Mr Bird and Mr Stevens will visit sites on Monday
Roseacre Wood Fracking Inquiry Day 1
Roseacre Wood Fracking Inquiry Day 2
Roseacre Wood Fracking Inquiry Day 3
Reporting at this inquiry has been made possible by donations from individual DrillOrDrop readers.