Thursday, 11 February 2010

Barriers To Safety

The fatal car accident in which a man from Wiltshire was killed after careering across the open central reservation on the A329(M) has stirred many in the local community to rise up in protest against poor road safety.

23-year-old RAF technician Paul Payne died instantly in the rush hour collision when he lost control of his Fiat Punto and hit a Ford Transit travelling in the opposite direction.

The driver of the van, Colin Cowdell, has called for barriers to be erected so that further deaths can be averted. He explained how he was driving at 50mph when he noticed the other car out of the corner of his eye before the impact occurred.

"It all happened in a microsecond. There was nothing I could do," he said.

Several accidents on the same stretch of dual carriageway have resulted in fatal injuries in recent years, all of which could have been avoided.

A 27-year-old woman from Caversham died in 'identical' circumstances in 2007. At her inquest coroner Peter Bedford highlighted the lack of safety barriers.

A spokesperson for the council authority explained that they were proceeding with moves to put barriers in place as a matter of urgency and would be introducing a speed limit as an interim measure, but nothing happened.

Reading Post is coordinating the campaign to raise public awareness of the issue to pressure Wokingham council to act - you can join the Facebook group here and there is an E-petitition lodged at the Prime Minister's site which you are encouraged to sign.

In response Conservative leader of Wokingham Borough Council Cllr David Lee has pledged £650,000 start work later this month, but explains they simply don't have the cash available to spend the estimated £4-5m required.

Meanwhile Cllr Prue Bray, who is the LibDem parliamentary candidate for Wokingham as well as leader of the opposition group on the council, provides an illuminating account of the debate behind the facts.

She explains how the stretch of road is an anomaly caught between several stools - although it is classed as a motorway, maintenance and safety are the responsibility of the local authority rather than the national Highways Agency, as would be normal.

The council has requested assistance from central government for the work, but they declined. So the council is faced with a choice about how to find the funds.

Cllr Bray says she was "stunned" to hear Conservative proposals that funds could be shifted from commitments already made in the school-building programme and describes 'replacing schools v crash barriers' as a "completely false and unnecessary choice."

And she launches a powerful attack against John Redwood who was interviewed on BBC Berkshire to suggest the "extremely expensive" new school for Arborfield could be cancelled. She says this is unrealistic and potentially illegal, since it conflicts with the borough's agreed strategy that will see housing developers pay for the school as part of plans to build 6,000 new homes in the area.

But it isn't a forlorn hope to get the barriers up. She points out that a funding plan could easily be accomodated within the scope of other transport measures, such as the Transport Innovation Fund bid or the Local Transport Plan (which is currently being consulted on).

Clearly this issue threatens to turn into a major dividing line heading into the election period, as Cllr Bray concludes the public shouldn't be fooled by the choices as presented to us and argues that positive solutions are more matter of imaginative use of resources than trading favours.


  1. I really feel for Mr Cowdell. How awful for him.

  2. Absolutely - accidents are awful.

    I remember being completely terrified driving along a stretch of 3-lane road near Udine in Italy which was known as an accident hotspot - I'm at least glad that authorities in this country have abandoned that type of road, but barriers on dual carriageways are essential too.

    The investment required is more than outweighed by the cost in lives lost and the impact on families and friends and even in pure economic terms these barriers would more than pay for themselves.


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