In the late 1980’s Surrey County Council (SCC) produced a plan for the Farnham bisector through our town. Basically an extravagant grade-separated junction, instead of the Shepherd and Flock roundabout, with sharply curved causeways across the Wey Valley with a bite out of the railway embankment and serious interference with the valley’s hydraulics and wildlife habitat. From the Shepherd and Flock to Hickleys Corner the dual carriageway would have been three lanes each way. At Hickley’s Corner the planned underpass had limited access to surrounding roads. Their underpass plans would not fit into the constricted area available nor comply with the necessary road criteria.
We told them it would not work but “Nanny knows best!”
SCC submitted their plans to the government who promptly rejected them. They resubmitted them twice more only to be rejected twice more. One of our SCC elected members was asked “why and on what grounds?” His reply was that he did not know as the government’s response was confidential! This was nonsense so the Society’s then Chairman, Mary Neville, and I went to see our MP Virginia Bottomley. She agreed it was nonsense and gave us a copy of the rejection letter from the Government of the South East (GOSE) which she said was in the public domain. It gave the four reasons for rejection:-
- The overall cost was so high it needed to be in the top tranche of UK road works which was not justifiable.
- The very high cost rendered the scheme not cost effective.
- The scheme would have serious detrimental effects on important wildlife habitat.
- The scheme did nothing to alleviate the traffic problem in Farnham.
Now we knew and so did our SCC members why it had failed. The letter was passed to the Farnham Herald who printed it with our plan drawings.
The Farnham Society is sometimes criticised as being against everything. However, as far as traffic is concerned, before we criticise, we make sure that there is a better way. We started with a full traffic count at the Shepherd and Flock roundabout and quickly realised why, in the early rush hour, the bisector was blocked way back over the county boundary and up through Wrecclesham. A careful survey under Firgrove Hill bridge gave us the answer for clearing the Hickley’s Corner congestion. We drew the plans and presented our scheme to our three County Councillors as well as making a presentation at SCC headquarters in Kingston. We heard nothing.
It was some seven years later that I met with a more recently elected member who told me that SCC had come up with the solution – what did I think of it? – obviously expecting criticism. Very good, I replied, when can you start? I then pointed out that the SCC scheme was identical to ours submitted all those years ago. I showed him the Farnham Herald article and the date.
Well, give them their due, they did do it and it is what we have today – the third lane under the bridge on the bisector, the traffic lights on the Shepherd and Flock and the separate lane for Guildford traffic on the Shepherd and Flock and the longer slip road up Station Hill.
Figures gleaned at the Hindhead tunnel inquiry showed the Hindhead crossroad traffic at 30,000 vehicles per day (VPD) and Hickleys Corner at 45,000.
The moral of this saga is “never dismiss or underrate local knowledge” it is often much superior to anything produced by “experts”.
Michael Murphy December 2014