The last few weeks have been absolute hell for many families in Histon, Impington and Orchard Park. They have been deprived of sleep by noisy night-time works and there seemed to be little real response from those in charge, despite multiple and repeated formal complaints made. There are also serious concerns about the longer-term impacts of noise and air pollution on us all, which require coordinated efforts to resolve. However, communications had broken down and trust eroded so this looked increasingly difficult to achieve.
That is why today was so important. We finally managed to bring all the key people together in one room with a clear agenda, the opportunity to speak openly and honestly, and the commitment to change things for the better for everyone. There is a lot of ground to be made up and many bridges to be mended – and it was agreed that this meeting would be the start of a meaningful dialogue. The effectiveness of the dialogue and the level of commitment will be judged obvioulsy by results, by actions and not words. However, an important indicator of that commitment was the level of attendance at the 3-hour meeting: Highways England was represented by the Project Director of the whole A14 Improvement Scheme, together with site manager, environmental officers, engineers, design expert and liaison offiers; South Cambs District Council was represented by Senior Officers in charge of Planning and Environmental Health, together with Officers responsible for noise and A14 liaison; residents were represented by their County Councillor, District Councillor, Parish Councillor, Orchard Park Community Councillor and four members of the H&I A14 Action Group.
The meeting was very constructive, which is extremely commendable given that it addressed complex and, sometimes, contentious issues. Amongst the principal agreements are:
- the continuation of this forum as a Working Group that will meet on a regular basis to review progress with agreed actions, and provide a space to analyse information and identify ways to resolve each of the issues in depth;
- the creation of an improved distribution list for information and notifications to residents in Histon, Impington and Orchard Park;
- greater transparency in the the sharing in the public domain of key documents that detail the works to be carried out, the impacts they will have and the ways to mitigate them; so that the community is better informed and prepared;
- a review of current proceedures so that Highways England can be more responsive to residents’ complaints and concerns, particularly with regards to night-time works;
- a review of the way in which noise is monitored and measured on both sides of the A14;
- a review of the noise mitigation measures being used to ensure that residents are protected, including a review of the starting time to evening works so that the noisiest works can be completed before late evening.
What is critical is that we all work together to ensure that there are improvements to operations in the short-term, and that there can be a positive legacy to the A14 Scheme in the long run. We live by a big road, we know that. We know that the road needs widening and we accept that will happen. What we want to do is to ensure that this happens through best practice so that the impacts are reduced as much as possible.