UPDATE: Highways England has since withdrawn its legal challenge at the eleventh hour.
Pippa Heylings, Lib Dem district councillor for Histon & Impington, Chair of the council’s Climate and Environment Advisory Committee, and recently elected Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for South East Cambs, said:
“In our last meeting with the director of the A14 project, I let him know how disappointed I was that Highways England had made this legal challenge now that the new thresholds had made things better for residents... I let him know that SCDC felt confident in its arguments. This has not gone the way Highways England thought it would. It thought it would create a precedent to stop other local authorities insisting on stricter conditions in residential areas. But it also creates a precedent if the local authority wins.”
South Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats were appalled and saddened by media reports of one particular resident who lives close to the ongoing A14 expansion works.
Sarah Hall, who lives near the Girton interchange, has spoken out about the impact of the noise and nightworks over the past four years. She says the relentless disruption contributed to the breakdown of her marriage and requires her to home-school her five-year-old daughter, who is too exhausted to attend school due to sleep deprivation.
Following a huge number of complaints by residents affected by the works, the Lib Dem-controlled South Cambs District Council took the unprecedented step of demanding stricter thresholds for noise and vibration, and establishing its monitoring and enforcement powers, under Section 61 of the Highways Act 1980.
The council consulted experts and set the conditions based on other major infrastructure projects across the country. This enabled the council to insist that Highways England follow requirements that uphold residents’ legal rights to protection against health-damaging noise and vibration levels during the project – something it was not previously doing. This should mean much less night-working, just around the time of exams for GCSE and A Level students.
The Lib Dem council is extremely disappointed that Highways England has now opted to take out an appeal against these conditions.
Pippa Heylings, district councillor for Histon & Impington and Chair of the council’s Climate and Environment Advisory Committee, said:
"The Lib Dem council have put their foot down and stood up for local residents by requiring strict thresholds of noise from Highways England. Excessive noise and vibrations leading to sleep deprivation is hugely detrimental to wellbeing, as can be seen in the nightmare being lived by Sarah Hall. There are laws in place to protect Sarah and all residents who are suffering like her. We are working very closely with the A14 Delivery Team to improve communication with residents and noise-mitigation measures.
I am, therefore, extremely disappointed with Highways England’s decision to take out an appeal against us as a local authority. This is the story of David and Goliath. Such an appeal has significant legal costs, but we will not allow Highways England to ride roughshod over our residents when the council has proposed very sensible processes to work co-operatively to minimise the harm while enabling Highways England to do its work. Highways England should stand by its Considerate Code for Constructors award, withdraw its appeal, and show that it can build a road on time and on budget whilst respecting the wellbeing of residents.”
There have been some positive results from the enforcement of planning conditions so far. Highways England has improved communications with residents by providing ten-day advance notifications of nightworks and road closures. Highways England and South Cambs are also working with residents on landscaping plans to restore the Green Gateway to Histon, Impington and Orchard Park, something that can truly leave a positive legacy in the area following the completion of the road.