Congestion on the A120/A12 affects the lives of many people not just in Suffolk and Essex, but nationally and internationally because it is part of the UK’s strategic road network.There have been two major government studies of the problems on this road recently. In November 2011 the Highways Agency published ‘A Fresh Start for the Strategic Road Network’ which looked at the general issue of congestion on our roads nationwide, and in 2013 the Highways Agency published a report specific to the A120/A12 congestion problems entitled ‘A12/A120; Route Based Strategy’.
Regular users of the A120/A12 will not be surprised at the findings of either report; nevertheless they still make depressing reading.
The Highways Agency, now renamed Highways England, is the central government body that has overall responsibility for designing , building, operating and maintaining our national motorway and strategic trunk road network.
Its Route Based Strategy report tells us that the A120/A12 road is 78 miles long, has 19 key junctions and links the east coast ports of Felixstowe and Harwich to the M11 at Junction 8, Bishops Stortford. The A12 is 52 miles, the A120 accounts for the other 26 miles.
The report concludes that parts of it, mainly the A12 and the A120 between Braintree and Marks Tey are currently operating over their design capacity, and all 78 miles of it will be over that limit by 2021.
This is using data from the period 2000-2012, long before the current round of proposed new settlements and large housing developments along the route of the A120 were first thought of.
The report tells us that at peak times on the stressed parts of the road, up to 60,000 vehicles per hour use them.The design standard for the same stretches of road for vehicles travelling at the legal speed limit and separated by a safe braking distance of about 60metres is 4,800 vehicles per hour. In other words, the braking distance is eliminated and drivers are forced to ‘tailgate’.
By 2021 the whole road will be in this state and a single accident at say, one of the 19 junctions could result in gridlock along its length. In the meanwhile if any of the proposed large developments along the route do proceed, clearly they will add to the stress and bring that date much closer.
The report also explains that strategic road routes such as A120/A12 take local, regional, national and international traffic and because of this you cannot ‘cherrypick’ them; so you can’t say, for example, this stretch of road is operating well below its design capacity so its OK to build new houses here. Traffic flow patterns and rates do not fit conveniently into that simplistic view. If one part of the network is under stress, or is over capacity the consequences are seen all along the route, mainly in the form of increased accidents, slower journey times and wear and tear on the road itself.
These manifest themselves in huge cost hikes, both to individuals, who might miss important meetings, travel connections and the like, firms, due to late deliveries etc and to society as a whole, for example the NHS in treating accident victims.
The National Policy Planning Framework tells us that Developers and Local Authorities must take the capacity of the transport network into account when deciding where and what to develop. This is one of the fundamental tests of whether or not any development is sustainable. It seems to me that on the evidence of the two reports published by the Highways Agency, any large scale development that relies on the the A120/A12 route cannot show that it is sustainable and must automatically be thrown out by the relevant Local Authorities which are Essex and Suffolk County Councils, and the Planning Authorities of Babergh, Brentwood, Braintree, Chelmsford, Colchester, Maldon, Tendring and Uttlesford.
R4U Contributor Tony Clarke lives and works around Great Dunmow