It was fantastic to see so many people turn out in Aycliffe on Friday to make their voice heard on traffic issues. It was a beautiful evening – perfect weather for a cold pint in a pub garden. Yet such is the strength of feeling in this community that every seat was filled in Aycliffe Church Centre. At least 20 more people stood at the back.
I organised the public meeting to give everyone a chance to put their views to those in charge – so we can work together to fix our roads. And it was great to see so many residents come along and ask important questions.
Aycliffe residents raised the issue of lorries parked up by the Western Heights roundabout causing noise and air pollution. Worst of all is when HGVs take a wrong turn and start driving round residential roads at night. So it's good to see Highways England have taken action and installed a gate at the entrance to the estate. Residents agreed this had made a big difference.
The people of Aycliffe also want the traffic lights at the roundabout moved back down the A20, away from their estate. I urged Highways England's area managing director Simon Jones to look again at whether this can be done.
Others highlighted the number of foreign lorry drivers flouting the A20 40mph speed limit. Kent Police's Inspector Ian Swallow said the force lacked the powers to give these drivers on-the-spot fines, like they do in France. I will keep up the pressure in Parliament to change the law and give police the powers they need.
Some lorry drivers use the B2011 through Capel and Elms Vale, as well as the Alkham Valley Road, as rat-runs to the port. Mr Jones said he would look at how we can stop HGVs diverting through these routes. He said Highways England and the port are working together to redirect trucks onto the M2/A2 rather than the M20/A20. Mr Jones confirmed they are looking at whether the A2 can be dualled.
The A20 40mph limit is the root cause of many of these problems. It's welcome to see that after a long and hard-fought campaign, Highways England have finally started scrapping it. Soon the work will be complete to return the road to 70mph – with the 40mph limit only enforced on the rare occasions Dover TAP is enforced. This should tackle the problem of lorries using the villages as rat-runs. Yet we must remain vigilant.
The representatives from Highways England, Kent Police and the Port of Dover were faced with tough questions on Friday. Yet they gave a very good account of themselves and received a deserved round of applause – as did Aycliffe's Ray Williams who did a great job helping me chair the meeting.
Much has been done to tackle gridlock and fix our roads. It is vital we work together to keep up the pressure.
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