SELBORNE residents have issued a challenge to Hampshire County Council to create a “safer route to school” before the unimaginable happens and there is a serious accident involving a child.
Last Friday, the children and parents of Selborne Primary School invited county, district and parish councillors to accompany them on their short walk along the B3006, crossing the road at least twice to reach the school while trying not to be struck by passing vehicle wing mirrors or to be run over as rush-hour traffic thunders through.
The exercise made it clear that Gilbert White’s historic village has a real problem in that the B3006, which links the A31 at Alton with the A3 at Greatham, runs straight through the heart of the village. And the volume of traffic using the road residents dub “a rat run” is inappropriate and, at times, “downright dangerous”.
Statistics drawn up over the past few years by the Selborne SpeedWatch team show that on average 1,411 vehicles travel across the school crossing point between 8am and 9am on weekday mornings, the majority northbound toward Alton, and that the majority in both directions are exceeding the 20mph speed limit.
And while the volume drops to 1,200 vehicles when the children come out of school in the afternoon, the speeding problem remains.
Furthermore, it became clear to visitors that the road is narrow through the village, making it difficult for two-way traffic to pass even when travelling below the 20mph speed limit. While there is a seven-and-a-half tonne weight restriction on the B3006, larger trucks are allowed through for access, and the road also takes farm vehicles to further exacerbate the problem which, residents say, often results in vehicles mounting the already narrow pavements and, if not, forces them so close that their wing mirrors are in danger of striking pedestrians.
The final straw came a few weeks ago when an eight-year-old boy was hit on the shoulder by a car wing mirror while on his way to school, and an elderly man, crossing from the village hall to the shop opposite, was hit by a car which, fortunately, was adhering to the speed limit and the man survived.
But with so many pedestrians suffering from what to date have been relatively minor collisions with vehicles, Selborne villagers fear for the safety of their children and insist that improvements must be made.
The campaign, organised by The Selborne Traffic Group, led by SpeedWatch members Jan and Gren Earney and local residents and parents James Sunderland and Hayley Carter, is calling for a safer route to school and a safer way to cross the road.
Headteacher Janet Knott confirms that it is “difficult and dangerous” for children to walk to school and, in particular, to cross into School Lane.
“Many cars do not keep to the 20mph limit, giving the children even less time to think when judging if it is safe to cross. Drivers are often rude and abusive.”
Having lost their lollipop lady, after she narrowly missed being hit by a lorry while on patrol at the school crossing, which sits in a dip at the bottom of a hill in one direction and just a stone’s throw away from a blind bend in the other, residents are calling for a proper pelican crossing with CCTV cameras and advance warning lights to slow vehicles down on the approach.
There is a call also for raised tables to further reduce speed, and cameras at either end of the 20mph to record average speed when travelling through the village.
While Selborne Parish Council has been working with the county council on a wider traffic-calming plan to embrace neighbouring Blackmoor and Oakhanger, campaigners say the situation in Selborne has reached crisis point and should be tackled immediately.
But they are likely to have an uphill struggle. In flagging up the constraints on finance, county council executive member for environment and transport Rob Humby said: “Many measures have been installed in the Selborne over the years, including traffic-calming measures, build outs, a 20mph speed limit and improved lorry signing on the A31 and the A3 at both ends of the B3006. The narrow roads and footways in Selborne means there is limited road space to be shared by all of those who need to use it, and this reduces the scope to carry out works for specific groups of road users.”
While stressing that “safety comes first for Hampshire County Council”, he is advocating road safety education and a renewed drive to recruit another cross patrol officer to try to address the problem.
But county councillor Mark Kemp-Gee is determined to support Selborne in its bid to secure improved safety measures, as is district and parish councillor David Ashcroft, who pointed out that on Friday a county council officer refused to remove his high-visibility jacket because it was “unsafe” to be walking through the village without one.
This, Mr Ashcroft suggested, served to highlight “the risk parents and children take every day they walk to and from school along the B3006 through Selborne”.