Recent email string - Long but worth a read ....
Dear Cadent complaints,
I am a resident of Ottershaw in Surrey.
I hope you are already aware of the disastrous traffic issues in our village caused by your measures taken to repair a broken gas main on the A320.
I have seen comments from your team and from the Highways Authority - Surrey County Council (SCC).
I am astounded by the apparent casual and amateur manner in which Cadent has dealt with the repairs and traffic management. We have previously endured MANY issues with broken services under the A320 and we are unfortunately familiar with the measures which need to be taken to manage the traffic. I have lived with this for 33 years and NEVER witnessed such apparently casual repair operations, insignificant communications with residents and negligent interaction with Surrey County Council. The net result has been extended road closure and THOUSANDS of hours of delay to residents, school children and businesses.
The two obvious issues are –
· Why has Cadent not been working on the issues 7x24? When I visited on Sunday 20th the southbound A320 carriageway was closed and blocked by several areas ‘barriered off’. There was not a single Cadent worker present. The barriers enclosed small piles of spoil and one had a partially backfilled hole. The hole could have been easily plated over and the spoil removed from all areas. Whilst your operatives were enjoying a day off, hundreds of vehicles on ALL approach roads to the Otter roundabout were queuing. ON A SUNDAY. ALL DAY.
· Never before in all the dozens of A320 road/carriageway closures have traffic lights been installed at that roundabout. NEVER. The vast majority of previous events have been with water services – handled expertly by Affinity. They have leafleted residents, worked 7x24, worked closely with Surrey County Council Highways and NEVER, NEVER caused the chaos such as Cadent has inflicted upon us. SCC told us the traffic lights would be removed over last Friday 19th night. They were not. On Saturday Cadent told us they knew nothing of such plan! Cadent are simply not communicating properly with SCC or residents.
The example I reprint below illustrates the amateur manner in which Cadent are operating and trying to ‘pass the buck’. At night and over the weekend there are no Cadent staff onsite ‘managing’ the traffic by manual control of the lights. But HUNDREDS of vehicles are held up.
“CADENT Facebook messenger reply:
Hi Clare, we have had a lot of complaints about this and we are really sorry for the disruption and inconvenience this is causing.
I will pass your comments over to the team.
What we have been told is traffic management was done the way it was done at behest of local authority.
Traffic lights are manned and we have spotters advising on traffic flows to ensure that traffic keeps flowing as smoothly as possible.
The works are being done as quickly and as safely as possible. Again we apologise for the disruption this is causing. Thanks Sonal”
I would be grateful if you would not attempt to dilute the incompetence and negligence of Cadent by reiterating the dangers of gas leaks as compared to water leaks. We are not fools and understand that Cadent might need to make urgent, unilateral decisions to manage traffic around a gas leak during the first few hours but then should turn over the traffic management to the experts (SCC in this case) as soon as is genuinely possible (a few hours, 7x24). We are weeks into this mess now.
I have copied in the CEOs of Cadent and Surrey County Council who are welcome to comment on any issues raised above which I and others may have misunderstood.
To avoid any recurrence of this mess I would urge those CEOs to participate in a full public enquiry to establish lessons learnt etc. Thank you.
Resident of Ottershaw
Response from Cadent....
Good Evening Mr Nichol,
Firstly allow me to apologise for the difficulties and disruption that our works have caused to yourself and the other residents in the vicinity.
Please let me assure you that we would not be undertaking the works unless they were absolutely necessary. The condition of the mains along the Guildford Road have degraded to the point where we have to replace large sections to ensure the integrity of our network. We have discovered severe corrosion in several places which if left could potentially lead to a very dangerous situation.
Due to the nature of the escape we had to implement a traffic management system immediately in order to make sure the escape at this location could be made safe. After we had temporarily secured the leak we began to work closely with Surrey CC to ensure we could put an alternative traffic management system in place in order to effect a permanent solution. After extensive talks with Surrey CC it has been agreed that we will effect permanent repairs on large sections of this main so we do not inconvenience local residents in the future. Since this was agreed we have been in consultation with Surrey CC, making amendments to the traffic management system to provide the best solution to the traffic management issue. As you are aware it has taken some time to implement this; once we had agreed the scope of this traffic management it became apparent that the amount of materials required were extensive and we therefore agreed a temporary solution with Surrey CC while this was put in place.
To address your first issue the traffic lights that we had up initially were unsuitable for extended working as reduced visibility at night coupled with vehicles ‘racing’ through the traffic management system left our operatives exposed to an unacceptable level of risk and unable to do the work that is required. Now that the road closure is in place we will be adopting extended hours working (07:00-21:00) to enable us to work as quickly as possible to resolve the issue. Whilst I understand it is frustrating we cannot work 24 hours a day as we are an emergency service and have to leave ourselves adequately resourced to respond to immediate action gas escapes all through the night. There is the issue of noise pollution in such a built up residential area late at night.
To address your second point, we initially responded to the escape on an emergency basis and as illustrated above we have been working closely with Surrey CC since then to achieve the best situation possible. The one way closure is now completely in place and I hope you will see that the traffic situation has improved. Throughout the course of today we have been making small amendments to fine tune the system working with the council. Our customer liaison officers have also sent out letters to the properties on Guildford road and we have been making an effort to get the message out on social media.
Once again I would like to apologise for the inconvenience you and the other local residents have suffered during this period.
I hope this begins to explain what has been happening and our commitment to complete these works professionally and efficiently so we do not have to undertake anymore work in the future that will disrupt the local residents.
If you have any further queries or you feel I have not satisfactorily addressed the issues please let me know or as offered before I am happy to discuss any issues with you if you provide me with your number and we can schedule a time to talk.
Dear Mr Bunce,
Thank you for your response and explanations.
We do not doubt and appreciate your team has rendered the gas escape safe for the time being and are interested that a larger scale replacement of the pipework is being planned.
The changes made to traffic management on Tuesday 20th seem very sensible and are working extremely well all around the Otter roundabout. This change together with the one carriageway closure of the A320 is almost identical to that adopted during several recent water service repairs. So, the basic question remains – why were thousands of road users exposed to ridiculous delays for the previous one week? I reiterate – we have NEVER before seen a four way traffic light system operated at the roundabout – even for temporary reasons.
As my email states, over last weekend there could easily have been no road closure or traffic management in place at all. Plating over the one hole and clearing back the spoil heaps was all that was required. And no Cadent workers were on site at all.
I am disturbed to note that Cadent are only a repair service and hope that larger scale replacement of the faulty gas main will be contracted to a company capable of working shifts to cover 24hrs. Perhaps a survey of those houses likely to be affected by noise should be carried out to determine if they would prefer the nocturnal noise or extended disruption?
From your response it appears that at all times the traffic management systems were instigated and designed by Surrey County Council. So it is to that team we now turn for answers.
Dear Ms Killian,
As you may see from the emails below and the response from Mr Bunce, it would appear that Surrey County Council was responsible for the ridiculous traffic management scheme which was installed soon after the gas leak investigation began and for a further six days. The configuration of this traffic scheme simply beggars belief in its gross lack of efficiency and the hardship it caused to thousands of road users. As observed after the return to a more ‘normal’ A320 utility repair scheme on Tuesday 20th, and by reference to the many events to replace water mains over recent years, the scheme in place today should have been in place within hours of the emergency gas leak repair last week.
Could you please explain why common sense was apparently lacking for six days?
And would you agree that a company capable of working 7x24hrs should be sought to handle further gas main replacement work?
Thank you both for your help in understanding the concerns of the thousands of people affected by your decisions.
Resident of Ottershaw
Response Surrey County Council....
Dear Mr. Nichol,
I apologise for the delay in responding in full to your concerns raised over the Traffic Management solutions deployed to facilitate the emergency gas mains repairs by Cadent Gas on the A320. Liaison between Surrey County Council Officers and Cadent Gas Officers has been ongoing throughout these works and I was waiting for an update on the latest agreements reached in order to provide as full an answer as possible.
I’m very sorry to hear of the delays that you and many other motorists experienced when these works initially commenced and multi-way portable traffic signals were deployed at the Otter Roundabout on the A320.
As you’ve already been advised, these works were unplanned emergency works required due to the increasing high levels of gas readings that Cadent Gas were detecting. As Cadent Gas have already implied in their own responses, they did engage with Surrey Officers as to the best short term solution for the traffic management required to allow their works to commence with immediate effect.
Officers are fully aware of what Traffic Management measures have worked well previously on the A320, which is why we now have the northbound directional closure as a longer term solution to facilitate the works. At the time of the emergency works, there was inadequate time to discuss, agree, manufacture (where required) and deploy the signage to support the closures required and associated diversion route signage and so Officers did agree to the deployment of the multi-way portable traffic signals, on the arms of the Otter Roundabout (with a partial closure of A319 Chobham Road to reduce the number of signal heads from 4 to 3), as the alternative short term solution. I do not believe this was a mistake. Two way portable signals solely at the works site itself – the standard solution for such activities, would have swiftly created complete blocking of the Otter Roundabout itself and on all the approaches, without any means of controlling these conflicting heavy traffic flows. The multi way temporary traffic signals was the most appropriate (safe) method of facilitating the emergency works required, whilst an improved measure was designed and deployed.
Should emergency works in the same location occur, dependent on whether advance notice of the works were possible, Surrey Officers would seek the same short-term and longer term Traffic Management solutions. The speed of deployment of such measures would be dependent on the Traffic Management capabilities of the works promoter/s involved.
Officers requested that Cadent Gas deployed ‘spotters’ on the approaches to the roundabout, to assist with manual control of the portable signals to best manage queues, with particular focus on ensuring that queues did not adversely impact on M25 J11. (The potential here to create stationary traffic on Lane 1 of the M25). This requirement was placed on the granted permit for the works. Unfortunately some problems were initially experienced with the deployment of these ‘spotters’ to best manage the queues, but once their operations were established the congestion was better managed. Surrey have raised a Fixed Penalty Notice to Cadent Gas for the failure to initially adhere to the conditions placed on their permit to work.
The portable signals were never considered a long term solution and once the scale of the work required by Cadent Gas was clear, Surrey Officers set out the northbound closure and diversion routes we required, as a far better long term traffic management solution to facilitate the works. The revised Traffic Management measures, were placed out at the earliest date that Cadent Gas’ Traffic Management suppliers were able to deploy these revised arrangements.
I can confirm that Officers have requested extended working hours on the A320 to expedite completion of works, however under current legislation we cannot insist that 24 hour working takes place. Consideration has to be given to the best overall environmental health solution, the safety and productivity of the workforce undertaking the works, and the resources available to Cadent Gas and their contractors.
I am aware that Officers have agreed with Cadent Gas that the steel main running between the Otter roundabout and the junction with Brox Road will be replaced in its entirety along with all the individual gas services to each premises. Discussions are ongoing as to whether this gas mains replacement work can be extended further south to the bridge over the River Bourne to connect to the new plastic pipe already laid from there, south to the McLaren Roundabout.
The first section of mains replacement which Cadent Gas have already confirmed (to junction with Brox Road) should be completed by April. If works are to be extended further south to the River Bourne it is currently anticipated that works would extend to June.
In the meantime Surrey Officers have been working with Cadent Gas and their Traffic Management Suppliers to refine the traffic management arrangements with a view to allowing 2-way traffic between the current two A320 closure points which would allow residents (only) to leave the closed section of the A320 to the north, via Brox Road, until such times as works progress beyond Brox Road. This change should be implemented shortly. Further consideration will also be given to re-opening the section of A320 between the Otter Roundabout and Chaworth Road to 2 way traffic, at the earliest opportunity, once that section of gas main has been replaced.
Please be assured that Surrey Officers are very experienced in dealing with a variety of works along this section of the A320 and, throughout these works, have used that experience to guide Cadent Gas as to the most suitable Traffic Management arrangements, but regrettably the Traffic Management Suppliers for Cadent Gas require time to design, manufacture and deploy complex Traffic Management solutions.
Surrey Officers will continue to work closely with Cadent Gas to ensure that all necessary works are completed as swiftly as possible, whilst endeavouring to minimise the disruption to residents and motorists that these essential works may create. I would like to thank you for raising your concerns with me and for allowing me to address them.
Follow up Jim Nicol....
Dear Ms Killian,
Thank you for your email of 11th February.
As a reminder, I raised three points earlier and, if I may, I will try to relate your response to each.
At the outset , I explained that I was not concerned with the emergency work that was required to stop the leak and render the area safe for residents. I believe that was carried out promptly and well within 24hrs. Any traffic control during that period was accepted as a safety measure.
Neither was I nor am I concerned in this email with the on-going decision and traffic control measures related to pro-active gas main replacement (although my third point may touch on that).
I hope I made that clear.
It is only during the six days of chaos which followed the emergency work that I was addressing. The extent of the chaos has NEVER been experienced in this area before. Nothing like it – traffic backed up for miles in all directions – even causing holdups as far back (two miles) as the M25 as traffic tried to leave at J11. As the Highways Authority I would expect SCC to be more than ‘apologetic’ and to take all measures available to ensure this never happens again – especially as this type of restriction to flow on the A320 is now almost routine.
So for avoidance of doubt, we define the short-term work to be the emergency work required to stop the gas leak. Longer-term work began after that initial 24hrs.
Point 1: We expect the authority responsible to accept the blame
This was really a rhetorical question. SCC as the highways authority granted licence to the Statutory Undertakers (on this occasion, Cadent) to carry out the works. We see no case for SCC to blame Cadent who may well have been incompetent but SCC should have been in total control of traffic management within 24hrs.. There is no cause for the entire district to be gridlocked for six days due to ‘the absence of signage’. You quite rightly point out that SCC Officers already knew what measures were necessary but the delay in implementation for SIX days caused thousands of road users unprecedented delays. This also created considerable health and safety risk to the blue-light services with passage to one of Surrey’s major hospitals and ambulance stations in the midst of the mess. Lives were certainly at risk if not lost – perhaps SCC should check with St Peters Hospital on what issues were created by the grid lock?
Surrey County Council was to blame
Point 2: We expect to know what steps are now in place to eliminate a repeat of the fiasco at any time in the future (We refer to the UNNECESSARY 6-day chaos after the leak was stopped).
Your response admits that SCC knew what was required after the emergency gas leak was stopped. So, why did this common sense not prevail? Your response offered NO reassurance that exactly the same chaos would not occur should the A320 become suddenly reduced to one lane flow in the future. In fact, your 4th paragraph confirms that SCC will NOT take ANY steps in advance to mitigate delays and chaos. This is irresponsible and shows lack of care. We expect better of any highways authority. If you would like suggestions on what steps we would like our Highways Authority to take, please ask for assistance. For example, SCC should stipulate NOW that any works promoter likely to be involved in work on the A320 should prepare, in advance, all the signage required to implement a diversion such has now been utilised many times. How can that not make sense? Failing that, SCC themselves should take that responsibility directly and without any delay.
In your response you mention that two-way portable signals solely at the works site itself would swiftly create complete blocking of the Otter roundabout. This system has been implemented before (as I am sure your officers are aware) and it did NOT cause the enormous chaos with miles of tailback we endured during the recent ‘six days of hell’.
Point3: We expect to hear that further repair/replacement work is to be carried out on a 7x24hr basis if that is what nearby residents agree
Whilst reaffirming the 24hr choice of working should be made through consultation with the directly affected residents, we note you mention that under current legislation SCC cannot insist that 24hr working takes place. Could you please explain which Act of Parliament causes this situation? We would like to refer this to our new MP. You also imply that 24hr working may be dependent on the ‘resources available to Cadent Gas and their contractors’. Once again I suggest that Cadent are incompetent at providing what is required to minimise the interruptions and delay that thousands of A320 and adjacent road users experienced recently. A bad choice. Plenty of contractors work safely on motorways overnight.
In closing, I think it is right we hold SCC responsible for the ‘six days of hell’; we expect SCC to act proactively to ensure this six-day gridlock never happens again; and the SCC works with central government to fight for right to insist on work 24hrs working on critical projects such as this.
We can also offer SCC a chance to liaise better with the significant residents groups within the Ottershaw area (such as OWAIRA) to improve on what appears to be lack of interest in the local community’s thoughts, ideas and wellbeing in respect of A320 issues and not least our thoughts on proposed ‘improvements’ to the A320 corridor. We invite yourself and cabinet member for Highways to meet us in near future to work constructively to resolve these matters.