Highways agency ordered to pay costs over access advice

Full costs have been awarded against Highways England over its handling of a proposal for a filling station and other commercial facilities on the A3 in Surrey.

The proposal involved replacement of a vacant building off the three-lane dual carriageway with a filling station, convenience store and takeaway food outlet. The priority junction to the site also provided access to an existing drive-through coffee shop. The proposal would involve an estimated 2,116 daily trip rates on weekdays in addition to traffic visiting the coffee shop.

In 2014, the Highways Agency had accepted that the coffee shop could not be prevented, given a lawful use certificate for the site and historic use of the existing access. However, the inspector noted that a road safety audit at the time expressed concern about insufficient acceleration length for vehicles merging onto the busy A3. She concluded that the junction was already substandard, being the legacy of a historic access rather than one designed to meet modern standards, and posed a significant ongoing risk.

In refusing the proposal for its unacceptable effect on the safety of users of the A3, the inspector opined that Highways England had failed to apply its own top priority of safety on the strategic road network to the appeal proposal. Guidance in TD42/95 and CD122 of the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges make clear that priority junctions are unacceptable on three-lane dual carriageways, she remarked; furthermore, this section of the A3 was known to be experiencing a cluster of crashes.

In this light, the inspector considered that it should not have been difficult for Highways England to conclude that any additional traffic generated by the appeal proposal would be likely to result in an unacceptable increase in the risk of collisions on the A3. In her view, it should have been willing to say so to the appellants much earlier in the planning process, rather than suggesting minor changes to access and egress arrangements and asking them to undertake a road safety audit. Such studies were never going to address the fundamental problems of access to this site, she stated.

The inspector also noted that it was only during the appeal, and then late in the process, that Highways England had produced the compelling evidence that led to dismissal of the appeal. She found that the agency’s unreasonable behaviour had led to the appellants incurring unnecessary and wasted expense, as described in PPG, and a full award of costs was justified. 

Inspector: Sheila Holden; Hearing

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