Parliament Logo



Gordon Henderson brands Sheppey Crossing decision "a scandal"

28th January 2015
Gordon Henderson brands Sheppey Crossing decision "a scandal"

Local MP Gordon Henderson has branded as “a scandal” news that the Highways Agency did not adopt recommendations made in its own Road Safety Audit and ignored the safety advice of Kent Police when design and construction of the Sheppey Crossing took place.

This latter claim was made in an email sent by a retired police officer, Richard Denyer, who contacted Mr Henderson following a radio interview the MP made in which he called for a review of safety on the bridge following the huge pile up in 2013 and the tragic accident last year in which a mother and son were killed in an accident.

Mr Denyer, who was the Kent Police Traffic Management Officer for the Swale Area during the period when the Sheppey Crossing was being built, alleged he had weekly meetings with the Highways Agency during which he raised his concerns regarding the safety of the bridge.

For instance, he raised concerns about the lack of a refuge should a motor vehicle breakdown on the bridge.

He said: “There was not any places of safety for stranded motorists. No place for stranded motorists and nowhere to walk off the bridge and summon assistance.”

Mr Denver expressed concerns also about visibility on the bridge, maintaining that a motorist travelling over the brow of the bridge from Sheppey towards Iwade who was confronted by a stationary vehicle would have a maximum of 150 metres in which to react by taking avoiding action or stopping. This, he explained, did not take into account the likelihood of other vehicles already being stationary behind the broken down vehicle.

Mr Denyer alleged in his email that right up until the 11th hour prior to the opening of the bridge he requested the following safety features:-
1) Low level fluorescent strip lighting along the inside of the concrete parapet.
2) A safe walkway for stranded motorists to get off the bridge.
3) Emergency telephones at regular intervals on the bridge.
4) Matrix signs on the approach to the bridge from either side to warn of fog and other dangers.
5) Gates at either end of the bridge, similar to the gates that protect motorway slip roads, which could be closed in an emergency.

Mr Denyer alleged also that in the month leading up to the bridge’s opening Highways Agency staff admitted he was right and conceded that the bridge had serious safety shortcomings, however, they told Mr Denyer that construction was seriously over budget and there was no money left to make any of the changes he had requested.

Mr Denyer’s allegations were backed up by information sent to Mr Henderson by Minster Parish Council, which had been obtained under the Freedom Of Information Act.

The Road Safety Audit (RSA) Stage 2 report made to the Highways Agency by Mott MacDonald in 2005 expressed concern about the design of the bridge because the 6% gradient (the preferred gradient for such bridges is 4%) would compromise the stopping sight distance (SSD). With regards the south side of the bridge the audit report claims: “Additionally, the gradient north of chainage 1237.297 is 6%, which is greater than recommended for all dual carriageways. This gradient, combined with the comparatively tight horizontal radius, and reduced stopping sight distances, may result, for example, in a higher than expected rate of nose to tail type collisions.”

Mott MacDonald recommended the following: “Review the horizontal and vertical geometry in this area, and maximise available stopping sight distance wherever possible. Provide super elevation appropriate for the horizontal alignment.”

The Highways Agency rejected that recommendation on the following grounds: “Changes of this nature would require additional land within the environmentally sensitive marshes and substantially increase the cost of construction. Consequently, a departure has been approved for the bridge alignment.”

The RSA also backed up Mr Denyer’s call for better signage to replace the “flap type warning signs” proposed by the Highways Agency to warn of high winds. It said: “…the new high level bridge over the Swale could be subject to road safety problems due to high winds, icing, fog and mist. The proposed high winds signing will provide advice for drivers when the winds are excessive, but no measures to warn drivers of the other conditions are proposed.”

Mott MacDonald recommended the following two actions:
1) “Provide a remotely operated variable message sign system that will convey to all road users the risks caused by bad weather on the high level bridge and its approaches.”
2) Undertake a risk assessment to determine the likelihood of localised freezing and instigate appropriate mitigation measures.”

The Highways Agency rejected the first recommendation, on the following grounds: “Consultations have taken place with Kent County Council and the police and it has been agreed that flap type warning signs will be used to advise of high winds.”

They rejected the second recommendation on the grounds that: “The area has a low frost index and given the steep longitudinal gradient and crossfalls on the bridge there will be no opportunity for standing water to collect. Consequently this will mitigate against this being a high risk site. A design risk assessment will be completed to record the assessment of the risks for the formation of snow and ice.”

Mr Henderson said:
“So, despite having been warned about the risk of fog and mist on the bridge, no steps were taken by the Highways agency to provide suitable matrix signs to warn motorists of a potential hazard ahead. I think that is a scandal.”

Mr Henderson went on to point out that the RSA was even more explicit about visibility problems on the Island side of the bridge. The audit report says: “The vertical geometry at the crest restricts forward visibility. Desirable minimum stopping sight distance over the crest on the high level bridge is not achieved and consequently drivers will have restricted visibility of the road and traffic conditions ahead. The nature of this route and the steep gradients of the bridge are likely to result in high vehicular speeds and drivers will consequently need maximum visibility to ensure that they can adequately react to incidents on the road ahead.”

The report goes on to recommend: “Maximise the stopping sight distance.”

Once again the Highways Agency rejected that recommendation on the following grounds: “The horizontal and vertical geometry has been reviewed however there is little opportunity to increase the stopping sight distance without significant amendments to the bridge. To maximise the stopping distance the alignment or bridge width would have to be changed. Changes of this nature would require additional land within the environmentally sensitive marshes and substantially increase the cost of construction. Consequently a departure has been approved for the bridge alignment.”

Mr Henderson added:
“These documents make clear that the Highways Agency was warned about the safety risks presented by the design of the bridge and it is clear also that doing something to introduce the recommended safety measures was rejected on the grounds of cost.

“Frankly, I think it is a scandal also that a government department should ignore the advice of the police and its own Road Safety Audit on such an important issue in order to save money.

“I think whoever took the decision to put money before safety has a number of serious questions to answer and I want to see the reasons for that decision investigated.

“Last week I met with the Roads Minister, the Rt Hon John Hayes MP, and he has agreed to undertake an urgent review into how the design and construction of the Sheppey Crossing was conducted. Mr Hayes promised also to undertake an immediate review of what steps are needed to make the bridge safe.

“I am delighted with the minister’s promise because right now I am less interested in recriminations against those who so badly messed up the design and construction of the bridge than I am in seeing put in place as soon as possible some of the safety measures that we have been calling for since the multi car pile-up in 2013.”

You are viewing the text version of this site.

To view the full version please install the Adobe Flash Player and ensure your web browser has JavaScript enabled.

Need help? check the requirements page.

Get Flash Player