Parish Council and Dorset Council Reflect On This Month’s Melbury Abbas Jams

Shaftesbury-area drivers using the C13 have faced significant disruption over recent weeks. Large vehicles have blocked the road through Melbury Abbas, just months after work to address lorry jams was completed.

Alfred put the Parish Council Chairman’s concerns to the Dorset Council Manager responsible for new traffic control measures in the village.

“The resurfacing work carried out in Iwerne Minster on the A350 has entailed a daytime closure from 9am to 6pm. That has created a lot more traffic through Melbury Abbas,” said Dorset Council Project Manager Andrew Brown.

“The official diversion was along the A357 to Henstridge and onto the A30, but a lot of traffic took the shorter route through Melbury Abbas towards Shaftesbury or Blandford. Hopefully, that will be resolved when the road closure finishes,” said Andrew Brown.

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illagers suggest a weight limit to prevent HGV’s from jamming the narrow road through Melbury Abbas. The current, voluntary advisory route recommends the C13 for southbound lorries and the A350 as the northward route. When the A350 is shut, vehicle volumes along Dinah’s Hollow and the C13 spike.

“We’ve been monitoring the traffic flows as part of the project, over the last 18 months. We’ve put in some permanent traffic counting sites, so we can see what’s going on in real-time,” said Andrew.

Melbury Abbas Council Chairman William Kenealy says the constricted C13 road isn’t suitable for its current level of use. He wants the HGV routing suggestion scrapped so that lorries will stick to the ‘A’ road. He says that the C13 through Melbury Abbas is at 80% capacity. The adjacent A350 is under 50%.

“That comes from a report commissioned by the old Dorset County Council in 2011. Directing more traffic of any kind onto a road that’s nearing capacity is like painting a drawing of a six-pack onto a beer belly,” said William.

Andrew says his team doesn’t recognise that capacity data. “They are not terms we’ve ever worked with. It’s true to say that there is more traffic through Melbury Abbas and on the C13 than on the A350. About double the amount. It’s in the region of 6,500 vehicles per day on the C13 and about 3,500 on the A350. That varies from whether you’re at the north end or the southern end.”

The C13 was closed to through traffic between January and May as Dorset Council introduced measures that they hoped would address the issue of lorries becoming stuck in Melbury Abbas. Road sensors will detect an oncoming large vehicle and an electronic sign warns approaching traffic and instructs northbound HGV drivers to pull into a newly designated waiting bay.

But last week, two vehicles became wedged together following a failed attempt to pass. One of the pair was lifted out of position with specialist equipment. Andrew says the new warning sign, just before the lay-by, hasn’t been switched on. “Without that sign, we haven’t got the warning for people to hang back when there’s an HGV coming in the other direction.” Andrew accepts that the sign should have been installed during the winter works. “We’ve been let down by a supplier.”

William isn’t convinced the sign will help. “It’s going to be around a blind corner, so if large vehicles do stop, they’ll be blocking the road and that will make matters worse,” said William.

Andrew says a second electronic display will offer route guidance along the A350. “The sign on the Blandford bypass was meant to be put in place a few months ago. It’s being delivered but we want to avoid the time when the Steam Fair is taking place.” Andrew hopes the sign will go up on 9th September.

William doesn’t want these route advisory signs used at all. “The signage gives the appearance that a voluntary system is mandatory. Our stance has been that this can’t work, it won’t work, and it was a reckless decision in 2017,” he said.

Last week, when the A350 was shut and the C13 was blocked by wedged vehicles, an electronic sign on the A350 Christy’s Lane in Shaftesbury was still advising HGVs to head through Melbury Abbas. William says this increased congestion. “This whole thing was predicated on the fact that they would be able to change the sign as conditions changed. Apparently is not possible or doesn’t work,” said William.

“I can’t comment on the sign, but perhaps we could have reacted quicker to ensure that people travel in the right direction or don’t go through Melbury Abbas when it’s closed, ” said Andrew. He confirmed that staff in Dorchester can remotely change the message displayed to drivers, but he says his team rely on the information.

Last week, Facebook users shared images of an ambulance stuck in a C13 jam. Andrew wants the emergency services to tell his team about issues. “We are reliant on the Ambulance Service and Dorset Police to inform us of what’s going on.” Andrew says he will make contact with them.

William argues that 999 services shared their views, and opposition, to the advisory HGV routing when it was first suggested. He says these jams waste police resources. “It’s very disturbing. The police came down four days in-a-row and used up to 30 hours in my estimate, clearing the road. You would think the police would also have contacted Highways. This needs to be addressed before a house burns down in Shaftesbury or someone has a heart attack in Shaftesbury when the ambulance doesn’t get there because it’s stuck in Melbury Abbas.”

Andrew says once the new electronic signs are in place, this C13 scheme is finished. “Essentially it will be the completion of the £2.4 million works spent on this Blandford to Shaftesbury corridor, which includes previous surfacing work, gateway signing and the technology used in Melbury Abbas, Shaftesbury and the Blandford bypass.”

Dorset Council is continuing discussions with neighbouring counties about a ‘long-term solution’,” says Andrew. It’s unclear whether that means a bypass, road improvements or an entirely different approach for managing traffic between Poole and the M4.

William’s Parish Council had issued legal challenges to the former Dorset County Council but he’s not approached the new Dorchester-based authority, yet. “I intend to do that, especially after this recent past week, where it’s been shown to be completely unfeasible. It’s caused a lot of problems,” said William.

Back on social media, exasperated locals have suggested sit-down protests and attention-grabbing stunts. William doesn’t rule out further action. “Conscientious objection, if it brings in more awareness and gets the decision examined is a good thing.”

William doubts whether a by-pass will be built ‘in his lifetime’, but he offers two quick solutions. “Our preference is for weight restrictions. If that isn’t possible, or not feasible in the near future, just stop promoting this road as a lorry route,” he said.