North Wootton Parish Council Statement on Long Drove
30 July 2020
The following statement has been prepared to summarise North Wootton Parish Council’s (NWPC’s) position on the possible closure of Long Drove to vehicular traffic except for access. It has been endorsed by all NWPC members.
Additional factual background information and a record of our involvement since the original closure was put in place have also been included.
NWPC Position Statement
NWPC are opposed to the closure of Long Drove to vehicular traffic and have requested the relevant authorities to keep the road open.
Whilst we recognise the laudable objective of encouraging more cycling, we believe that motorists and cyclists can safely and pleasurably co-exist along Long Drove. In our view its closure will inconvenience the villagers of North Wootton and surrounding hamlets with few material benefits. In particular we remain unconvinced that closure will achieve its original objective of reducing congestion on the Glastonbury – Wells bus route.
Also, and perhaps more importantly, this is a deeply loved route in and out of the village to which villagers are emotionally attached. Our objections to its closure are more than just questions of inconvenience, increased journey times and more pollution. Villagers like Long Drove and wish to retain access to it; less mobile villagers would be completely unable to access this beautiful place if vehicles were banned.
We also wish to place on record our unease about the way this issue is being handled by the relevant authorities. Despite its impact on the village we were not consulted about the original closure before it took place. Our views appear now to being given less weight than those of an unelected single interest group from outside the village which is being encouraged and supported to provide a case for closure. This appears to us to be profoundly undemocratic.
Background to the Closure
Long Drove is a two plus mile long narrow, dead straight road with passing places across the open countryside of Queen’s Sedge Moor stretching from Barrow Lane in North Wootton to the A39 near Glastonbury. It offers distant views in all directions and the adjacent rhynes and farmland are home to much wildlife.
It is a delightful, completely rural and relatively quiet road with no material developments along its length and it is much loved by the residents of North Wootton and the surrounding hamlets.
The formal parish boundary between North Wootton and St Cuthbert Out Civil Parishes lies just to the south of the road carriageway which is in St Cuthbert Out, not North Wootton. However, because of its importance to the community, NWPC have always taken a keen interest in Long Drove, including liaising with Somerset County Council (SCC) Highways Department on its maintenance – which is challenging due to the high water table and poor bearing characteristics of the underlying ground.
Whilst alternative routes are available, Long Drove provides the shortest and quickest route from North Wootton and neighbouring hamlets to and from much of Glastonbury and in particular to the A39 Glastonbury bypass with its emergency medical facilities at the West Mendip Community Hospital and onward connections to Taunton and the M5. Google maps understates the extra time alternative routes typically take.
Cycling and walking are popular along the network of quiet rural lanes in the area and Long Drove itself forms part of the 328 mile long National Cycle Network Route 3 from Land’s End to Bristol. It is therefore well-used by the cycling community. Unlike in the adjacent lanes, the straightness of Long Drove and lack of roadside hedges makes visibility between vehicles, cyclists and walkers very good.
In mid June 2020 NWPC became aware that Long Drove had been closed except for cyclists and vehicles requiring access along the road. Initially it was assumed this was to allow road works – such closures are not unusual - but at about the same time reports appeared in the media referring to measures to increase cycling during the Covid-19 emergency, including the temporary closure of Long Drove.
Accordingly, on 19th June the chairman of NWPC contacted Mendip District Council (MDC) to find out more. This enquiry was passed between a number of officials in MDC and SCC before a substantive reply was provided on 23rd June by SCC confirming that the road had been closed at the suggestion of MDC as part of a scheme to support cycling during the Covid-19 emergency.
SCC’s email went on to say that they were not aware that NWPC had not been consulted about the closure and that if it was a measure that NWPC would not wish to support SCC would discuss the matter again with MDC with a view to lifting the road closure.
It subsequently emerged that an Emergency Closure Notice had been issued by SCC on 12th June from 15th June to 5th July at MDC’s request. It is understood that the principal purpose of the closure was to facilitate cycling between Wells and Glastonbury to relieve congestion on the Glastonbury – Wells bus route.
After consultation with other councillors, the chairman of NWPC restated their objections to the closure in an email on 24th June and SCC responded saying the matter would be further discussed.
On the 29th June the chairman of NWPC was contacted by email by an officer of MDC apologising for the lack of consultation about the closure, providing some additional information on the background to the closure decision and suggesting they discuss their respective positions by telephone.
This conversation took place on the 30th June after which all members of NWPC were briefed on its contents. Later the same day the chairman of NWPC emailed MDC restating their opposition to the closure and addressing some of the points raised in the earlier conversation.
On 2nd July MDC forwarded an email from SCC confirming that the closure was about to be lifted and they were not proceeding with an order extending the initial temporary closure for a further longer period.
Subsequently the chairman of NWPC has been contacted by a number of people from outside the village challenging the wisdom of the parish council’s decision making on the issue.
It has also become apparent that a campaign was underway to encourage the authorities to re-impose the closure. To the best of NWPC’s knowledge, this campaign is led and supported by people who will not be directly affected by the closure.
All the comments received have been shared with all NWPC members. They reviewed their decisions on the issue at a virtual meeting on 21st July when it was agreed to continue to oppose the closure of the road, but to offer to work with the authorities on improving signage along its route.
On the 27th July the chairman of NWPC had a further exchange of emails with MDC restating its position, formalising the offer to work jointly on better signage and questioning the extent to which MDC was lending support to the pressure group supporting closure of the road.
Contact is also being maintained with the chairman of St Cuthbert Out Parish Council. They have a meeting on 5th August at which the issue is on the agenda.
Further information on NWPC, including contact details for the Parish Clerk and the Chairman, is available on the NWPC website at:www.northwoottonparishcouncil.org.uk