The problem with building sites

This article was published in 2014, in Newsletter 112.

There are several building sites down Hills Road on my commute to work. I’m wondering if others have the same issues I’ve noticed with them. For example, a large lorry reversing onto the site at 8.40am, holding up all the traffic in both directions (except pedestrians on the opposite pavement) for several minutes while the lorry inched its way in. All done very safely with several banksmen, but still holding up a major artery for some time at one of the busiest times of the day. There have also been cases of vehicles parked in the cycle lane, or blocking the rest of the carriageway too, so you really could not get a bus through there.

I appreciate contractors need to get onto site, and deliveries need to be made. However, do they need to be made in the rush hour on a busy cycle/car/bus route?

‘Considerate Contractors?’

One of the sites which offends by periodically blocking the cycle lane, and which has some very interesting signs on the pavement, is allegedly a member of the ‘Considerate Contractors Scheme’, so I thought I’d find out a bit more.

From the Cambridge City Council website, I get some rather anodyne text, but it does include:

All activities are to be carried out with due consideration for residents, workers, pedestrians, visitors, neighbouring occupiers, businesses and highway users at times and in a manner that will minimise disturbance. Special attention is to be shown to the needs of those who have difficulties with sight, hearing or mobility, those in wheelchairs, or pushing prams and pushchairs.

So I thought I’d have a look at the scheme’s own website. There is a very glossy 20-page overview brochure. However, within this, I found the following:

Respecting the Community
Constructors should give utmost consideration to their impact on neighbours and the public. Minimising the impact of deliveries, parking and work on the public highway.
Cyclists passing lorry blocking cycle lane by bus stop.
Image as described adjacent

I would say blocking a cycle lane on a busy route where there is also heavy motor traffic at 8.45am does not conform to that. It may well be impossible for that scaffolding lorry physically to get onto the site. I would have no beef with the occasional delivery outside the peak time as the risks are lower and those inconvenienced are far fewer. There is a good section on the scheme’s website under the heading ‘examples of good practice’ about minimising the impact of deliveries, parking and work on the public highway, but nothing about time of day, which I feel is a critical omission, as an obstruction at a less busy time is in my opinion far less serious if having to work in that way is unavoidable.

Woman having to stand in the road to request that the bus stops.
Image as described adjacent

However, from my research it appears that there are no transgressions of the conditions included in the planning permission, nor any actual contravention of the Considerate Contractors Scheme. However, I feel that some actions are not entirely within the spirit of the aims of the scheme, which are written too vaguely to be much help with specific examples.

Planning conditions with teeth?

I’d like our local councils to show more teeth in this. When I looked at the planning application for one of these schemes, it said the following, under the heading ‘recommended conditions’:

Except with the prior agreement of the local planning authority in writing, there should be no collection or deliveries to the site during the demolition and construction stages outside the hours of 0700 hrs and 1900 hrs on Monday Saturday and there should be no collections or deliveries on Sundays or Bank and public holidays.
The bus is now pulling in but cannot stop at the stop. It picked up the passenger at about where I was standing to take the photos.
Image as described adjacent

This clearly is to prevent those living nearby from being disturbed by excessive noise, which is fair enough. However, I feel the council should also have considered the safety of road users, especially vulnerable road users. All other comments from Highways or the Cycling Officer seem concerned with the development once complete, not the effect on road users while the site is under development. I’d like to see planning officers considering the highway during construction works and applying conditions, based on the busy-ness and number of vulnerable road users in that area, which limit the times of day when deliveries which will either hold up the traffic or block part of the road can take place. I cannot see why a condition cannot be made that excludes deliveries between 8 and 9am and 3.30 and 5.30pm, for example. If contractors cannot agree to that, then I cannot call them considerate.

Gathering evidence of the problems

As a stop-gap measure, and to try to gather evidence to persuade the relevant authorities that this is a simple but essential safety condition that should also have the effect of reducing congestion and bus delays, I have set up a citywide issue on Cyclescape entitled ‘building sites’, My idea is that if you have comments to make on a building site in your area and its effect on cycling, or indeed pedestrian safety, you start a thread dedicated to that site. If you have had cause to make a formal complaint, then it is worth posting any correspondence, tips and hints there too, so we can start to build up a picture of what problems members have had with building sites causing danger and disruption on the public highway. Once we have a dossier, we can present this to the council to try to get them to see that putting conditions as to hours of deliveries would be of benefit to the general public, not just to Campaign members.

Heather Coleman