There is certainly a head of steam building up for HGVs to be banned from Ludford Bridge. Ludford parish council wants an HGV ban. And 91% of the 200 people who voted in my online poll support a ban on HGVs.
I am naturally inclined to support a ban to protect this Grade I listed bridge. But we need to examine the impact of any restriction on local businesses, buses and traffic elsewhere in the town before making a decision. I have asked for a special meeting of the In and Out of Ludlow forum to discuss the issue.
How often is the bridge damaged?
Ludford Bridge is certainly capable of taking heavy loads – up to 50 tonnes. It is the length of the vehicles and bad driving that has caused problems. The current damage was the result of a tarmac truck crossing the bridge from Ludford and driving onto Lower Broad Street. Finding no through route to Tesco, the truck reversed and hit the bridge parapet before driving off. A weight limit on the bridge would have prevented this incident and the long closure that has resulted.
There have been only two other incidents since 2003 where the bridge has required repairs after vehicle damage, according to information supplied to Ludford parish council. The two repairs in 2007 and 2008 cost a total of £2,044.
In the winter of 2011, damage to the bridge was extensive. The bridge was closed for three months and the repairs cost £111,000. This damage was primarily caused by severe weather. Plans were drawn up to ban HGVs when the bridge reopened in 2011 but Shropshire Council would not allocate the £130,000 funding required for the signs.
What alternative routes are there?
HGV traffic to and from the south of Ludlow would need to be diverted via Henley Road. This would require vehicles negotiating the Weeping Cross junction and the Co-op bend. The Weeping Cross junction with Sheet Road is already dangerous. Additional HGV traffic will only increase the risk of an accident at both junctions.
An alternative route could be via the Bull Ring but this would mean more heavy traffic through the historic town centre.
Whichever route is taken, vehicles would need to travel along Gravel Hill, where parking makes it difficult for large vehicles to pass. Parking could be restricted. That would be welcomed by people who want to drive through town unimpeded but any restrictions are unlikely to be popular with residents.
Of greatest concern to me is the prospect of extra HGVs negotiating the One Stop junction at East Hamlet. This junction is already considered to be dangerous for pedestrians. I would not wish to divert a single extra heavy vehicle to this junction.
Sheet Road is unsuitable as a formal diversion route due to the low rail bridge (4 metres, 13’ 3”). Even if it is not a formal route, HGV traffic is likely to use Sheet Road anyway. We might anticipate more frequent snarl ups under the bridge. And again, use of Sheet Road will put extra pressure on the Weeping Cross junction.
Alternatives to diversions
New signage would help.
Suggestions have been made in the press that a sign should be erected on the north side of the bridge to warn large vehicles not to enter Lower Broad Street. I am not keen on cluttering the historic landscape of Ludlow with road signs, particularly as to be effective any sign will need to be large. But this is an option we should consider.
We have already asked to highways officers to consider erecting a sign on the Overton Road, warning large vehicles they must turn right after crossing Ludford Bridge. This “satnav error” sign could prevent incidents like the most recent. But it will depend on drivers reading signs and not just blindly following the computerised voice in the cab.
Satnav of course should be an intelligent system. The technology should divert drivers of large vehicles around hazards. But we know that inadequate information and unintelligent driving leads to HGVs taking impractical, even impossible, routes to their destinations.
A debate in parliament considered this issue last month. I wrote to our MP, Philip Dunne, asking him to lobby for improved satnav routes for HGVs that take account of historic structures and townscapes. Philip has written to the transport minister highlighting the damage to bridges in Ludlow and Clun over recent years.
I don’t think we can impose a ban on HGVs without considering how diverted HGV traffic affects the rest of the town. In any event, Shropshire Council’s labyrinthym procedures mean that a case for changes will need to be made by Ludford and Ludlow councils. If that case is accepted by Shropshire Council, the scheme is unlikely to be implemented in under two years. So it is worth spending a bit of time getting this right.
The first step should be a special meeting of the In and Out of Ludlow forum. We should re-examine the case made in 2011 for a restriction. We should listen carefully to local businesses, including McConnel’s and Homecare. And we should have special regard to the unique heritage of this town.
. Should HGVs be banned from Ludford Bridge? 200 votes. 91% yes; 9% no; 1% don’t know.
. There is another satnav error in Ludlow. Blind obedience to the dashboard computer has led to delivery vehicles to Tesco and Aldi turning on the back lane between Station Drive and Stone House. This unadopted lane is of course a cul de sac. Do you know of any other satnav problems in and around Ludlow, please let me know.