Cash aid for death junction

A HUNTINGDON-SHIRE landowner is offering hundreds of thousands of pounds of his own money to improve a dangerous junction on the A1. Edmund Thornhill, whose family has owned most of the parish of Diddington, south of Buckden, for nearly 300 years hates t

A HUNTINGDONSHIRE landowner is offering hundreds of thousands of pounds of his own money to improve a dangerous junction on the A1.

Edmund Thornhill, whose family has owned most of the parish of Diddington, south of Buckden, for nearly 300 years "hates" the dangerous junction between the trunk road and the village.

Drivers' fear of death or serious injury this week led to the disappearance of one of the 40-property hamlet's few community facilities, its pre-school playgroup.

The Bluebell Nursery School re-opened in the South Cambridgeshire village of Eltisley on Monday, after parents of the 24 toddlers attending, fearful for their lives at the only road access to the village, forced owner Lola Jones to look for new premises.

This was the last straw for Mr Thornhill, who has been pressing the Highways Agency for years to improve the junction, on the brow of a hill between Buckden and Little Paxton.

Two years ago a Hemingford Grey motorcyclist died at the junction after colliding with a right-turning car as he rode southwards.

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The elderly car driver, who lives in Diddington, was seriously hurt and now lives with grave disabilities as a consequence.

Evidence at the inquest was that the accident was caused by speed - the car was travelling too slowly and the motorcycle too fast.

Mr Thornhill would not disclose exactly how much money he has offered to pay for this first phase of the junction improvement. "But, in principle I've put a six-figure sum on the table," he told The Hunts Post.

Mr Thornhill, who wants the money spent on providing a deceleration lane for southbound traffic entering the village, which has a population of around 120, explained: "I hate that turn. My wife hates it.

"Everyone hates it. It's just horrific. So I have a huge motivation just in selfish terms.

"But there are altruistic reasons as well, for the sake of all those who come into the village. Many of them are my tenants. Getting people into the village safely is the right thing to do for it to be sustainable as a community.

"The safety of the villagers and their children, who use this junction on a daily basis, is of paramount importance, but the safety of everyone passing this junction matters also. The A1 is a fast road and people expect it to be laid out safely. The last thing anyone expects is traffic slowing down to 20mph on a main dual carriageway.

"It is sad that I am too late for the nursery, but for the long term survival of this village, we must do whatever it takes to improve the junction. There must be no more near misses, accidents and deaths at this junction."

A Highways Agency spokesman confirmed that the approach had been received and that a meeting had been arranged with Mr Thornhill.

"It's very unusual, and we can't comment on whether we could accept the money," she said.

"The agency is aware of local concerns. The accident rate at this junction is below the national average for a junction of this type. In 2004 the agency commissioned a study into the junction, which identified various options for upgrading the junction. However, because of limited budgets and higher priority schemes across the region, the cost of the improvement work was not justifiable."

Mr Thornhill's family, originally from Yorkshire, where other branches of it still own land, bought Diddington in 1719, when the Great North Road (now the A1) was barely more than a track for post-chaises and other carriages. Thornhill Estates Limited still owns the whole of the village except the old Rectory, as well as property across the river in the Offords and in Boxworth.

"Diddington is the estate I love most," Mr Thornhill said. "I have known it all my life. I spend much of the week here and the family spends weekends here."

Huntingdonshire District Councillor Richard Bailey lives in and works from one of the estate's 39 properties. He said this week: "A good rural business, which at its height had 24 children each day coming from many miles around, has slowly declined as the stress of turning in and out of the village onto the A1 has forced more and more parents and staff to think again and look for alternatives.

"The Diddington junction is notoriously difficult and has been the site of a number of accidents and fatalities over recent years. With no deceleration lane, drivers have to turn sharply and directly off the A1 carriageway with traffic bearing down on them at high speed. With no acceleration lane either, rejoining the A1 to go north or south can be just as perilous."

Nursery owner Mrs Jones added: "Diddington village has been a wonderful place for our business over the past seven years. It is quiet, safe, and always well supported. We have all loved the estate setting and are very sad to leave. This should be the perfect location for a business like ours.

"Sadly, however, since the tragic accident on the junction in 2004, enquiries have tailed off and parents have become increasingly concerned about the dangers. Staff have also been hard to recruit and retain due to the risks of the junction. We have had to move for the sake of the business and before parents voted with their feet.

"I know that Mr Thornhill is working exceptionally hard with the Highways Agency to press for urgent improvements to the junction and, for the sake of everyone in the village, I hope he is successful.