Safety work set to start

ROAD safety improvements are to be made to the A1 near Buckden in record time - because the Government is not paying. For decades the 120 people living in the 39 homes in the hamlet of Diddington have taken their lives in their hands every time they enter

ROAD safety improvements are to be made to the A1 near Buckden in record time - because the Government is not paying.

For decades the 120 people living in the 39 homes in the hamlet of Diddington have taken their lives in their hands every time they enter or leave the village. And the perils have multiplied as the A1 has become steadily busier.

They can either make a perilous left-turn from the southbound carriageway as huge lorries bear down on them from behind or risk the heart-in-the-mouth right-turn off the northbound carriageway.

Late last year, landowner Edmund Thornhill, 38, whose family has owned most of the parish of Diddington since 1719, decided he and his tenants had had enough.

In spite of the danger, the accident record - one death, one serious injury and one slight injury between 2003 and 2006 - was not bad enough to justify the Highways Agency spending public money on improving the junction.

"All right," said Mr Thornhill, "what if I pay?"

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Sure enough, less than 10 months later, work is set to start on September 3 on installing a £200,000 deceleration lane on the southbound carriageway for traffic turning left into the village.

"I'm absolutely thrilled by the way the Highways Agency has come to the table and by the way they have worked on it," he told The Hunts Post. "They and their contractors are really nice people and they have been really helpful," he said. "I have enjoyed working with them, but I'm amazed at how much work is involved.

"Freed from the bureaucracy that surrounds much of what they do, they have shown just how efficient and cost effective they and their contractors can be. I have learned a huge amount from this project and I hope to work with them again soon to improve other aspects of this junction."

With trunk road improvements normally taking 10 years, rather than 10 months, to plan and get fundingr, his praise is understandable.

When the plans were last discussed in October, the village had just lost its nursery school because of parents' safety fears every time they drove in Diddington or out of it.

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

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

The new deceleration lane, which is expected to take four weeks to build, should prevent any repetition of such an accident.

"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," he said when he first suggested footing the bill.

"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."

Mr Thornhill's family, originally from Yorkshire, where other branches of it still own land, bought Diddington 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.

Huntingdonshire District Councillor Richard Bailey lives in and works from one of the estate's 39 properties. He said: "Safety will be improved for all users of this stretch of road, and the work of the Highways Agency in bringing this project to fruition is to be commended. Mr Thornhill's undertaking is generous, far-sighted and incredibly public-spirited."

The work will involve some lane closures and diversions.

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