Why you’re stuck in traffic...

Hemel's Magic Roundabout for Hemel vs Swindon feature'dt'04/03/10
Hemel's Magic Roundabout for Hemel vs Swindon feature'dt'04/03/10

ANYONE who has attempted to drive in or out of Hemel Hempstead during the rush hour will have found themselves gripping the wheel in frustration at some point.

It will come as no surprise to those fuming in stationary traffic that the town has been identified as one of the most congested in Herts.

Each year 583,714 vehicle journeys take place in Dacorum, more than anywhere else in the county, and figures show during the rush hour it takes on average 2mins 46secs to cover just a mile.

With the Maylands Business Park home to 400 firms and 16,500 employees, this kind of congestion is going to have economic implications. It has been calculated that clogged roads in the key towns of west Herts cost business £80 million a year, and this is predicted to more than double to £170 million over the next decade.

The problem becomes clear when you learn that 86 per cent of journeys to Maylands are by car and just five per cent by public transport, compared with Herts-wide public transport usage of 14 per cent.

Steve Holmes, cabinet chief for planning and regeneration at Dacorum Borough Council, puts his finger on it when he says: “There aren’t enough buses round here and they don’t go to the right places.

“The problem I find is bus companies themselves. They are interested in making money but they are not interested in loss-making routes. They are constantly moving routes around. It’s astonishing how many routes change on a monthly basis.

“It doesn’t help our residents to suddenly find when they get to a bus stop that it’s gone.”

Even though more than a quarter of people working at Maylands live within 5km of the park, just two per cent walk to work, while one survey found no-one used a bike.

This is the challenge faced by transport planners in Hemel Hempstead – hills and a valley that make walking and cycling difficult, a lack of public transport connections between the railway station, town centre and business park, and an ingrained culture of car use at Maylands.

The cost is not just financial. Environmentalists point to the three areas of Dacorum recently designated air pollution hotspots – Lawn Lane, London Road in Apsley and Northchurch High Street.

In 2008 traffic in the borough produced 232,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases, while road transport was responsible for more than a quarter of the county’s total CO2 emissions of 1.7 million tonnes.

Dennis Harvey, of Dacorum Environmental Forum’s transport group, says: “Any environmental forum would like to see people walking, cycling or using public transport, rather than using a private car, but personal comfort, safety and convenience appear to be more important to the individual than helping the natural environment.”

DEF claims there is a fundamental problem with the planning system that means while the borough council is responsible for new homes, it has little control over job creation or transport links, and things will only get worse with the thousands of extra houses due to be built.

In fact it is County Hall bosses who are in charge of transport, and they are spending £2 million on public transport improvements and making it easier to walk and cycle in Hemel Hempstead, Watford and St Albans.

This work will be expanded if a bid for a further £10 million is successful.

Mr Holmes points to plans for a cycle network in Hemel Hempstead using the Nicky Line and the electric car charging point at the Maylands Business Centre.

He said: “There’s plenty of sustainable transport going on. I would like to see as much of that as possible because that reduces congestion.

“We have to put housing in to support the jobs. If you can walk to work, that’s great, if you can cycle, even better, but if you are a little bit further away we have to provide the public transport.”

However, more road building is also on the horizon and plans for a northern relief road – driving a new highway along Green Lane, Three Cherry Trees Lane, through Woodhall Farm and Grovehill to the Leighton Buzzard Road – are still on the table.

“Hemel is not served by a lot of roads going into it and most of that goes through the Magic Roundabout,” Mr Holmes said.

“We have perhaps one of the biggest towns in the county without a ring road. Fifty years from now should we have a ring road?”