Guest blogger William Kenealy from Melbury Abbas updates us on the battle against HGV traffic through this ancient Dorset village.
When Dorset Council installed electronic signs advising southbound HGVs to pass through Melbury Abbas in 2016, local residents were concerned. Their village lies within the Cranbourne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) on a narrow winding road with a steep gradient. It is totally unsuitable for HGVs and the Council’s action has resulted in damage to vehicles and property.
The villagers have given up thousands of hours to this campaign. It has been a lot of work, pamphleteering and waving banners and placards. We’ve also had a handful of savvy residents monitoring local and national press, recording videos and using social media. You have to have enthusiasm and most importantly you have to believe that what you are doing is right. The fifteen volunteers driving this campaign have become a close-knit team. Another twenty or thirty people have helped in smaller ways.
Our efforts in courting the media have paid off. Images of juggernauts jammed up against thatched cottage walls went viral online and featured on TV and in tabloid coverage. This exposure led to offers of assistance coming in from all over the country. We have had lots of people contact us from other villages with similar problems. It seems this is a problem that is going on across rural England. It points to a lack of strategic planning by local and national government.
In April, the Parish Council took their campaign to a new level when they launched an online appeal to fund a judicial review. Having tried must other ways to persuade the Council to see sense and failed, it was the natural next step. It also gave the people that supported us on social media a chance to get more involved, even though they didn’t live in the village. We had support from all over the country.
The Parish Council wanted a judge to determine whether Dorset Council reached the decision to implement this traffic management in a fair way. Over £7,200 was offered by supporters online, but the Parish Council had to withdraw its challenge after the threat of large legal bills loomed. The county council has deeper pockets and they ran up a legal bill that was over twice the amount that we had raised. We were seeking ‘cost protection’ which would have protected us from being liable for the county council’s costs if we had lost but this was rejected by the court. So we had to take a tough decision to walk away at this point in order to live to fight another day. We still have the option of taking legal action in the future if we can build a strong case.
Some locals want a weight restriction through the village. All agree that the signs routing southbound lorries through Melbury Abbas should be removed. Professional lorry drivers who know the village avoid the route, but those unfamiliar with the area are the ones who are encouraged to drive along an unsuitable road with tight bends and a 1:6 hill.
There is hope that there’ll be a chance for new dialogue and fresh thinking when the new Dorset Unitary Council replaces the current county and district authorities next year. There needs to be a strategic review which doesn’t just stop at the edge of the Dorset or Wiltshire border.
One thing we’ve learned is that you need to go down the legal route, you need to have a sufficient war chest so you can take the risk and not be bullied by somebody that can outspend you. Dorset County Council has agreed to absorb its legal costs connected to Melbury Abbas’ proposed judicial review, but for us that is not the end of the matter.
Residents have spent thousands of pounds and invested endless hours on their cause. They haven’t achieved their end goal yet, but are convinced their actions have made a difference. We have raised an awareness of the problem that did not exist before.