MAJOR safety improvements at a notorious New Forest junction look set to begin this autumn after the verderers gave the go-ahead for a land-swap.
Work at Ipley crossroads, which has been the scene of two fatal accidents in recent years, can begin once an area of grassland is returned to grazing at Wilverley Cross.
The realignment of a section of the road near Beaulieu will be undertaken by Hampshire County Council with warnings that road closures are to be expected.
The local highways authority, HCC revealed details of the work at a meeting of the Verderers Court in June, when it was claimed that drivers, especially local people who regularly used the C97 road, were continuing to ignore recently installed ‘stop’ signs, and driving straight over the crossroads without slowing down.
Under the plans, HCC will construct a staggered junction by creating a new section of road on the approach to the C97, joining Beaulieu Road at 90 degrees around 50m south of the current junction.
As a result, vehicles travelling east or west on the C97 would be forced to slow down to join Beaulieu Road.
The report from HCC solicitor Michael Renouf, concluded: “A high number of serious collisions at Ipley Crossroads and unsuccessful attempts to improve road safety at the junction have resulted in the need to change the layout.”
The meeting point of the C63 Beaulieu Road and the C97 at Ipley crossroads has become a major New Forest accident hotspot with two fatalities and 11 serious-injury accidents reported between January 2011 and August 2019.
It is predicted that without improvement work, the number of accidents will continue to escalate.
Mr Renouf explained: “It can be hard to spot cyclists close to the junction due to the open layout of the junction which allows decisions about transversing it to be made early, and due to the lack of visibility of smaller road users whose presence can be obscured by a vehicle’s windscreen pillar.”
There have been many attempts to improve safety at the junction dating back almost 30 years, which include additional road signs, rumble strips and stop signs.
Before settling on the proposed junction alterations, HCC considered a number of alternatives including visibility screens, mini-roundabouts, traffic lights, chicanes and traffic islands, road bumps and a double staggered crossroads. However, these were deemed unsuitable due to their ‘urbanising’ impact on the Forest and the damage they would cause to sensitive areas.
HCC pointed out that slowing traffic would also benefit livestock in the area.
Its report concluded: “The proposed scheme minimises impact on the Forest and would cause the least disruption to traffic.”
As part of the plans, an area of Forestry England land of 663 square metres would be required to create the new 102m access road, although by returning the old section of road to grazing, the Forest would gain back 591 square metres.
To make up the shortfall of 72 square metres of grazing land, HCC has offered to remove one side of a triangular junction at Wilverley Cross, near Sway.
The net gain in grazing land for the Forest for both projects would therefore be 771 square metres. HCC said it would use this as a ‘land bank’ to offset any loss of Forest for highways improvements in the future.
It is anticipated the scheme will take two to three weeks to complete and that the western arm of the C97 will remain shut for the duration. Temporary traffic lights will be used on the C63 Beaulieu Road as and when necessary.
Subject to receiving planning consents, HCC hopes to begin work at Wilverley Cross next month with the Ipley crossroads improvements being undertaken after that.
Confirming the verderers’ decision to support the project, Official Verderer Lord Manners said: “There have been a high number of serious collisions at Ipley crossroads, and attempts to improve road safety at the junction have been unsuccessful. This has resulted in the need to change the layout.
“Given the need to improve road safety, the verderers have given their consent to the proposals at Ipley crossroads.