The planning application for the new road that will serve the Watford Health Campus site and significantly improve access to and from Watford Hospital was approved in December 2013.
This marked a major step forward for the Watford Health Campus and was welcomed by the scheme’s partners, particularly West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the hospital. Commenting at the time Samantha Jones, Chief Executive of the Trust, said: “We are very pleased that the planning application has been approved. The new road will greatly improve access to the hospital for people living in Watford, as well as those from St Albans, Hemel Hempstead and further afield.”
Whilst the plans have been approved and nothing has changed in terms of what was agreed last December, questions have arisen over recent weeks about the road – in particular its purpose and who will be able to use it.
To answer these questions, and make sure that people have the right information about the road and how it will be used, the Watford Health Campus team has put together this short update.
If you have any further questions on this or anything related to Watford Health Campus, please contact: Kathryn Robson on firstname.lastname@example.org
Q. Will the new road be open to all motorists?
A. Absolutely. This is a public road that will provide access to Watford Hospital and the Watford Health Campus overall – including the new homes and businesses that are planned for the site. No one will be fined for using it provided they follow the rules of the road (as is the case with any public highway
Q. Have there been any changes to the plans for the road?
A. No, not in terms of the principle of the road and its primary purpose. In fact, plans for a road to improve the access to Watford Hospital from the M1, through the south of the town, have been in place for a long time. Plans for the road were approved as part of the earlier planning application from 2007, although initial plans for the road were discussed even earlier than this. Whilst the current plans have improved the route of the road, reducing its impact on Oxhey Park (a concern to many residents), the basic principles for its design and use have not changed. The road approved as part of the 2007 application had restricted turns and proposed the use of ANPR cameras just the same as the current proposals.
The road is, and always has been, primarily intended to serve Watford Hospital. It will significantly improve the time taken for emergency vehicles to get to and from the hospital and will also reduce hospital related traffic on the surrounding roads. In particular Vicarage Road and the Hornets gyratory will benefit from fewer vehicles using them to get to the hospital.
Whilst some people remember discussions about a ‘west Watford relief road’, this road has never been intended as a by-pass. The relief road proposal was rejected as far back as 1998 because of the impact such a road would have on current roads in west Watford and the increase in commuter traffic from outside of the area it would encourage.
Additionally, the Croxley Rail Link will offer a way for peoplet to get in and out of the west side of the town more easily – thus reducing the number of vehicles on the local road network.
Q. So the road isn’t a cut through to and from west Watford?
A. No – and for good reason. As outlined above, the main case for building the road is to improve access to Watford Hospital, particularly from the M1 and for A&E (accident and emergency) traffic. This is why a major part of its cost is being met by the Department of Health, which has contributed £7million towards its £18.5million cost – the remainder is being paid for by the Watford Health Campus scheme itself. Whilst it might seem straightforward to open it up as a relief or through road, it isn’t that simple.
• a through road would undoubtedly generate lots more traffic – particularly commuter traffic. The design of the road that has been approved would not be able to cope with this additional volume. The design team would have to go back to the drawing board and look to build a much bigger, wider and noisier road – not forgetting that this busier road would be running through a local park and right through the hospital site
• whilst some areas might experience less traffic problems, other parts of Watford would become heavily congested. It would increase ‘rat-running’ down roads in Oxhey for traffic bound for the Lower High Street and the M1. Roads in west Watford such as Willow Lane and Hagden Lane would have increased traffic levels due to being at the end of a major through road. They are not designed to cope with such traffic. People in roads close to the Hornets gyratory, who have been promised relief from hospital traffic, would find this replaced by motorway-bound traffic
Q. Even if vehicles aren’t able to run right through to west Watford couldn’t the road be accessed by turning left from Wiggenhall Road or right from the Deacons Hill direction?
A. This possibility was looked at carefully to see what capacity there was not just on the new road but on the current roads and junctions in the area to take the extra traffic and the additional waiting times that would be needed at junctions to allow traffic to join and exit the road in this area.
Any turn onto the road at this point will slow traffic down along Wiggenhall Road and Deacons Hill causing additional tailbacks and backing up of traffic on local roads. Importantly, allowing additional traffic to join the road would make it necessary to slow hospital traffic down and would remove much of the benefit of providing better and faster access.
Q. How can you know about the impact of increased traffic and delays at junctions?
A. Hertfordshire County Council Highways, which is responsible for the road network in the town, can ‘model’ future road usage to see what impact changes to the road network would have on traffic volume and congestion. It was traffic modelling that clearly showed a relief road in west Watford would cause major traffic issues on surrounding roads in the area, which is why it was dropped as a proposition.
An up to date modelling exercise was undertaken last year when the plans for the road were being drawn up by specialist traffic engineers to help inform their decisions and recommendations. Hertfordshire County Council Highways is undertaking a further modelling exercise this year to confirm its current understanding of the road network in west Watford. They have also indicated that when they undertake this further modelling, they would include model traffic using the left turn from Wiggenhall Road.
Q. So it seems that even if different proposals were put forward that allowed for a west Watford relief road or for the additional ‘left’ or ‘right’ hand turns, they would not be approved?
A. Hertfordshire County Council Highways has indicated that it would not support a relief road or the additional ‘left’ or ‘right’ hand turns at the intersection of the new road with Wiggenhall Road.
Q. Will people be fined for using the road?
A. No – there is no intention to introduce fines for people who use the road to visit the hospital or to get to and from the homes, businesses or community facilities on the Watford Health Campus. However, it is important that the road does not become a ‘rat run’, which would significantly slow down the speed of emergency vehicles, and so the Watford Health Campus team is looking at ways to avoid this.
The road cannot be blocked off at the hospital end because this would stop vehicles exiting the hospital site through Willow Lane. Other ways to prevent vehicles using this part of the road as a cut through are being looked at. One option being considered is what is known as Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR). This works in a similar way to the cameras that pick up cars not displaying road tax discs but other options are also being looked at.
The message is – if you are using the road as intended there is absolutely nothing to worry about.
Q So won’t there ever be any changes to the roads in the area?
A. Hertfordshire County Council Highways regularly look at ways to improve the road network in the county and in future, they may decide to review the roads around the Watford Health Campus and consider whether things could be done differently. Any changes to the road network in the area are informed by the South West Hertfordshire Transport Plans and work is currently underway on a Watford Growth and Transport Plan, which will also suppor decisions about roads within the borough.