25th Anniversary Celebrations of the opening of the Bypass.
Saturday 19 December 2009 Redbourn Village Hall.
The Redbourn By-Pass Campaign: a Note Prepared for the Celebration of the
25th Anniversary of the Opening of the Redbourn By-Pass, 19 December 2009
| Cllr Chris Oxley, Mayor of St Albans, Martin Howe,
Peter Fox, Vivienne Windle, Chair Parish Council
| Martin Howe, Vivienne Windle, Chair Parish Council,
Cllr Chris Oxley, Mayor of St Albans
| Back Row: Martin Howe, Peter Fox
Front Row: The Rosens
| Now why did we keep winning raffle prizes?
Anyone who was living in Redbourn 30 years ago can remember the hideous volume of traffic that thundered along the High Street, the then A5 trunk road, and the consequent noise, air pollution and danger to pedestrians and road users alike. The fight for a by-pass to alleviate the problem had begun many years before. It was only after much work by many people in the village, much frustration and many disappointments, and, it has to be said, some disagreements within the community that the Redbourn by-pass was finally opened on 29 October 1984.
The Herts CC’s first response to Redbourn’s traffic problem was a proposal to widen the High Street, requiring demolition of many properties. Naturally, this proposal was strongly opposed. One response to the County Council’s proposal was the formation in 1965 of the Redbourn Association, a residents’ association one of the prime objectives of which was the promotion of the case for a Redbourn by-pass. The Association aimed to support and supplement, not supplant, the efforts of the Parish Council to this end. In its Redbourn Appraisal of October 1966, the Herts CC accepted that a by-pass was the logical solution but could see no prospect of building one before the 1980s. In the meantime it suggested widening Lamb Lane and the roads linking to the B487 through the Common with the aim of eventual pedestrianisation of the High Street. These proposals received little support and, absent any other action, traffic volumes and the attendant hazards continued to increase.
Pressure for a by-pass was intensified after a horrific accident on Good Friday in 1971 in which four people were killed, three from one Redbourn family, when a car leaving The Bull car park was in collision with an oncoming vehicle. The Redbourn Association secured 1,900 signatures on a petition calling for a by-pass that was presented to the House of Commons on 24 May that year. This had no immediate effect. However in 1974, after further representations, with the Parish Council now taking an increasingly active role, and another fatal accident in the High Street, the Herts CC included a project for what came to be called the North-South by-pass in the trunk road building programme for 1977-79. A public consultation on possible routes was scheduled for the autumn of 1974. But the consultation never took place. Public expenditure cuts at a time of economic crisis led to the removal of a Redbourn by-pass from the road building programme.
There was yet another fatal accident in 1975 when a lorry smashed through a shop window (where P&C are now located) and killed Paul, a popular hairdresser, and injured a number of customers. This tragedy added further momentum and passion to the by-pass campaign. While the Parish Council and Redbourn Association continued to press the case for a by-pass in conventional ways, some residents took more direct forms of action, notably stopping traffic by continually using the pedestrian crossings, placarding and generally giving vocal vent to their anger. Protest was fuelled by the coincidence of other decisions adversely affecting the quality of life in Redbourn such as the closure of the Secondary School, the construction of a toxic waste disposal plant in the disused quarry at Redbournbury and the increasing blight of air traffic noise. In 1977 the further postponement of a Redbourn by-pass was announced, prompting a group of residents to form the Pro By-Pass and Anti- Toxic Waste Plant Campaign with its By-Pass Action Committee (hereon, the Action Group). The Action Group explained that it had “decided that now is the time for us as a whole village to take a stand against bureaucracy and the only way left open to us is to take positive disruptive action by all means open to us within the context of the law….We are not a group of trouble seeking anarchists but law abiding citizens who care about those who live in and around and pass through Redbourn…” Demonstrations of various kinds including more traffic disruptions, public meetings and petitions were organised. Meetings were sought with the Secretary of State for the Environment but did not materialise. And he approved the toxic waste disposal plant after two public enquiries.
It has to be said that, despite their common objective (and some overlapping membership), the Redbourn Association and the Action Group did not always see eye to eye, and not just on tactics. A major disagreement arose when the Department of Transport announced in early 1978 that it proposed to de-trunk the A5 when responsibility for any investment would pass to the Herts CC. The Action Group and the Parish Council objected to this proposal on the ground that the Department’s funds for road building far outweighed those available to the County Council. The Redbourn Association, on the other hand, welcomed the proposal. The Department had never agreed to the by-pass, even when Herts CC had included it in its own programme, and it was most unlikely that the Redbourn project would satisfy the cost-benefit criteria used by the Department in appraising the many competing road projects. Moreover, there was more chance of influencing local councillors than Whitehall officials about the environmental case for the by-pass. In the event the A5 was de-trunked and re-labelled the A5183.
In the light of this decision, the Redbourn Association re-doubled its own efforts and in May 1978 its By-Pass Committee, drawing on the services of various technical experts, produced a detailed and authoritative report on the village’s traffic problems. Redbourn – the Case for a By-Pass used a wealth of data, diagrams and photographs to back up the argument for both a North-South and an East-West by-pass. As well as the objective facts, the report detailed the deleterious effect of heavy traffic on the community. In short, “Redbourn’s attraction is its village character and village life. As traffic erodes its character, so it destroys its life.” The report, which was endorsed by Victor Goodhew the local MP, was delivered to other MPs, councillors and officials, the Press and other relevant parties. It provided the basis for the Association’s active programme of lobbying at County Hall.
These efforts bore fruit and a North-South by-pass was included as one of the reserve projects in the county’s road building programme and approved by the Department of Transport in December 1978. The Highways Committee of the Herts CC declared that the justification for a by-pass at Redbourn was established “on grounds of traffic, safety and environment.” The scheduled starting date was 1983. The Council then began the process of public consultation on the perceived need for a by-pass and on alternative routes. Although the campaign had initially focused on a North-South by-pass, as the campaign developed it came to include an East-West arm, even though the case for that extension of the project was accepted to be much weaker. However, a group of residents in Chequer Lane strongly objected to the East-West arm and in March1979 styled themselves the Society for the Preservation of Rural Redbourn in order to fight their case. One member even stood for election to the Parish Council on a platform of opposition to the East-West arm of the by-pass. Their opposition gave rise to some lively reports in the local newspapers.
With the public consultation process looming, there was danger of divisions within the village weakening the case, not least if there were calls for a public enquiry. An important development was the coming together of the various parties in favour of the by-pass and the co-ordination of their efforts under the chairmanship of a parish councillor. The result was the formation in January 1979 of a small By-Pass Committee representative of the Parish Council, the Redbourn Association and the Action Group with the purpose inter alia of pre-empting any public enquiry and developing close relations with council officials and in particular those who would be working up possible routes for a by-pass, a development that was welcomed by County Council officials. The Committee worked well and amicably, previous differences being set aside as the ultimate goal seemed to be in sight. It helped to organise the questionnaire and exhibition that formed part of the consultation. About 900 questionnaires were returned with 90% in favour of a by-pass and the vast majority both a North-South and East-West by-pass. 1,500 people attended the exhibition of alternative routes. All seemed set fair.
But well-publicised objections to the East-West arm of the by-pass proposal, mainly but not exclusively from the Society for the Preservation of Rural Redbourn (in effect, residents of Chequer Lane ), continued. Then in October 1981 came the bombshell, the announcement - without warning or consultation - that the whole of the Redbourn by-pass project had been removed from the County Council’s road building programme. Victor Goodhew commented that “it appears that the anti by-pass campaign has been the fly in the ointment. Their activities have ensured that an enquiry must be held, and that it could be long-drawn out because of their opposition.” He urged the village to unite and work to get the by-pass scheme re-instated. The members of the By-Pass Committee redoubled their efforts to this end. The Redbourn Association produced in November 1981 an update of its 1978 report which concluded “Redbourn does not accept that the case for a by-pass is any less strong than in May 1978, when the Redbourn Association submitted its report The Case for a By-Pass.” The Association mounted a further round of lobbying. The Committee organised more publicity, zebra crossing protests – as many as 300 people taking part on one occasion – and interviews. There was effective coverage of the campaign in the local and national Press and, on occasions, on television.
The public enquiry was held in February 1982. The By-Pass Committee prepared its case fully and professionally and its efforts were rewarded. The Inspector accepted unreservedly the need for both the North-South and East-West arms of the by-pass and recommended a route that met with the approval of the great majority of residents. The Redbourn by-pass was then reinstated in the County Council’s road building programme as a priority project.
The necessary preliminaries such as compulsory purchase of land and compensation to those who would be adversely affected by the project were expeditiously completed. Construction commenced in the summer of 1983 and was completed in time for the official opening on 29 October 1984 by Mr F J Cogan, Chairman of the Herts CC and Mr H Greenfield, Chairman of the Highways Department of the Herts CC. After a blessing of the by-pass from the Rev John Pedlar and the ceremonial cutting of the tape, the dignitaries retired for a reception in the Village Hall. As for residents, they had had the opportunity of a Fun Run along the course of the by-pass on the preceding day, and on 4 November the High Street was closed for a grand day long Street Party.
The by-pass may have obliterated the attractive Harpenden Hill and some ancient hedgerows, bisected Chequer Lane and virtually eliminated any remaining traces of the Nicky Line but it soon blended into the landscape. Traffic volumes in the High Street, goods traffic in particular, were reduced and the infamous “rat runs” using Blackhorse Lane and Crouch Hall Lane to get to Hemel Hempstead were eliminated.
Posters for the Street Party declared “Peace Returns to our Village.” This was optimistic. The inexorable growth of car ownership and usage mean that the problems of congestion and safety in the High Street have returned. These require new solutions. It also has to be admitted that the by-pass has not been an unmixed blessing for shops and businesses in the High Street, though other factors are the root cause of their difficulties. What can confidently be said is that without the successful by-pass campaign, and the immense amount of work put into the campaign by a large number of committed Redbourn people, the problems that residents now encounter in using the High Street would be immeasurably worse.
Many people contributed to the by-pass campaign. It may be invidious to name just a few but among the prominent figures in the campaign in the key period of 1977-82 were (in alphabetical order):
Redbourn Parish Council
: Terry Biggs, Peter Fox, Denis Robinson, Larry Walls
Bob Burden, Martin Howe, David Scott, Andy Sinfield, John Spreull, Graham Tillyer, Geoff Turner, Brian Webb
Colin Hucklesby, Diane Hucklesby, Brian Minter, Pat Rosen, Philip Rosen,
Objectors to the East-West arm
(Society for the Preservation of Rural Redbourn):
A R Bullock, D Heard, Col Pocock, Brian Scott, L Waters
Anyone with comments, amendments or corrections to this note should contact Martin Howe at 792074 or martin.howe(at)tiscali.co.uk replace (at) with @