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MPs hear there is no quick release from the hell that is HGVs-plus-sat-nav - but Mrs Perry finds a possible exit route

Westminster Hall debates can be rather like the letters page of our surviving local newspapers - only it's the turn of MPs to put their own and their constituents' grumps, grouses and ghastly experiences to a government minister.

They proceed with almost embarrassing politeness: "It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship...I congratulate [John Brown] on securing this debate.  He made an excellent speech...." - and so on.  They can also be the occasion for some simply terrible jokes.

These debates do however shed light on some of the quirkier corners of modern living that seldom feature in the national media - whether it is a badly maintained railway station, an unfair ticket price or - more pertinently for Marlborough - sat-navs and the traffic hell they can cause.

Just before Parliament rose for its Easter break, Craig Mackinlay (Conservative, South Thanet) won a Westminster Hall debate (March 22):  "I beg to move that this House has considered GPS satellite navigation and heavy goods vehicles."

If you think Marlborough is the only place on earth to be troubled with juggernauts taken down unsuitably narrow streets clipping historic houses as they go -then do read this debate.

In Marlborough the damage caused by huge articulated trucks trying to find a short cut to avoid the three minute wait at the Barn Street roundabout has been well documented.   We wait to see whether the experimental 'No Entry' into Silverless Street from Herd Street will be effective.  

But we will still have drivers going south urged by their sat-navs to turn off the A346, race along the southern edge of the common and sweep down Kingsbury Street onto the A4/High Street.

We know that sat-navs have cost council tax payers hundreds of thousands of pounds for all the 'Unsuitable for HGVs' signs that now dot the countryside.  But Mr Mackinlay is a bit of a geek about sat-navs.  He not only knows all about the 'GPS concept', but about the Russian GLONASS system and the European Galileo system.

The main speaker in these debates has to make way for other MPs with their local stories.  So Andrew Bingham (Conservative, High Peak) tells about New Smithy in his constituency which has a low bridge.  Despite the local council's signs, 'wagons' (as he calls them), directed by sat-navs ignorant of road widths and bridge heights, get stuck under it - "...and the costs of having to keep repairing the bridge are ridiculous."

Mr Mackinlay continues - assuring members as he goes that "I would never call myself a luddite, but consulting a good old-fashioned road map..."  He thinks one solution lies in the standard of the 'base maps' that sat-nav systems use.  He says the market leader is one called, rather neatly, HERE.

However, the real solution is to get HGV drivers to use HGV-compliant sat-navs - that might be beyond the powers of any non-luddite. So he falls back on "...a benchmark standard for sat-nav manufacturers and software providers to which they should be encouraged to adhere."  Pretty long odds available on that.

Despite the fact that she is the Minister for Railways - and trains do not, thank goodness, need sat-navs - Claire Perry MP is called on to reply to the debate.  She mentions the near-miss train accident when a truck turned off the A4 towards Little Bedwyn and knocked a bridge parapet onto the line below.  She also likes old-fashioned maps.

She has some almost bad news: "The Government still believe that the private sector remains best placed to develop new products and services, and the market - sensibly regulated - should determine whether those succeed."  I am not quite sure how the occupants of Dormy House on the corner of Silverless Strteet and Kingsbury Street, fit in to that market.

Then she has good news: later this year the Ordnance Survey will launch a digital road map that includes road widths, traffic calming measures, and height and weight restrictions.  This she believes will be 'open data' and should, repeat should, get into sat-navs' software.

But that word 'believes' is worrying.  George Osborne is reported to have his eye on the Ordnance Survey for privatisation.  If that happens, the odds would be stacked heavily against this new map - paid for by tax payers - remaining as 'open data' for more than a few hours.

Mrs Perry's colleague, James Cartlidge (Conservative, South Suffolk), who had found "...that signs do not always work with HGVs...", asked whether the government had powers to intervene with the sat-nav companies.

Mrs Perry consulted her map and thought this might be "...one of those slightly concerning paths down which to go...".  Although she would look to see whether it could be done, she did fear "...a sort of slightly dystopian world of lots of checks and balances, with organisations set up to do in-cab checks, and that is entirely what we do not want to deliver."  

Perhaps a few days sitting in Dormy House would change things - just a bit.   And to return briefly to Marlborough's air quality issues, think how simple it would be to 'de-prime' the A346 if all you had to do was to tell the sat-nav makers to send HGV's down another route!

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  • IMG 9097
  • IMG 8472
  • Marlborough-2013-04-18 St Peters
  • Silbury-Sunset---10-06-08-----07
  • Town-Hall-2011-05-03 08-