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Exeter crane company in spat with villagers

Monday, July 26th, 2021 4:05pm

By Daniel Mumby, local democracy reporter

Creech St Michael residents upset

Residents of a small Somerset village and an Exeter crane company are facing off as a legal battle heats up.

South West Crane Hire Ltd operates one of its depots on the former Creech Paper Mill site in the village of Creech St Michael near Taunton.

The company, which is registered in the St Thomas area of Exeter, is currently fighting a planning appeal following Somerset West and Taunton Council’s decision not to grant it retrospective planning permission for the site in December 2020.

As the Planning Inspectorate gathers evidence for the inquiry, members of the Mill Lane Residents Group have published videos online purporting to show the cranes’ close proximity to their homes.

South West Crane Hire has responded that its vehicles operated in a safe, courteous manner and it had taken steps since 2019 to address residents’ concerns.

What do the videos show?

A number of videos capturing the cranes’ movements have been posted to the Mill Lane Residents’ official website since mid-2019.

The videos, captured from a Nest camera fixed near the entrance to Mill Lane, show numerous large crane vehicles coming out of the Mill Lane estate very close to the residential properties on either side of the road.

Some of the videos show vehicles moving in the early hours of the morning, though most take place during daytime hours.

What did the residents say?

The Mill Lane Residents Group described the crane company’s vehicles as “totally inappropriate” given the limited size of Mill Lane and the cross proximity of the properties.

A spokesman said: “We understand the industrial heritage of Mill Lane and we see some similar vehicles – however these are nothing compared to the monsters we see from this company. They started operating 24/7 with no respect for any of the residents.

“The cranes make massive amounts of noise first thing in the morning, with flashing lights as well. In some cases it feels like an aeroplane is passing our houses.

“In other cases the cranes have to drop a few gears to get up the hill – all while passing within inches of people’s windows. This is just not
acceptable at times such as 3am.”

The residents questioned how much research the company had done before choosing the Mill Lane site – and said the road was not suitable for this type or volume of traffic.

A spokesman said: “Surely a company operating these kind of vehicles should do some sort of risk assessment before purchasing any land to see if it’s suitable?

“This land certainly isn’t suitable. Highways England and an independent traffic management company have now put enough evidence together to prove what a danger these cranes can be to other road users and pedestrians.

“We have no pedestrian infrastructure on Mill Lane despite it being a residential area – therefore, people walk out directly in front of these cranes.

“The way these cranes drive up and down our road is totally unacceptable, they drive over residential property at totally inappropriate speeds for such a vehicle; the damage is very evident.

“They have absolutely no regard for the mental well-being or health and safety of the residents. These cranes travel within literally inches of properties that have stood for hundreds of years.

“We must also take into account that we now have a school in Mill Lane and these cranes pass within inches of it.”

How has the company responded?

South West Crane Hire said it was not normal for it to operate outside daylight hours, and that the size of its vehicles was acceptable given the historic uses for the site.

A spokesman said: “When we moved into the site at Creech Mills, we replaced a company that had operated articulated waste water tankers and gulley suckers from the site for just over ten years.

“The majority of their vehicles were all around operating weights of 44 tons. They were also under contract for Highways England and South West Water for emergency cover and so operated 24/7.

“The majority of our movements happen between 6:30am and 7:00pm – it is not the norm or usual for us to be operating much outside of these hours.”

The company said it had put a new policy in place in late-2019 following residents’ feedback, which reduced vehicle speed and banned flashing lights.

It also argued that other companies had operated from the same site without objections by statutory authorities being raised.

A spokesman said: “We are not the first crane hire company to be on the estate; a competitor of ours have been operating from the  estate for at least five years more than ourselves.

“Highways England have assessed the area on behalf of the council and in fact raised no issues, with the size of our machines using the lane or the surrounding road infrastructure.

“The lack of pedestrian infrastructure on the lane has been the same for the last 80-plus years some of these residents are claiming to have lived there, so surely it has always been a problem?”

The company also argued the school’s role was “rather irrelevant” since its pupils did not typically walk or run near the crane site.

Their spokesman added: “The school does not have children coming and going by foot or even allowed outside of its premises.

“The pupils have to be delivered by vehicle and collected by vehicle as they are not allowed free movement outside of the school grounds.”

What happens next?

The Planning Inspectorate has confirmed the appeal will be held through written representations, rather than through a virtual public inquiry.

Anyone wishing to make a formal representation to the inspector should visit www.acp.planninginspectorate.gov.uk, quoting appeal reference number 3274593.
 

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