If singer-song writer John Denver had penned his hit record Take Me Home, Country Roads about Cornish roads, I wonder how the lyrics would have gone? AA President Edmund King OBE has described parts of the Duchy as a jungle...
This week Laurence Reed considers the dangers for motorists posed by overgrown hedges PICTURES: PAUL WILLIAMS
14th July 2021
If singer-song writer John Denver had penned his hit record Take Me Home, Country Roads about Cornish roads, I wonder how the lyrics would have gone?
AA President Edmund King OBE has described parts of the Duchy as a jungle. He told me: “Most drivers will immediately complain about potholes and road surfaces first. It’s their number one concern because they damage their cars.
“Our major concern is the hidden issue of broader road maintenance. Because we had a very wet spring, we are getting dozens of reports across the South West that vegetation has grown out of control.”
Mr King says some local authorities, including Cornwall, are using the environmental escapes the growing of wildflowers and helping nesting birds etc across the country.
There was a push for a ‘nomow May’, to benefit wildlife. While that might be fine in your back garden, he tried it in his and it grew more than two foot high.
“When you’re on a back road in Cornwall and approaching a bend, and warning signs are obscured and you cannot see anything because of vegetation, then that is a serious and dangerous problem,” he says.
“It’s incredibly important that signs and lines are kept clear, and that white lines in particular are re-painted, especially after a heavy spell of rain, as they wear out.”
Indeed, the Automobile Association, formed in the early 1900s, carried out a recent national survey that showed 40 per cent of drivers thought speed limit and warning signs were being blocked by overgrown foliage, and the same percentage complained that lines at junctions were a major problem because of long grass.
Even the Department of Transport accepted that hidden signs and sight lines had contributed to more than a thousand casualties nationally, including three fatalities.
“Highways authorities may think reducing the number of times a hedge or tree is trimmed throughout the year is an easy cost-saving measure, but cutbacks can have consequences,” says Mr King.
Let’s meet three Cornish drivers, two teenagers and a bus driver who has been behind the wheel of his 45ft bus for more than 30 years.
Jonathan Keam drives all over Britain but tells me some of the worst roads are here in Cornwall: “They are extremely bad.”
He has had a long-running battle with Cornwall Council over the school run between Lostwithiel and Fowey and the overgrown hedges at Lanlivery Cross. He says the white lines by the roadside are non-existent, meaning he is forced to drive past the central white lines or risk his mirrors being ripped off the vehicle.
“We’re not talking about a quiet country lane, but the main A390.” Mr Kent says it is very unsafe, rather like the Ladock Valley which is also overgrown.
Last year, coach drivers had major disputes with the council, declaring it unsafe for schoolchildren to be driven on until clearance work was carried out. Mr Kent feels the road is getting dangerous once again, and questions how the road maintenance budget is being spent.
“The road at the end of Probus is littered with potholes, filled with temporary repairs.” The road surface he likens to driving over large chunks of sandpaper.
“It’s just really bad. I just don’t know where their money is going maybe too many traffic lights and not enough resources on making the roads safer.”
Builder James, 21, owns a van. He drives on a lot on Cornwall’s rural roads, which he says “very rarely get a look-in,” and it can be extremely dangerous and “a nightmare” pulling out of junctions with a big vehicle. He’s particularly worried about parts of St Day and Chacewater, and the back lanes around Trispen.
“They can be pretty dangerous. With more and more cars on the roads as the summer season increases, there are accidents just waiting to happen.”
Kingsley, 19, is learning to ride a 125cc scooter and says driving to work using quiet country lanes can be really frightening, with a potentially a lethal combination of overgrown hedges and cars being driven too fast.
He says the Bissoe road towards Falmouth is overgrown, and the added problem of potholes needs to be addressed urgently. “As a biker, I dread hitting a pothole as I know what the consequences could be.” When the Tories took control at County Hall recently, councillor Philip Desmonde was promoted to the position of cabinet member for Transport.
Mr Desmonde, from Tehidy, says he has two key objectives: making sure there is good connectivity across the county, and improving quality of life, for example by making sure streets are safe, with more 20mph zones and reduce carbon emissions.
He says he is particularly concerned about the safety of verges, especially along cycle and school routes, with cyclists and pedestrians being whiplashed by extending brambles and branches, which could force them on the road and into the path of an oncoming vehicles.
“The need for the verges to be properly maintained for pedestrians and cyclists is absolutely vital,” he added. “The current policy is only about verges being trimmed where they impact upon a driver’s perspective is ridiculous. I’m not happy about that - we need to take account of all users of the highway.”
While he concedes that we do have an environmental responsibility to ecology and the culture and heritage of our hedgerows, including diverse species of plants and animals, there is good news for the motorist, cyclists and pedestrians, as cllr Desmonde says under his watch, judicious hedge trimming will be increased.
New to his post, this experienced councillor is poised to meet senior council officials to determine his exact budget for this year, and how to rebalance it if need be or ask for more money.
“The way we spend our transport money will be far more carefully looked at, and if we need more, we will ask for it!”
Do you know a road or junction or roundabout that is so overgrown in Cornwall you consider it to be dangerous? Are you scared every time you have to pull out of a junction onto a busy main road? Are there potholes resembling craters made by Scud missiles that you have to weave around?
Do you think Cornwall Council could be doing more with its roads budget? Send me some of the offending pictures and I’ll forward them onto Cornwall Council. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. uk or follow me on Twitter @laurencereed