When my family and I moved to Heybridge in December 2013, we really enjoyed living in the Maldon area with all the activities, walks, restaurants and other great things to do and see, but we do have a big concern, a blight on an otherwise great move for us. Although Maldon is portrayed as a safe town, it looks like that may no longer be the case. After hearing the terrible news that a young child was killed when trying to cross the busy A414 road, and a young girl was attacked under the bridge of the A414 underpass earlier this year, I seriously think there is a big problem with the bridge area that is being ignored by Maldon Council.

map of heybridge a414 underpass flyover

Location of the A414 Underpass shown on a map

This underpass is the pedestrian gateway from the big housing estates down Heybridge Approach and Holloway Road areas, residents use the underpass to head to Tesco and up Market Hill and into Maldon, and children use it in vast numbers when heading to and from Plume School. As a parent to four kids, I worry whenever my kids walk to school or they are coming home from seeing their friends when it’s getting dark (and even when it’s light). These days it’s not cool for kids to be seen with their parents walking them home!!

Muggers paradise?

Muggers paradise?

The biggest immediate problem is the lack of any working lights on the underpass, which is plunged into darkness for long periods of the day, these lights have been out of action for at least a year!! And the underpass is also pretty grim in daylight. And for those wary of heading into what looks like muggers paradise?

The alternative to walking under this dank depressing area is to scramble up a slippery, muddy bank and cross the busy A414 full of lorries and traffic driving at fast speed. The road has no pedestrian crossing or any safe means of getting across.  2 years after the death of Ryan Fleming, the council did approve some safety work on the road – they constructed a series of ‘refuge islands’ but that half measure doesn’t stop someone getting killed or make the cars drive slower.

Back in 2012 when a man had his wallet stolen under this dangerous underpass, the police seargent said, “The advice I would give is be mindful of walking in unlit areas at night”, so why are Maldon Council making us walk in an unlit area?

After waiting for months for someone to at least fix the lights with no luck, i decided to take ownership of the problem myself.

First call was to a man called David at Maldon District Council about my concerns and he told me to email the Lighting department at Essex Highways and to contact our Parish Council and/or our local MP John Whittingdale.

a414 heybridge underpass

If you dont fancy risking the dark unlit underpass, you can try your luck here.

I have now sent the following email to the lighting dept. We will see how they respond and I will update this page with any replies I receive.

“Dear Sir/Madam

Ref:- Mill Lane and underpass.

Since moving into Roman Close in December 2013, we have been concerned about the Mill Lane footpath that runs under the A414 and onto Fullbridge. This Lane is used by residents walking and cycling from Heybridge to Maldon and back. They are faced with the choice of walking under the underpass or climbing up a grass bank and crossing the busy A414 main road. As a Mother of four, I am not happy with my teenagers walking alone along this area when it’s dark.

The road is used by many children daily walking to school and coming home, as well as after school playing out, and the underpass is dangerous, as is the road option.

The underpass is very dark and is hidden behind trees and bushes, so that at any time walking under here can be a frightening experience as nobody is around and the 2 lights on the underpass have never been working since we moved here (almost a full year).

This area was also recently the scene of an attack, where a man raped a young girl (http://www.essexchronicle.co.uk/Man-custody-alleged-rape-Heybridge/story-21218077-detail/story.html). This leaves the only option left, to climb the steep grass bank and take your chances crossing the busy A414 which many children choose to do anyway as they see it as a quicker route up to Market Hill. The A414 gets very busy and was the area where a child was killed recently by a speeding car (http://www.gazette-news.co.uk/news/9601306.Men_jailed_for_killing_eight_year_old_Ryan/).

I think it is a disgrace that the only means of lighting under the underpass has been non functioning for almost a year and that there are no real satisfactory other options to cross this road safely for both adults and children.

I would ask if you can look into this matter as I feel that it needs a solution before another incident occurs at either the road or the underpass. I think either a bridge over the road, a pelican crossing, along with stairs to replace the grass bank to safely get up to the road, or a means to make the underpass less imposing with more lighting, CCTV cameras and possibly cutting back the trees and bushes so that the area is not so hidden and remote.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and any possible action you plan to take on this matter.”

Update 5/12/2014 – So 9 days after sending out the emails the response has been…very underwhelming. Apart from an email from John  Whittingdale’s secretary, asking me for my address, as he likes to respond in writing, I’ve heard nothing. So, I decided to pick up the phone and have called the highway department at the Council and the Parish Council.

First call was to the lighting team. I was told that they (very helpfully) do not actually reply to emails but just take action if they feel it’s required!

The lady I spoke to said that after checking with them, they plan to send somebody out to inspect the site one evening soon, but unless I call again, I would not be told about their decision.

Next I called a lady at the Parish Council, who told me that she had forwarded my email on to someone at the highways department and is meeting him next week, where this issue will be discussed and she will contact me after that.

Update 9/12/2014 – So today i received a nice email from Councillor Miriam Lewis who explained that the responsibility of the lights is down to Essex County Council Highways team and she has asked the Maldon DC to pursue the repair alongside ECC highways, the email is reproduced below:-

“Good morning Mrs Sanger,

Thank you for reporting the defective lights on the canalside underpass. The Heybridge Parish Clerk informed us of your contact and I have asked the MDC Team to pursue the repair of the lights in association with the ECC highways team. I am firmly of the view this is ECC responsibility as they adopted the path and cycleway following the completion of the Elms Farm development.

If I receive an update I will pass it to you, and I will press for this to be resolved.

Thanks again for drawing it to our attention. I do use the path when I walk into Maldon from my home in Beeches Road, but not at night so I had not noticed the failure.

Kind regards,

Miriam

 Cllr. Miriam R. Lewis”

So all good that possibly we will have working lights sometime soon (fingers crossed), but i feel that still does not resolve the ongoing issues, that the majority of kids climb up the bank to cross the busy A414 road and that the underpass is still an enclosed and frightening area that is ripe for more crime to be committed. We need a crossing or bridge over the A414 and some major landscaping to the trees and bushes around the underpass so that it can be seen by people nearby such as those in Tesco’s car park and thereby prevent it from becoming a muggers paradise.

Update 25/01/2015

A letter came in the post from MP for Maldon John Whittingdale confirming that the street lighting team are, “Looking into it”, and they will make a site visit in the, “coming weeks.”

As nothing has happened since contacting the Council on the 26th of November 2014 at this growing crimespot, I have emailed Councillor Miriam Lewis yet again today as follows…

Dear Cllr Miriam Lewis

Thank you for your email (9th December 2014). I am just doing a follow up as nothing has been done about the issues I have raised, and this morning (25th January 2015) another serious incident has taken place at the underpass. I have been speaking to some local resisdents who are as worried as I am about the lack of any action.

Can you please follow up my concerns as soon as possible and give me an update.”

I have also just sent an email to the Maldon and Burnham Standard to make them aware of my concerns…

“I am writing to you about the Mill Lane A414 underpass and the serious incidents that keep happening in such a short space of time. I am a Mother of 4 and it worrys me every time my kids go out, or walk home from school and work. 

Last November, I emailed Maldon Council and John Whittingdale about my concerns and what I feel needs to be done around this area, to which they replied that someone from the Street Lighting Team would do a site visit within a couple of weeks. But still nothing has been done and we have now had a second attack where a young woman was raped.

I think we should have lights that work under the bridge, CCTV installed and the bushes and trees cleared away from the underpass, as this makes an easy hiding place for any attackers to jump out on innocent people.

I would also like to see something change with the busy road above the underpass, to make it safer for people to cross the road. As you know, a young boy was knocked down and died while crossing the road. I would like to see either pelican crossing, or a bridge to walk over, as the little islands in the middle of the road is just not enough.

This area is becoming too dangerous to walk around. If you go under the bridge, you could get attacked and if you cross the road above, you could get knocked down by speeding traffic. Great choices…? I think not! Something has to be done as soon as possible before someone else gets hurt or loses their life.”

UPDATE 25/1/2015 – After the shocking rape of a young woman near the underpass on Saturday i have started a petition that has received 163 signatures in just a few hours. If you are sick of MDC doing nothing and just passing the buck, then tell them how you feel.

UPDATE 26/1/2015 – I had a call from Cllr Miriam Lewis who gave me an update.

She has been emailing certain people within the Council asking them to do something since last November and apparently there was a meeting about 2-3 weeks ago and it was decided that they will put in lights at the bridge, but they are NOT prepared to install CCTV cameras as there is no one to mind them and the cost. They are also NOT prepared to take away the bushes and trees as it’s a nature area. They are also NOT prepared to do anything about the road above, as they recently put in the (I call islands) in the road, but the accident involving the young boy who was killed, was not the roads fault, it was the driver from the garage. The young lad who was killed back in 2007, was also not the roads fault, as he absentmindedly stepped out into the road himself. They will only take action with the roads if there is a fault with the road itself.

Talk about shifting the blame.

She also said that it’s not Maldon Council we should be talking to, but Essex County Council. She is going to send me an email of all the names of people I should be shouting at and will also include me (in the cc part of the emails) that she sends out to people, so that I have a trail. She has passed on my details to everyone she has spoken to since November about this and can’t understand why I haven’t been contacted before now and said she will also sign our petition.

I have added Essex CC and Cllr Rodney Bass to the petition list so they will receive emails. But it is frustrating as it appears I have been talking to the wrong people, but the fight continues.

UPDATE 27/1/2015 – I have had an email from Cllr Rodney Bass which is promising as he is Chairman of the Highways Panel and is looking to initiate a meeting between the various departments of local council:-

“I am very sympathetic to your campaign.  I suspect it is an issue which needs to addressed by Heybridge Parish Council, Maldon District Council and the County Council as we are talking about amenity lighting and other safety measures – as opposed to exclusively Highways related issues.  It may be also that the Highways Panel could help (of which I am Chairman).  I will ask my colleague Cllr Eddie Johnson if we could initiate some form of discussion with the other two authorities.”

Earlier today, I emailed Cllr Rodney Bass. Below is my email to him and then his reply to me…

“Dear Cllr Rodney Bass

Thank you for your message. I appreciate your help with the concerns of Maldon and Heybridge community.

A question I’d like to put to you is, the Police will soon be finished with their investigations at the A414 underpass bridge, so once they leave, the area will once again be plunged into darkness and seclusion, with residents scared to walk along that pathway or allow their children to walk to and from school, or play out in the playground. As a matter of urgency, we definately need lights putting in, and CCTV cameras installed.

But another big issue is how secluded this area is, as it is surrounded by hedges and trees (that look like they’ve seen better days). Why could they not be cut right back so that the pathway and underpass can be seen from the Tesco car park. Is that something you deal with? If not can you give me a contact to speak to?

As you can see from the online petition which has over 800 signatures at present and the facebook page, the residents are becoming extremely frustrated and concerned. The thought of another attack happening while you are in discussions would be unthinkable.

I look forward to hearing from you.”

He replied

“As I have said, it is a little more complicated than just Highways or Essex County Council. However, I do understand your concerns and I will see what can be done in the short term along the lines you suggest

Rodney L Bass CC
Essex County Councillor
Cabinet Member for Highways & Transportation”

UPDATE 29/1/2015

The police are not prepared to disclose what is happening at the moment, but have agreed to attend a meeting next week sometime, with a member from the council which I have been invited to on behalf of the community, to say what’s been going on with investigations and to discuss what plans they intend on doing and time frame.

The councillor I’ve been talking to is pushing for the trees and bushes to be cut back as part of the Winter Maintenance, but they have said they will think about that after they have done a review. They will fix the existing lights, and again, talk about what else is needed after their review. Their plans to re-do the mural and get rid of the graffiti will still go ahead, being done by community payback people.

They seem to think there is no urgency to make new changes because everyone has been happy with the way things are for so long, apparently no one has ever complained or been scared before.

I feel this is a step in the right direction. We have also made it to the front page of the local newspapers which is good.

UPDATE 31/1/2015 – We have over 1,130 signatures on our online petition and the Facebook group is full of angry residents. Today we have hit Maldon Town where hundreds more signatures have been taken. Thanks to everyone.

UPDATE 06/2/2015 – Today work began on clearing some of the bushes and trimming back trees around the underpass. Speaking to the workmen they tell me that they are scheduled to be there a couple of days.

If you want to help then please contact Maldon District Council and SIGN OUR ONLINE PETITION NOW

Dont forget to visit our Facebook Group and join up.