22 March 1996

Poor M-way fences pose safety threat

By Tony McDougal

POOR management of fencing alongside Britains thousands of miles of motorways is threatening the livelihood of stock and could lead to carnage on the roads.

Former NFU deputy president Chris French believes the lack of a code of practice and inadequate links between local authorities and the Highways Agency, who are responsible for upkeep of fencing, will lead to worsening conditions alongside the nations ageing motorways.

Mr French, who runs 500 stock on 162ha (400 acres) on the edge of the busy M25 at Brewerstreet Farm, Bletchingley, Redhill, Surrey, has been attempting to have his one-mile stretch of fencing replaced for the past five years.

The wooden fencing with four strand barbed wire was first installed by the Department of Transport when the motorway was built in 1973/4, after he rejected the offer of high tensile fencing.

He believes the shortage of adequate timber at the time meant it was sub-standard, and his fears were realised when a steer broke through the fencing in August 1991 and onto the motorway.

He approached roads minister Kenneth Carlisle and his local MP Peter Ainsworth (Cons, Surrey East), but was told that there was no problem and that Surrey County Council would continue to carry out regular fence inspections.

His letter-writing campaign continued throughout 1993 and 1994 with letters sent to the then transport minister Roger Freeman and Surrey Assistant Chief Constable Peter Hampson, warning of the danger to life if cattle broke through the fencing.

Replacement statement

Mr Hampson said in October 1994 that the fence would be replaced during the multi-million pound project to upgrade part of the M25 to four lanes.

But, no progress was made and last November, 28 cattle escaped and were found grazing on the edge of the busy motorway.

Further visits have taken place by Surrey police, the county council and the construction company working on behalf of the Highways Agency this year, who agreed the fence was rotten. But it was only when Mr French threatened to talk to FARMERS WEEKLY that some fence work was carried out last weekend.

Mr French said he could not believe the intransigence of Surrey County Council and the Highways Authority. "Their inaction has meant we have had to spend much time and money checking fencing or face the alternative of not allowing cattle to graze on the field."

David Reynolds, spokesman for contractors Parkman, said investigations were continuing and a report on the state of the fence would be submitted shortly.

Chris French has fought five years to have a stretch of fencing replaced.