DRIVERLESS CARS TESTING: Lost battle for Solihull residents
Residents in rural Solihull have lost a battle to stop a blind bend on an “unspoiled” country lane being used to help test the technology which may pave the way for driverless cars.
Concerns had been raised that a single track road near Balsall Common which is prone to flooding and is often used to drive cattle was a poor choice of proving ground for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV).
However the use of Fernhill Lane and another site – at Elvers Green Lane, Knowle – as testbeds for a region-wide pilot project was approved by the council’s planning committee this week.
Mobile trailer areas, which form part of the trials, will be installed on both of the rural routes.
Transport chiefs had argued that the project needed to gather data at a variety of locations, including stretches of road running through the countryside.
While some councillors were concerned about the impact on the picturesque settings, both applications were passed by a majority.
Speaking against the Fernhill Lane plan, local resident Gwen Meacham said the route is prone to flooding and there was concern that pollutants from the trailer could wash down into the River Blythe.
“The proposed site is next to a ford and the run-off from this hardstanding area would flow unimpeded into the brook,” she said.
“Fernhill Lane is one of the few unspoiled country lanes in the area and totally unsuitable … allowing plans like this in the greenbelt sets a precedent.”
Cllr Diane Howell (Con, Meriden) said she didn’t oppose the CAV programme – which is expected to run for eight years – but felt the “very rural” setting” was not an appropriate location.
“It is at the heart of our farming community with cattle frequently being walked on the lane between fields,” she said.
“A trailer and mast at this location would act as an obstruction and distraction to this activity and this would compromise the safety of the users of the highway, who include horse riders and cyclists.”
Given the “anxiety” of residents, she had urged the committee to refuse the plans and for the CAV team to go back to the drawing board to identify an alternative.
Edward Li, from West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), which is taking a key role in the scheme, argued there was a need to have test sites in the countryside – but work had been done to limit the impact.
“It was not possible to avoid rural locations in green belt, such as Fernhill Lane, without significantly eroding the business case for the test bed,” he said.
He added that the surface at the test-site was permeable, to avoid water causing a problem, and no road safety issues had been identified at the location.
A range of infrastructure will need to be installed at roadsides around Solihull to support the CAV trials, including cameras, masts and monitoring equipment.
We previously reported on proposals to fit kit to a lamp post in Kixley Lane, Knowle and similar devices are also intended to be introduced on the Warwick Road and Coventry Road.
David Irwin, Local Democracy Reporter
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