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By Paul Wright, 2022
"Chowns Mill" roundabout

from Higham old roundabout
Road leading from Higham
Former roundabout

Major roadworks started at the much talked about “Chowns Mill” roundabout on Monday 10th February, 2020.

Before that the A45/A6 Chowns Mill Roundabout improvement work Information Events took place on Wednesday 5th, and Saturday 8th February, 2020.

These sessions gave road users, businesses and the local community an opportunity to meet the team and find out more about the scheme. I attended the Wednesday event, and was really impressed to the length to which the staff on site went out of their way to answer any questions that I, and others did have.

The approaches to this roundabout had given many a motorist a lot of delays on their journey over many years, and the end result will be most welcome.

Work was due to start in early February 2020 at a cost of £24 million. To deliver this scheme efficiently, the work was done using a combination of week day, week night and weekends.

To cut down the disruption to local road users and residents, the work was carried out on Monday to Friday.

How would the work affect traffic?

To maintain a safe environment for the workforce and road users, narrow lanes and a 40mph speed restriction on the roundabout and its approaches were put in place. And also close arms of the Chowns Mill roundabout, in phases, when they needed to work on these sections of the carriageway.

Station Road into Higham Ferrers (A5028) was closed for approximately 9 months. This was because there was a need to significantly lower the level of the road and realign it with the roundabout. That meant there was no access to the Chowns Mill.

The design of the junction will also improve road safety and accommodate future traffic needs.

The Bus stops were relocated during the roadworks and Station Road residents were advised to use the A6 (South) Kimbolton Road roundabout to access their properties.

During the road closures, there were signed diversion routes, which had been agreed with the Local Authority.

All closures were advertised in advance through road signage, media outlets and the Highways England project webpage.

Motorists were advised that during the work, they should allow extra time for journeys, especially at peak times.

On Monday 10th February, 2020 the starting date of the work, Britain was just trying to get over a major storm called “Ciara”, this caused major problems for Rail travel, sea ports and power supplies.

In Rushden we were blasted by gusts of wind up to 55 mph, and at the Needles on the Isle of Wight gusts were recorded at 97 mph.

In March, 2020 there had been several reports of Boy Racers tailgating each other and speeding through the A45/A6 junction, in breach of the temporary speed limits and putting road workers and other motorists at risk. And it was decided that Northamptonshire Police would deploy a Speed Enforcement Camera Van to the area at unannounced times for the foreseeable future.

During the same month the world was being affected by Coronavirus (COVID-19) which was a new illness that affects your lungs and airways. It's caused by a virus called coronavirus.

Schools across the UK were to shut from Friday 21st March, 2020 until further notice as a response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Schools would close except for looking after the children of key workers and vulnerable children, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said.

Prime minister Boris Johnson outlined strict measures to tackle the spread of coronavirus, including a ban on public gatherings of more than two people.

He said people should leave home only to exercise once a day, travel to and from work where "absolutely necessary", shop for essential items and to cover any medical or care needs.

He also ordered the immediate closure of shops selling non-essential goods.This essentially saw roads looking extremely quiet, as motorists stayed at home.

A state of 'National emergency' was then announced.

On Monday 23rd March, 2020, nearly 21 million TV viewers watched Mr Johnson tell the country it was facing a "moment of national emergency" and that staying at home was necessary to protect the NHS, save lives and tackle "the biggest threat our country has faced for many decades".

At the end of March, 2020 Mr Johnson had tested positive for coronavirus and was self-isolating in Downing Street.

He said he had experienced mild symptoms over a 24 hour period, including a temperature and cough, but would continue to lead the government.

Things changed on 5th April, when Mr Johnson was admitted to hospital regarding the state of his health. The prime minister was moved out of intensive care on Thursday evening on 9th April, but remained in hospital, Downing Street had said. He had been receiving treatment for coronavirus at St Thomas' Hospital in London since the Sunday. His time as prime minister was coming to an end during the summer of 2022, after a series of events that proved to be too much for a lot of people.

Also on Sunday 5th April, 2020, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth made a rare speech, and she acknowledged the grief and financial hardships Britons faced during the coronavirus pandemic.

This was only the fifth time Her Majesty had addressed the nation during her 68 year reign. The other occasions were during the time of the first Gulf War, February 1991, six years later on the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, September 1997, on the death of the Queen Mother, April 2002.

The other was the Queen's Diamond Jubilee message, June 2012. As expected the message attracted a big audience, and was watched by around 24 million viewers. Queen Elizabeth had even asked that there be no usual gun salutes to mark her 94th birthday on Tuesday 21st April.

It is thought to be the first such request from the Palace in the British monarch's 68-year reign.

Highways England confirmed that the A45 Chowns Mill Improvement works were set to continue. Our roads remained open, and we continued to maintain the network, ensuring that life-saving medicine, equipment, supplies and healthcare staff could travel to where they are needed most.

Several forces had launched online forms for people to report those flouting the rules, while Northamptonshire Police Chief Constable Nick Adderley said "a three-week" grace period is over.

He warned the force was prepared to issue fines and make arrests. If people continued to flout regulations, patrols may check supermarket trolleys for non-essential shopping and set up road blocks. The force later said it “would not be searching people’s shopping trolleys”. The weather forecast was that the Easter weekend was going to be sunny and warm.

The force had around 130 officers who were ill or self-isolating, which the Chief Constable says is similar to a busy summer holiday period, meaning business could be maintained ‘as usual’.

Locally our hospitals and care homes were feeling the full force of the pandemic, with multiple deaths sadly occurring daily.

Felled tree now in Castle Field
Despite getting about seven thousand signatures on a petition to save a special Oak tree, campaigners who highlighted the plight of the ancient oak scheduled for removal to make way for the A45 Chowns Mill junction had said they felt very let down to learn that the tree may be felled later in May, 2020.

The fight was lost, and eventually the tree was felled by contractors on Wednesday 6th May.

Luckily the tree was used for another purpose, when it was transported to Stanwick Lakes, and would be part of the outdoor furniture over there.

Higham Ferrers was not to miss out on being a beneficiary of the tree; in September 2020 a carved bench that is decorated with woodland creatures is now in place in the Castle fields. This skilled work was carried out by “Carrie Yuen”. In our shot which was taken in November 2020, a young man was making use of it for a lay down! And a Rowan tree was planted by our local MP’s at the opening of the completed work. They were by Mr Peter Bone, and Tom Pursglove, Tory MP’s for Rushden, and Irthlingborough respectively.

Over one thousand saplings have also been planted in the Chowns Mill area, to try and fill the gap left by the older woodland.

By early summer of 2020, the so called “half hamburger island” was taking shape, the work force was able to carry out their duties with strict safeguarding measures in place. This was due to the current and ongoing “coronavirus” pandemic in the UK.

We were informed that, on the A45 Chowns Mill Shuttle Bus service, Face Coverings were required from 15th June.

Any customers wishing to use the free shuttle bus service at the Chowns Mill roundabout wear face masks before boarding the bus. That was in place from 15 June. You may be denied travel if you are not wearing a face mask.

The Shuttle Bus did have plastic shielding between the driver and passenger area. The operator did clean the bus after each trip.

There were plans to partially re-open Station Road to road users in November 2020. The delay in re-opening the road was partially due to the shortage and supply of materials during Covid-19 and also due to the impact of other utility works beyond local control. 

Safety was imperative and it was decided that it would be safer to open the road completely in February rather than open part of it in the November.

Over the following four weeks, staff were working longer shifts near Station Road (A5028).

Overnight closures of the A45 between Stanwick roundabout and Raunds. These were in place in mid September 2020.

The closures had been necessary to carry out 'biodiversity offsetting' improvements to Mallows Grange, an area of land which runs parallel to the A45 between Stanwick and Raunds.

Targeted habitat improvements included woodland thinning, tree and shrub planting, wildflower meadow cutting and Otter holt creation.

As the awful year of 2020 came to an end, work had been pushing on in the right direction.

During November and early December, good progress was made and completed the installation of the first layers of Tarmac to the new carriageway formation and footways on Station Road (A5028), Higham Ferrers and the A45 westbound.

This was just before the staff enjoyed their Christmas break, they were doing some good work by donating over £3000 to local food banks, which are based in Raunds, Rushden and Irthlinborough.

And a special mention to Booker cash & carry based over at Kettering, for providing essential items at great discounted prices for such good causes.

Over the Christmas period the site was shut for the holiday.

The main work that followed and in to early New Year of 2021 would centre around the arrival and use of a piling rig, which was needed to bore holes around the junction to support the information gantries.

By mid February 2021, the building of the so called half hamburger roundabout had reached the halfway point in construction.

The final days of February, we were informed that Station road in Higham Ferrers would not be opening that month, this was due to disruption in the supply of materials. This was due to Covid 19, which is still affecting fairly large numbers of people.

Due to a gas problem in Ditchford Lane, Cadent had closed the road in both directions for safety reasons. As of Tuesday 9th March, 2021 they were working to repair the issue and reopen the road.

Northamptonshire Highways said how important it was that the road was reopened. It was not possible to stop the gas works happening as it is essential the fault was repaired, they were working with Cadent to get Ditchford Road opened by Friday. If this was not possible temporary two-way lights would be installed to manage the traffic over the weekend.

There was a full closure at A6/A45 Chowns Mill roundabout the weekend of Friday 12 March, 8pm to Monday 15 March at 5am.

Bad news greeted the nation on the morning of 9th April, 2021, when Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh passed away at Windsor Castle, aged 99.

The good weather of the summer allowed the work to take further shape, and by June 2021, the over head information gantries were erected on both sides of the A45 roundabout.

The work took place during overnight closures between June 21 and June 25, when Station Road also closed to carry out road marking and footpath work.

The signs will be fitted to the gantries which will help traffic flow more smoothly and provide important information for drivers.

All of this work was obviously requiring the roads to be closed over certain periods, and naturally it was causing major upsets down at Rushden Lakes, especially over the weekends.

But luckily a road closure in mid August 2021, was avoided because speedy progress had been made during a recent closure, the resurfacing works on the Northamptonshire roundabout can now be completed overnight, which did help cut down on disruption for motorists.

It was on track to open in September 2021. Before motorists could start using the new layout, traffic signals and lighting would be installed and the road resurfaced.

During that congested time at the Rushden Lakes some selfish drivers were taking to the banks, to jump the queues!

With four months to go to the finishing date, the overhead gantries were displaying the road signs and the numerous traffic signals. Road surfacing was looking more ready, with line markings and other furniture taking shape.

Things in the county got a big scary on the Sunday morning of October 31st, a mini Tornado hit several parts of Northamptonshire. Wind speeds got up to 80 mph, and the fire service received over 130 calls for help. The wind and heavy rain caused damage to trees and fences, and even the overhead electric railway cables at Kettering were affected.

This was repeated again on Saturday 27th November, as the Met Office had warned us about the potential damage that could be caused by storm “Arwen” bringing high winds etc to most of the UK.

Luckily we seemed to have escaped the worst of the storm, but several thousand homes in Scotland and the North of England were without power for many days.

At the ceremonial Rowan tree planting to mark the completion, were the two local MPs whose constituencies meet at the junction - MP for Wellingborough and Rushden Peter Bone and Tom Pursglove, MP for Corby and East Northants. That was in mid December, 2021.

A cheque for £710, donated by contractors and workers on the roundabout site, handed it over to the local food banks of Raunds, Rushden and Irthlingborough and the district branch of  the Royal British Legion. The generous workers also did a similar kind gesture the previous Christmas.

Just prior to Christmas of 2021, the Queen cancelled her traditional pre-Christmas family lunch at Windsor Castle, as a precautionary measure following the UK's surge in Omicron cases of Corona virus. The usual Royal Christmas at Sandringham was also scrapped, and Her Majesty decided to stay at Windsor Castle.

According to National Highways, since the work began in February 2020, the scheme has involved:

around 275,000 man hours

installing 43 new lighting columns, with energy saving LED lamps

laying 6,250m of kerbing – stretching to almost four miles

using 60,000 tons of imported stone

lifting three superspan gantries, each around 40m long and

weighing up to 25 tons, into place

BBC covering project launch

The completion of the schemes improvements is good news for local businesses, communities and road users who will all benefit from smoother, safer and more reliable journeys without much of the congestion they previously had to endure.

Pedestrians and cyclists will also be able to use the junction much more safely due to the traffic lights and improvements we have introduced.

All this was completed by the Autumn of 2021.

now flowing well from the north
Traffic flowing well with new layout
Coming from the North

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