Managers of under-fire utility firm Yorkshire Water and its works contractor are to be invited to appear before an extraordinary meeting of councillors to explain why there were chaotic scenes and gridlock when essential works were carried out.
A meeting of North Yorkshire Council’s Richmond constituency committee was shown CCTV footage of the incident in Hawes on May 23 and 24, after Yorkshire Water had closed part of the main road and one-way system through the Wensleydale town, known as The Holme.
The request from the committee follows the water utility firm being the focus of widespread criticism from councillors over inadequate sewage infrastructure and large amount of sewage being discharged into North Yorkshire rivers such as the Nidd.
The Hawes incident is belng viewed so seriously by the council that its leader, Councillor Carl Les said the authority’s transport scrutiny committee should also examine it.
Upper Dales councillor Yvonne Peacock told the meeting the town had been bustling with visitors ahead of a bank holiday weekend, so the “chaos” had presented a significant safety risk.
Some councillors voiced consternation watching the footage of cars and artic lorries squeezing past each other on the other one-way lane, the cobbled Main Street, with many vehicles driving along the pavement, narrowly avoiding pedestrians, including children.
The meeting heard numerous motorists sounded their horns in frustration and at one point two drivers had a 15-minute “stand-off” refusing to move back.
Councillors were told Morrison Water Services, installed traffic lights at either end of the narrow cobbled lane to enable west to east traffic to take it in turns with east to west traffic to pass through the market town.
Councillors said North Yorkshire Council’s highways team had approved the closure shortly before it was launched, but had stipulated the traffic lights would need to be manned at each end.
However, the traffic lights were not manned and as motorists were given insufficient time to pass between the traffic lights before they turned green, gridlock rapidly developed.
The congestion continued for several hours and for hours again the following morning.
Coun Peacock said she was promised on the Wednesday that Morrison would have finished the works by 5am, but they were not.
Calling an extraordinary meeting of the committee to “interview” managers at both Morrison, Yorkshire Water and question the council’s highways officers if they used their powers sufficiently after being alerted to the chaos, Coun Peacock said: “This sort of thing needs to never ever happen.
“My disappointment was when we asked for two-way radio to have someone at either side of the traffic lights and a person in the middle on the Wednesday we didn’t get it until some time on the Thursday morning.
“We need to find out what the problem was and exactly where we stand.”
Members of the committee said other utility firms had failed to show proper consideration of the public, with one claiming: “This is happening continuously throughout the area.”
Bedale councillor John Weighell added: “Yorkshire Water seem to think they can be so high-handed that they don’t have to tell highways when they dig up highways and that cannot be right.”
Councillors agreed that by speaking to the Yorkhire Water and Morrison in a meeting before the end of July they could develop a plan of action and proposals to prevent a recurrence of such incidents.
They said they wanted the utility firms to reveal the extent of what statutory permissions to close roads they had and to explain what actions they took to mitigate impacts on the public.
A Yorkshire Water spokesperson said: “We and our contract partner Morrison Water Services apologise for the disruption caused in Hawes while we carried out work on The Holme three weeks ago.
“We attempted to minimise disruption to the village by completing the work under two-way traffic lights rather than closing the road.
“Unfortunately, the measures we put in place to manage the traffic were not sufficient and we will make sure lessons are learned from this incident should any future work be required in the area.”