HIGHWAYS ENGLAND U-TURN REPRIEVES NASEBY BATTLEFIELD SIGNS

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Some of the twenty thousand visitors who come to the Naseby battlefield every year [Naseby Battlefield Project]

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In a U-turn which has been greeted with relief by the Naseby Battlefield Project and other battlefield campaigners, Highways England has undertaken to review its controversial decision to remove the tourist signs on the A14 dual carriageway which point to the registered battlefield of Naseby. The battlefield, in rural Northamptonshire, is the site of the decisive battle of the English Civil War which took place on 14 June 1645, where the New Model Army under Sir Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell, defeated the Royalist army commanded by King Charles the First and his swashbuckling nephew Prince Rupert of the Rhine.

The government road body’s earlier decision to remove the signage on the nearby A14 dual carriageway, which links the Midlands with East Anglia and the Port of Felixstowe, was communicated to the Naseby Battlefield Project in an e-mail dated 27 February 2019, which reads in part,

“I am sorry to have to inform you that Naseby
Battlesite no longer meets our criteria to be eligible for tourist
signing from the A14. Minimum visitor numbers have to be reached in
order to qualify for signage as detailed below, taken from TD 52/17
‘Traffic Signs to Tourist Destinations and Leisure Facilities in
England’ (February 2017):

The e-mail then set out a very broad timeline for the removal work stating,

“Therefore we will need to remove the signs during our next scheme in the area. The signs will remain as they are until we go on site to deliver
the scheme. Unfortunately at the moment I am unable to provide you with any timescales of when this will be taking place. I apologise for any inconvenience caused but hope you understand the importance of a consistent approach and reduction of unnecessary signage across our
network.” 

The design regulations for roads and bridges, published in 2017 and cited by the Highways Agency, impose strict visitor numbers to justify signage on various grades of road.

For example, an attraction would need to draw one hundred and fifty thousand visitors per year in order to be signposted from a major dual carriageway with a speed limit of 50 mph or more. To be signposted off a lesser dual carriageways an attraction would need to draw one hundred thousand visitors. Heritage attractions off Single carriageway roads would still need to show that they can draw forty thousand visitors per year.

Allowing some flexibility, the regulations allow a one step reduction in the requirement for sites which are deemed to be,

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“…attractions recognised by VE [Visit England] as being of national or regional importance in historical or cultural terms. “

Most historians would place the battle of Naseby securely in this category as the battlefield is regarded as the place where King Charles the First lost the English Civil War, his crown and eventually in January 1649, his head. Events which effectively shaped the future of England as a constitutional monarchy.

The difficulty is that currently the Naseby Battlefield Project,
which researches and promotes the battlefield, the patrons of which include Earl Spencer and the descendant of another famous Civil War commander Lord Hazelrigg, falls short of the requirements of the regulations, receiving currently approximately twenty thousand visitors per year.

The Naseby Battlefield Project has been instrumental in providing new interpretation boards for visitors to the battlefield such as these next to the famous battlefield memorial
[Naseby Battlefield Project]

However, critics of the initial Highways England decision argued that an overly strict application of the guidelines, leading to the removal of the existing directional signs from the major trunk road passing near the battlefield, would make it very difficult to develop further the tourism potential of the site, particularly with regard to tourists coming from a distance.

It is felt that such an outcome would be particularly unfair when the Naseby Battlefield Project has made a major effort to interpret the the site for visitors, for example by installing new interpretation boards and providing an interactive website with audio descriptions to help anyone wishing to retrace the action at the battlefield’s seven principle viewpoints.

Before news of the U-turn broke a spokesperson for the Naseby Battlefield Project expressed the organisation’s concern telling thePipeLine,

“We are surprised and horrified that Highways England have taken the decision to remove the A14 signs to one of England’s most important battlefields. We will be appealing the decision, if indeed such a process exists.”

However, on Friday evening a spokesperson for Highways England told thePipeLine that the situation had changed.

The spokesperson explained that:

“We want people to get to tourist and leisure destinations safely and by the best route, but we also have to ensure we don’t clutter our network with signs, that we prioritise sites with the greatest traffic management or safety needs, and that we minimise any impact on the environment.

So we regularly review brown tourist signs on our network, and, if circumstances have changed, we may need to remove the signs when we have other planned work in the area.”

Crucially the spokesperson added,

“In relation to Naseby we will review our decision because we do appreciate the significance of the site.”

Responding to the apparent U-Turn from Highways England a spokesperson for the Naseby Battlefield Project said,

“We are pleased to hear that Highways England have decided to review their decision and look forward to a positive outcome.”


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