The residents of Creech St. Michael are upset
Residents of a small Somerset village and a crane company in Exeter face each other as a dispute escalates.
South West Crane Hire Ltd operates one of its depots on the former site of the Creech Paper Mill in the village of Creech St. Michael near Taunton.
The company, which is registered in the St. Thomas area of Exeter, is currently battling a planning complaint after Somerset West and Taunton Council failed to issue retroactive building permits for the site in December 2020.
While the Planning Inspectorate is gathering evidence for the investigation, members of the Mill Lane Residents Group posted videos online purporting to show the proximity of the cranes to their homes.
South West Crane Hire responded that its vehicles were operated safely and courteously and, since 2019, has taken steps to address concerns among local residents.
What do the videos show?
A series of videos recording the movements of the cranes have been published on the Mill Lane Residents official website since mid-2019.
The videos, captured by a Nest camera mounted near the Mill Lane entrance, show numerous large crane vehicles driving out of the Mill Lane property very close to the residential properties on either side of the street.
Some of the videos show vehicles moving in the early hours of the morning, although most of them take place during the day.
What did the residents say?
Mill Lane Residents Group described the crane company’s vehicles as “totally inappropriate” given the limited size of Mill Lane and the proximity of the properties.
A spokesperson said, “We understand Mill Lane’s industrial heritage and see some similar vehicles – but nothing compared to the monsters we see from this company. They started working around the clock with no respect for the residents.
“The cranes make a lot of noise in the morning, even with a flashlight. In some cases it feels like an airplane is flying past our homes.
“In other cases, the cranes have to go a few gears to go up the hill – all while moving just inches past people’s windows. It’s just not
acceptable at times like 3 in the morning. “
Local residents asked how much research the company had done before choosing Mill Lane – and said the street was unsuitable for the type and traffic.
A spokesperson said: “Surely a company that operates these types of vehicles should conduct a risk assessment to determine if it is suitable before buying property?
“This country is certainly not suitable. Highways England and an independent traffic management company have now gathered enough evidence to demonstrate the danger these cranes can pose to other road users and pedestrians.
“We don’t have any pedestrian infrastructure on Mill Lane, even though it’s a residential area – so people walk right in front of these cranes.
“The way these cranes are driving up and down our street is totally unacceptable, they are driving over residential buildings at totally unreasonable speeds. the damage is very obvious.
“They take no account of the mental well-being or the health and safety of the residents. These cranes literally move within inches of land that has been around for hundreds of years.
“We also have to take into account that we now have a school in Mill Lane and these cranes only go a few inches past it.”
How did the company react?
South West Crane Hire said it was not normal to work outside of daylight hours and that the size of its vehicles was acceptable given the historical use of the site.
A spokesperson said: “When we moved into the Creech Mills facility, we replaced a company that had operated articulated sewage tankers and drain vacuums from that location for a little over a decade.
“The majority of their vehicles weighed around 44 tons. They were also under contract for emergency coverage for Highways England and South West Water, so they were on duty around the clock.
“Most of our movements take place between 6:30 am and 7:00 pm – it is not the rule or custom that we work outside of these hours.”
The company said it introduced a new policy in late 2019, according to feedback from local residents, reducing vehicle speed and banning flashing lights.
It also argued that other companies had operated from the same location without objections from the legal authorities.
A spokesman said, “We’re not the first crane rental company on the site; a competitor of ours has been operating for at least five years longer than we from the estate.
“Highways England has assessed the area on behalf of the council and has in fact posed no problems as our machines use the pavement or the surrounding road infrastructure.
“The lack of pedestrian infrastructure on the carriageway has been the same for over 80 years, some of these residents claim to have lived there, so surely has it always been a problem?”
The company also argued that the role of the school was “rather irrelevant” as its students typically did not walk or walk near the crane site.
Her spokesman added, “The school does not have children who can come and go on foot or even outside of its premises.
“The students have to be delivered and picked up by vehicle, as they are not allowed to move freely outside of the school premises.”
What happens next?
The Planning Inspectorate has confirmed that the appeal will be carried out through written statements rather than a virtual public inquiry.
Anyone wishing to make a formal statement with the inspector should visit www.acp.planninginspectorate.gov.uk and cite the appeal reference number 3274593.