Tragic deaths inspire passion for road safety

Garth Petzer is passionate about the road safety in Foulsham. Picture: Ian Burt

Garth Petzer is passionate about the road safety in Foulsham. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

The deaths of two close relatives and a friend's father have inspired a former armed forces chaplain to revive a road safety campaign in a village near Fakenham.

There have been petitions and campaigns for road safety improvements in Foulsham for many years.

Garth Petzer, 52, a retired chaplain who was made an MBE for his humanitarian work in Sierra Leone, moved to Foulsham in March and quickly saw the dangers villagers have been concerned about for decades.

Mr Petzer's father Mike was killed by a speeding motorist and his aunt, Wendy Petzer, died in a crash where a truck driver had been using a mobile telephone.

Both tragedies happened in Mr Petzer's native South Africa.

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And Patrick Wyche, who was the father of Mr Petzer's best friend Margi Wyche, died in his 70s after being crushed against a local church wall in Hampshire 20 years ago.

Mr Petzer said: 'I have experienced and seen the pain caused by deaths on the roads. My mother died at 70 of the first stroke she ever had. I'm sure that was caused by the trauma of my father's death.'

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Mr Petzer's campaign is supported by Foulsham Parish Council, Foulsham Primary School and many residents in the village, who believe the High Street and the pavements either side of it are too narrow.

They say the road system is not adequate to cope with the lorries that regularly travel through the village to the industrial site at the former RAF Foulsham airfield.

Mr Petzer said motorists frequently mount the pavements and ignore the 20mph speed limits.

A man died in a crash on Foulsham High Street in 2009 and although Norfolk County Council records show there to have been no other accidents on that road in the last five years, villagers have reported several near misses and say that another serious crash could happen soon.

Mr Petzer, who lives on High Street, said: 'When I moved here I saw a group of schoolchildren almost get crushed against a wall by a lorry.

'I care for a 100-year-old relative and it feels like we are risking our lives every time we leave the house.

'When the former airfield was industrialised the road infrastructure was not changed and it is inadequate for the HGVs that come through here every day.'

Whenever Mr Petzer sees a commercial vehicle breaking the 20mph speed limit through Foulsham he takes down the number plate and writes to the company directors.

If he sees the same driver speeding a second time he writes again to the directors and also the police.

He said: 'Some people might see me as a bit of a Victor Meldrew and I accept that I am one but I will not stop until I see an end to the speeding and reckless driving.'

Previous petitions and campaigns in Foulsham, which has a primary school and two care homes, have failed to bring changes.

Mr Petzer has met Norfolk County Council officials to re-emphasise the village's case.

Chris Alston, highways area manager for Norfolk County Council, said: 'After we were contacted by a Foulsham resident we inspected the road in question to assess the current traffic management arrangements already in place.

'Foulsham is a typical village with relatively narrow roads. There is already a 20mph speed restriction in place and contrasting road surfacing to remind drivers of the limits.

'Reducing the amount of traffic going through the village would require road-building or widening that would simply be unaffordable, and there are other sites with more pressing claims on our limited funds.

'However, we will consider ways of reinforcing the existing 20mph limit and will arrange for 'Think Slow' signs to be put in place in the near future.'

Mr Petzer said: 'I understand that the council doesn't have a lot of money available but something needs to be done.

'I was recently in France and was very impressed to see how every little village had a 'watch your speed' type sign and I would like to see that here.

'The long-term solution would be to build a new road system. There are no easy answers but I have served as a priest during the apartheid era in South Africa – I know how the fight the system and don't give up.'

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