The lives of children in a Banwell are at “serious risk” as they cross a chaotic road to get to school — but parents say they have been told the crossing is too dangerous for a school crossing patrol (or a lollipop lady or man).

Many drivers plough straight across the zebra crossing used by primary school children in Banwell, which is often obstructed by vehicles and has no nearby school signs. One mum of three in the village, who urged the local Council to do something, said: “It is an absolute miracle a child has not been killed.”

“The amount of times I have been caught on the crossing with my daughter and you just have cars that keep going over it,” said another village mum, Ingrid Loh. She added: “They have hit me with their wing mirrors before on the pavement walking my kid to school.”

Parents in the village have called on North Somerset Council to do something about the crossing on West Street before a child gets hurt but say they have been told it is too dangerous for a school crossing patrol. A Councillor called the situation “ridiculous” but said it was caused by national health and safety guidance.

Two major A-roads funnel traffic into Banwell’s small village lanes, leading to frustrated drivers clogging up the village as they queue to get through  “the narrows” — what locals call the point next to the village bakery where the road becomes a single track and drivers have to wait for traffic coming the other way to squeeze through.

Banwell mum of three Rebecca Robinson said that vehicles would sit on the crossing waiting to get through the narrows, making it harder for people to see if cars are coming or for cars to see when children are crossing. She said: “The number of times you are peering around the back of vehicles and almost have your head taken off.”

While one side of the road is a near-constant traffic jam as drivers queue to get through the narrows, drivers who have just come through the gap shoot down the road from the other direction, often failing to stop at the crossing because they are going too fast or unable to see people crossing behind the queueing vehicles.

Jaime Dean, who has two children at the school, said: “Older children walk themselves to school across the crossing. I dread the day mine are old enough.”

Another parent whose child had a near miss with a driver on the crossing said: “I’m thinking of moving next year. It’s too stressful.” She added that she was also worried about the impact of the constant traffic fumes on her children’s health.

The traffic stopped on the zebra crossing means many drivers may not even be aware it is there, Ms Robinson warned. She said: “There’s nothing to tell drivers there’s a school here.” Unlike schools in other villages, there are no school signs in Banwell and no reduced speed limits around the school.

A bypass is planned around the village to tackle the traffic congestion. Subject to the decision of the public inquiry into the compulsory purchase orders needed for the road, the £89m bypass is hoped to open by May 2026.

But parents say action is needed now to protect children in the village. On November 14, Ms Robinson addressed a meeting of North Somerset Council as a member of the public, urging them to act. She told them: “There is a real and serious risk to the lives of children every day getting to and from school. The current speed limit outside the school is 30mph. A child hit at 30mph only stands a 50% chance of survival. With no school warning sign and reduced speed of 20mph during school times, there is a very real risk to children’s lives.

“In Banwell it is normal to be clipped by vehicles and almost run over on the zebra crossing while doing a school run, and that is fundamentally and morally wrong.”

She added: “Parents have heard many reasons for not improving safety, such as ‘the maximum capacity of signage in the area has been reached’ and ‘you can’t have a school crossing patrol because it is too dangerous.’

“If it is too dangerous for trained adults, how is it not too dangerous for children?”

She presented a petition, also signed by 195 other parents, for a flashing school sign to be installed on the approach to the school.

Banwell and Winscombe Councillor Joe Tristram added: “The Banwell school parents have lost faith that this Council believes their children’s safety is important. They think that we regard our own rules, regulations, and particularly conservation areas as more important.”

Hannah Young, North Somerset Council’s executive member for highways and transport, said it had been “emotional and powerful” to hear from Ms Robinson.

She added: “We don’t have school patrol wardens any more for health and safety reasons. I know that sounds ridiculous given that we are now letting children cross the road, but it is something that doesn’t come directly from the Council but comes from national health and safety guidance and our workplace liabilities.”

But she said that the council had looked at painting signage on the road to slow down traffic, but Banwell Parish Council had warned this would not be sufficient. She confirmed that North Somerset Council is now looking at installing a flashing school sign, but she said this would need to go through the planning process.

In a statement, Ms Young added: “North Somerset sustainable travel and road safety team, along with engineering colleagues, and the Banwell bypass team has been involved in conversations with Banwell Parish Council regarding the safety of children using the zebra crossing on West Street, Banwell.

“The crossing is design compliant, and as North Somerset Council continually monitors all reported injury accidents reported to the police, the location is not judged to be dangerous. It can be difficult to see both ways when there are large vehicles adjacent to the crossing which can limit visibility. Parents and guardians using the crossing are reminded to hold hands with younger children, and to ensure that the traffic has stopped in both directions, or that there are sufficient gaps in the traffic to cross at the zebra crossing.  

“School crossing patrols are a non-statutory function and since 2016 North Somerset Council has been mitigating the need for these through installation of zebra crossings as at other locations.

“There will be further improvements to walking and cycling routes when the Banwell Bypass is delivered. NSC recently awarded a design and build contract for this work, however, there are still some compulsory purchase orders outstanding.”

She added: “I do understand the concerns that have been raised and am continuing to work with the highways and planning teams and parish council to improve safety signage in the area to help those using the crossing.”

The plans for a bypass around Banwell were first proposed in 1927 and were given final approval by North Somerset Council this year, with work hoped to start in May 2024. At a protest in the village in March calling on the Council to “build our bypass” one of the people who came out to show their support was Pauline Powell.

She had been a lollipop lady in the village until she retired twenty years ago. She said: “I did it for thirteen years and the traffic was bad back then. You had to be so careful with children crossing the road.”

But she warned the situation with the traffic was even worse now. She said: “It’s built up year by year.”

John Wimperis, Local Democracy Reporter