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A Lancashire council is carrying out safety tests on a road laid with the controversial surface stone mastic asphalt (SMA) after a rider was badly injured.

SMA can be slippery when first laid and is banned in Ireland because of its poor grip.

Ursula Dalton of Moorview Equestrian Centre in Darwen, Blackburn, blames SMA for causing a horse to slip and crush her employee Lee Evans.

Darwen Borough Council is investigating whether the road is safe and, if not, will take action.

Mr Evans, 19, went to hospital with damaged ligaments and tendons after the accident in March and was off work for a week. The horse was unhurt.

“It was fortunate he was in walk as all four of the horse’s feet slipped and he just went,” said Mrs Dalton.

SMA has been blamed for accidents before. In 2005, riders forced Surrey County Council to resurface a road near Dorking that became “lethally” slippery once SMA was laid (news, 25 August 2005).

Mrs Dalton’s complaint to Darwen Council was passed to Jim Simpson of Capita Symonds, which laid the road.

She said: “I told him of our concerns for horse riders, as the roads laid with SMA are very steep and have two bridleways which connect to them.

“He admitted SMA could be a ‘little slippery’, but said the top surface would wear off in a couple of weeks. He also said it was used across the county and nobody else had complained.

“With all due respect to Mr Simpson, his assertions were wrong and ill-considered.

“It’s all about cost cutting — it’s a very cheap surface to lay.”

Mr Simpson told H&H: “Tests are being carried out on Marsh House Lane and Pole Lane in the light of concerns raised by riders to ensure it meets required standards. When we get the results, we will decide if further action is required.”

A Darwen council spokesman confirmed: “Tests on the road will take place very soon.”

A temporary solution to the slippery surface is the laying of a quartzite grit layer, which reduces the road’s glassy sheen. But gritting costs more money.

British Horse Society safety director Mark Weston said: “We urge highway authorities to lay all-tarmac surfaces in line with guidelines set out in the County Surveyors’ Society Guidance to prevent accidents like this from happening.”

The AA said SMA is slippery when first laid and recommends warning signs be put up.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (24 April, ’08)