Yet another delay to relieve the congested A303 and ‘dual’ the remaining single carriageway sections infuriates local MP Dr Andrew Murrison.
SOUTH West Wiltshire MP Dr Andrew Murrison has reacted with horror to the announcement by the National Highways Agency “that it intends to long grass (delay) much of its plans for the strategic A303 corridor.”
He plans to tell Transport Secretary Grant Shapps that if the Highways Agency is not going to invest in the A303, it should make it clear that the M4-M5 is the strategic route to the West Country.
For many years, Dr Murrison has been calling for the remaining single carriageway sections, from Chicklade to Mere, to be dualled, to give relief to his constituents. Improvements along this stretch of the A303, including Chicklade Bottom, were in “the pipeline” of what was then Highways England’s long-term strategy.
The MP was informed of the change in a letter from Elliot Shaw, the National Highways’ executive director for strategy and planning. It effectively pushes the planned – and much-needed – improvements to the A303 from Mere to Wylye into the long grass, many years into the future.
Legal challenge to ‘Stonehenge bypass’
While there was no specific start date for the Wiltshire improvements, they were in the official plan to begin after the completion of the A303 Stonehenge bypass, which is currently stalled following a High Court ruling upholding a legal challenge to the tunnel scheme.
Dr Murrison says: “It’s now clear that any improvement locally will be several years away at best.
“It’s all looking like a bit of a mess. I will be writing to the Transport Secretary to point out his department and agency can’t shunt more and more traffic down a spindly single carriageway whilst pretending it’s a strategic route.
“There is an alternative if you’re not going to invest in the A303 which is to confirm the M4/M5 as the strategic route into the South West and push traffic, especially the heavy stuff, along the motorway network.”
Small scale upgrades
The new timetable for the trunk road schemes, outlined by Mr Shaw, gives priority to a section
of the A303 connecting from the South Petherton roundabout to Southfields, (the notorious Ilminster bypass), at the junction with the A358.
Work is already under way on an A303 upgrade and dualling between Sparkford and Podimore. Consultation has now ended on plans to dual the A358 Southfields to Taunton (connecting to the M5), but no start date has been announced for the work.
The South Petherton-Southfields project, as outlined in the National Highways letter, is for initial development work to take place in 2023- 24, after which the government will consider the viability of the scheme.
Mr Shaw writes:
“Whilst this will be good news for many of our customers and stakeholders, I recognise that
for others the section between Wylye and Mere may have been the preference for this initial development activity.
Upgrading the A303/A358 corridor is a significant undertaking, requiring the adoption of a sequential approach which minimises impacts on users of the route and is proportionate to funding available at a national level. Preparation for subsequent corridor improvements will need to await future Road Periods.”
By: Fanny Charles