Government approves multi-million scheme to upgrade A303 within South Somerset
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has given formal approval to a plan to create three miles of high-quality dual carriageway on the A303 in Somerset.
The upgrade, between Sparkford and Ilchester, will tackle congestion on the traffic-clogged single carriageway section of the arterial route.
South Somerset District Council has played a full and active part in the process from beginning to end, including pre-application consultation, written representations, submission of evidence and appearance at public examination and beyond.
Our clear strategy of supporting the scheme whilst pursuing the best outcomes for our communities, economy and environment have helped pave the way for this positive decision.
The scheme will support growth in jobs and housing by creating a free-flowing and reliable connection between the south east and south west.
Improving transport links into South Somerset is a key part of the economic development strategy which aims to deliver real improvements to the local economy. This is work which has become even more crucial as the council supports the region to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cllr John Clark, portfolio holder for economic development, said: “SSDC has consistently pressed for and supported this upgrade of the A303, which will benefit the productivity of our district and Somerset as a whole. Our officers deserve a lot of credit for their hard work and crucial role in achieving this positive outcome."
On an average day, this stretch of the A303 road carries 23,500 vehicles, but numbers increase significantly in the summer, particularly at weekends, making journeys unreliable and unpredictable.
The upgrade will unlock economic growth and improve journey times and reliability
Having completed all the necessary surveys, Highways England is now finalising the detailed design with contractors and currently anticipate starting on site later this year.
Besides the new dual carriageway link the upgrade will include new and replacement slip roads, junctions and road bridges to replace existing junctions and direct access roads.
The new dualled section will start east of Podimore Roundabout, follow the alignment of the existing A303 to Downhead, and then move north of the existing A303 single carriageway, allowing the existing road to be kept for use as a local road in this section.
The route will rise up West Camel Hill before crossing over the existing A303 at the junction with Steart Hill/Howell Hill and meet up with the existing road again between Vale Farm and the Ministry of Defence signal station at Eyewell/Traits Land.
The final section of the route bypasses the existing Hazlegrove Roundabout to the north through the Registered Park and Garden associated with Hazlegrove House, before tying into the existing A303 Sparkford Bypass.
The application was accepted for examination on 23 August 2018. The examination began in December 2018 and was completed in June 2019. The main matters considered at the examination were:
- Legal and Policy Context;
- Planning Issues;
- Archaeology and Cultural Heritage;
- Air Quality and Emissions;
- Biodiversity, Ecology and Natural Environment;
- Noise and Vibration;
- Landscape and Visual Effects;
- Traffic and Transport;
- Socio-Economic Effects;
- Water Environment;
- Habitats Regulations Assessment;
- Compulsory Acquisition and Related Matters; and
- Draft Development Consent Order and Related Matters
The Secretary of State originally issued a ‘minded to refuse’ letter in July 2020 and Highways England (the Applicant) was asked to provide further evidence demonstrating how four specific issues could be satisfactorily addressed. The four issues related to:
- Potential birdstrike connected with the proposed ponds at RNAS Yeovilton.
- Adverse effects on Non-Motorised Users and the Local Road Network in relation to Eastmead Lane/Higher Farm Bridge route; Traits Lane/Gason Lane bridleway; and the Hazlegrove underbridge.
- The detrunked section of the A303 that would continue to provide access to the Mattia Diner and filling station.
- The Applicant’s proposals to use temporary possession powers to secure the delivery of permanent turning heads if it is not able to use temporary possession powers in the way it originally proposed.
Having considered the responses to these matters and all the other evidence discussed the Secretary of State has made some modifications to the final Development Consent Order. The Secretary of State is satisfied that none of these changes constitutes a material change and is therefore satisfied that it is within the powers of section 114 of the 2008 Act for the Secretary of State to make the Order as now proposed.
What happens next?
There is now a period during which a Legal Challenge can be made. A claim for judicial review must be made to the High Court during the period of 6 weeks beginning with 30 January 2021.