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Chamber CEO calls for A303/A358 upgrade to be treated as a single scheme

The A303 and A358 should be upgraded as a single project, not in piecemeal developments, to ensure businesses feel the full benefit, according to Stephen Henagulph, Chief Executive of Somerset Chamber of Commerce.

Mr Henagulph said he remained frustrated the A303 and A358 upgrade was being looked at as eight individual schemes with just three earmarked to be progressed in the current funding round.

He said: “To undertake some of the dualling of the A303 and not deliver all the necessary projects/program of works doesn’t make sense from a simple engineering perspective let alone a cost rational.

“If a single carriage way connects to a section of dual carriageway and then reverts to single carriageway the road at either end will not cope with the flow of traffic at peak capacity.

“Put in simple flow metrics, the water feed to your house enters via a 15mm pipe. Regardless of how large the pipework inside the property is, the water arrived via a 15mm feed pipe. If the water, then leaves via 15mm pipe the flow rate remains constant. The challenge has not been fixed, you have simply moved the problem up or down the pipe!”

The eight A303/A358 dualling schemes.

Mr Henagulph said he was concerned about the impact the piecemeal improvements would have – and remained doubtful as to whether any of them would, ultimately, go-ahead at all.

He said: “I met with the Secretary of State for Transport in Taunton earlier this year and relayed the feelings of the business community which so heavily relies on fluid road movement and efficient infrastructure. I specifically asked for a timetable for the A303 and A358 – his response was simply “it’s a priority”.

“Based on current levels of national commitment and the focus on other regional areas and projects I’m starting to believe we will not receive the infrastructure investment the county and South West deserves.

“Businesses based in and around these roads in Somerset and beyond talk of their frustration of ever-increasing daily traffic build up and delays. They are frustrated by the years and years of delay in making strategic transportation and road infrastructure decisions at national level.”

His comments come after highways bosses said they remained committed to upgrading three sections of the A303 and A358 – but warned one of the three projects had already been delayed and another five remained on the backburner.

Giving evidence before the Public Accounts Committee on Traffic Infrastructure in the South West last week, Bernadette Kelly, Permanent Secretary to the Department for Transport, said the Government did not believe it was necessary to dual the entire length of the A303 in one go.

She said the section between Sparkford and Ilchester and then the A358 between Taunton and Southfields, together with the Stonehenge upgrade and tunnel, remained on the cards.

But Jim O’Sullivan, the Chief Executive of Highways England (HE), confirmed the A358 upgrade was already a year behind schedule and costs had increased massively, but he was adamant the road would be upgraded and open to traffic by 2024.

The committee hearing came after the National Audit Office (NAO) raised concerns about the cost of improving the A303 around Stonehenge and said it represented poor value for money and a low return on investment.

Mr O’Sullivan denied the NAO’s claim it could cost closer to £2.3 billion rather than HE’s £1.7 billion estimate to upgrade the Stonehenge section.

Ms Kelly was asked how committed she was to all eight schemes which would be required to turn the A303 into a dual carriageway from Stonehenge to the A358 and into Taunton and the M5.

She said the Government had set out an “aspiration rather than a commitment to deal with all eight by 2029” and the additional five schemes would now be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Mr O’Sullivan also told the committee he did not know if the A358 upgrade would include a bypass at Henlade.

The five schemes which are not being pushed forward at the moment include South Petherton to Southfields, the Cartgate Roundabout, the Podimore Roundabout, Chicklade Bottom to Mere and Wylye to Stockton Wood.

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