Double celebration for Somerset in roads revolution

Somerset County Council and business leaders are celebrating today’s announcement that two of Somerset’s key transport routes are in line to benefit from a £2bn roads boost.

Following years of lobbying for ‘whole route improvement’ of the A303 corridor by a partnership of local authorities led by Somerset County Council, the Government has confirmed that hard work has paid off.

It has announced that the full A303 corridor – including the A358 from the Ilminster roundabout to Taunton and the A30 – would be upgraded as part of a £2bn Roads Investment Strategy. The plans include full dualling of the route between Amesbury and Taunton, with a tunnel built at Stonehenge, and improvements over the Blackdown Hills between Ilminster and Honiton.

The Sparkford to Ilchester section of the A303 and the A358 are expected to be among the first to be started. Together with the South Petherton to Southfields section of the route, could see more than £600m being invested in the County’s roads.

Today’s announcement follows three years of lobbying Government by Somerset County Council alongside of neighbouring authorities in Devon, Wiltshire, Dorset and with the support of the Heart of West Local Enterprise Partnership.

Cllr John Osman, Somerset County Council’s Leader, said: “We’ve worked so hard to put the A303 and the A358 right back at the top of the Government’s agenda and it’s great news that all our hard work has paid off.

“Today’s announcement is the result of a long hard-fought campaign and I’d like to publically thank everyone involved – from all those within the partnership, to the many businesses who pledged their support and every member of the public who wrote to the DfT or signed a petition.

“We’ll celebrate today’s news but my pledge to you is we will keep up the pressure until work is finished and we can all benefit from shorter, safer and more reliable journey times.”

Representatives from Somerset County Council have met with three different Transport Ministers, sent numerous letters and held two MP briefing sessions in Westminster to gather support. In partnership with neighbouring authorities, they have commissioned economic studies to highlight the benefits of improvements, and surveyed hundreds of businesses and visitors to show the widespread support.

These showed that improvements could provide 21,400 jobs, a £41.6bn boost to the economy and £1.9bn in transport benefits from reduced journey times. An upgrade could also prevent more than 1,800 fatal or serious injuries over 60 years and reduce carbon emissions by 9%.

The goal of the partnership was clear – to secure a firm commitment for sustained improvements to the whole route, with a clear timetable for delivery.

Cllr Osman added: “We set the bar very high with our objectives. We were very clear that just improving parts of the route was not enough and we needed major investment and a commitment to improving the whole route, including Stonehenge, and also including both the A358 to Taunton and the A30 to Honiton.

“The A358 is crucial to future economic growth in Taunton and Bridgwater, and will also serve new developments at Hinkley, whilst only by improving the A30 will we have a second reliable strategic link through to the South West as an alternative to the M5.

“Today’s announcement means we should finally have a road which is fit for purpose. It will generate a significant boost for the Somerset economy and some consolation for the thousands of motorists who have suffered from delays over so many years.”

Local businesses which will benefit from the improvements have also warmly welcomed the news*:

Marc Haynes CEO of The Haynes International Motor Museum said: “This has been long awaited and the widening scheme will ultimately reduce traffic congestion at this choke point on the A303. In the longer term it will encourage more drivers to use the A303 as a major artery to the South West.”

Simon Saunders, owner of Ariel Atom Motors based in Crewkerne, said: “This is great news and will vastly improve things for us. We and our customers rely on the A303 and A358 and in the summer they can be purgatory.

“It has a direct impact on our business. People say they just won’t come and see us on a here on a Friday because of the traffic. We have customers who say how long they’ve been stuck on the road and we have to plan in lots of time when we’re travelling because we don’t know how long it’s going to take.”

David Eccles, from EDF Energy, said: “We welcome today’s announcement of major investment in a key transport link to Somerset and the South West. This will help drive economic growth in the region and, along with projects such as our own at Hinkley Point C, opens up even more opportunities for local businesses and individuals. It is great news for the whole region.”

Steve Hindley, CBE DL and Chairman of Midas Group, CBI Construction Council and Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, added: “I welcome the £2bn investment in South West roads. The peninsula crucially needs this step change in its connectivity to unlock its potential for economic prosperity.

“We already have clusters of thriving businesses, top class universities, colleges, schools and a Science Park that compete in a global arena, and with improved access to markets, many other businesses can achieve sustainable growth and create new employment opportunities to bring our GVA up to the national average and beyond.

“We welcome this opportunity to facilitate the creation of jobs, growth and prosperity in the Heart of the South West.”

The Haynes International Motor Museum (Sparkford), Chief Executive Officer, Marc Haynes: “However, speaking as a national attraction and local employer, we must ensure that businesses have sufficient, clear and correct signage as well as easy and safe access off the new road; we need people to stop and not just treat South Somerset as a drive through. It will certainly shorten drive times which will enable us to attract visitors from further afield.”

Somerset County Cricket Club (Taunton) Chief Executive Officer, Guy Lavender: “Investment in road infrastructure is vital for the prosperity of the West Country and the Government’s announcement is most welcome. Dualling the A303 all the way to Ilminster and then the A358 connecting onto the M5 avoids the problematic area around the Blackdown Hills.”

Numatic International (Chard) Property and Energy Manager, Andrew Smith: “The news of definite plans to improve the A303 route to the SW will be positively welcomed by all manufacturing companies in the region and none more so than Numatic International.

“Producing more than 5,000 products a day and sending them throughout the UK and to world markets, reliable transport links are a key to our operation. For too long, the SW peninsula has been the poor relation compared to other regions when it comes to infrastructure investment and hopefully this announcement will go some way towards addressing that.”