Quite clearly, it’s already too late to think about building a relief road to the south east of Glastonbury, even if that was a good idea. But the unanswered questions start well before that.
The planning process has not considered, at all, any issues of road use or road improvements to the east of the M5 motorway. It has only looked at road usage between the motorway and Hinkley Point on the coast. EDF have made no statement at all about where they intend to source their aggregate, and are not obliged to do so until they sign a contract with their suppliers. The road strengthening around Glastonbury earlier this year was not financed by them.
Nevertheless, they are looking for five million tonnes – yes, 5,000,000 tonnes – and the Mendip hills are a major source of limestone aggregate. The A361 runs through one side of Glastonbury and it is, however unwisely, designated as the main route from the Frome/Shepton Mallet area west towards the M5.
EDF have officially said nothing about this at all. When they get round to buying aggregate, that will be a private commercial agreement with their suppliers, and how they transport it as far as the M5 will be their business. Options apparently include importing it from ‘super-quarries’ in Norway, dredging it up from the bottom of the sea, or – if it comes overland – transporting it by rail to Bristol, and then down the M5 (though if it came from the Mendips the ageing rail track would need upgrading, which makes this option unlikely).
Nevertheless, even the Somerset County Council officers were prepared to say that it would be “surprising” if the Mendips didn’t provide at least a significant proportion.
EDF are building a gigantic jetty at Hinkley, and plan to bring 80% of their materials in by sea. Except that local people have pointed out that, because of the tidal patterns, it will be unusable a lot of the time and 80% is a very ambitious target.
Not to worry, even if EDF discover that they have to bring in most of their aggregate by road, they are restricted by the planning agreement to an average of 500 HGV journeys a day (that’s 250 vehicles, in and out). On peak days this could rise to 750 (375 each way), but even that doesn’t quite reach the rumoured 400. And SCC will be monitoring such things carefully, so that if the ‘community impact’ significantly exceeds what has been agreed, then EDF will be in breach of their planning conditions and the construction work will be … well … illegal.
If in the event they find that they have to apply for a variation to their Development Consent Order then the situation is, er, complicated; in fact it would mean a difficult legal situation involving a new and completely untested major projects planning regime.
And if this were to happen with a £13 billion construction project going full tilt, with pressure to keep up to schedule and with backing from central government, is work going to suddenly stop whilst they sort out the legal niceties?
Nobody at the meeting really thought it would.
But the reassuring men from Somerset County Council did make clear that as soon as they know who the aggregate suppliers would be, they will be in touch with them to discuss the implications of their transport plans.