The Town Council is organising its own town consultation on the subject, encouraged by our MP James Heappey. Their consultation is due to be delivered to homes on February 14th (it’s their valentine card to all of us!) Everyone wants a bypass, or at least some way of redirecting through traffic away from Chilkwell Street and Bere Lane. The consultation document, however, does not explain that the possible bypass would be part of this new national network – and would therefore increase the overall volume of traffic coming through the Glastonbury area; or that it would be paid for partly by ‘partnership’ funding from property developers – in other words the road could only be built with substantial housing and commercial development along the route.
The combination of these two things would have an enormous impact on Glastonbury’s iconic landscape. The preferred (and most likely) route would be along the old railway track behind the Tor, from Steanbow to the Tin Bridge roundabout.
The Town Council’s ‘Road Consultation’ is being pushed through with inordinate haste. As a result it has been hurriedly prepared, with inadequate background information and badly thought-through questions – creating a bias towards the result that some particular councillors have been wanting for years. There was an attempt to include the half-baked consultation document, printed on Town Council headed notepaper, in with the recent Neighbourhood Plan questionnaire; this turned out to be unlawful, since it amounted to the Council putting undue pressure on the Neighbourhood Plan’s own consultation, and it had to be embarrassingly withdrawn.
At the following Town Council meeting on January 9th, after a heated discussion, the wording was amended, though insufficiently, and the date of February 14th was set for its distribution. The Town Clerk then sent an email out to Councillors asking them to check the revisions. She also made a last-minute addition to the agenda of the Planning Committee’s meeting on January 23rd, where the matter should have been finalised. However, the wrong version of the document was inadvertently sent out with the email; although a second email followed with the correct attachment, the result was complete confusion at the Planning meeting.
The confusion at the Planning meeting and continued acrimonious discussion over the Road Consultation’s wording meant that the Mayor was left to organise an Extraordinary Meeting of the Town Council so as to sort the situation out – but this never happened because the Planning meeting didn't know that the consultation document had to be with the printers by the following Friday afternoon, January 26th. So it is not possible that better information and better wording can be included, and the consultation will be sent out without further amendment on February 14th.
However, even if the Road Consultation produces its 'preliminary' result in favour of a bypass, the proposed road scheme would still have many hurdles to jump before it could actually happen. The MRN and the availability of extra funds for improving A-roads were only announced last July, and every town in the country that wants a bypass will be looking for money from the same pot. But James Heappey is an ambitious young MP, he has a certain amount of influence in that he is Parliamentary Private Secretary to Chris Grayling the Secretary of State for Transport, and he has been a strong supporter of the railway track route for a Glastonbury bypass since before he was elected. To some extent he has staked his political reputation on it.
Since his intervention (last August) Glastonbury’s A361 Committee has given up looking for an acceptable alternative route for freight traffic, the Neighbourhood Plan steering group has been fending off pressure from influential Town Councillors, and due process in public consultation has been threatened or undermined. If Glastonbury Town Councillors do nothing except follow unquestioningly Mr Heappey’s lead, then they will have failed to stand up for the town and instead they will have sold it very cheaply down the river.
For a discussion of the 'Southern Route' see here:
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