A361 history part 5: August 2017 – January 2018.

An aphorism that is popular with some Glastonbury Town Councillors is known as ‘Hanlon’s Razor’. A philosophical ‘razor’ is ‘a way of eliminating unlikely explanations for human behaviour and its consequences’. This one is said to be named after Robert J Hanlon of Scranton, Pennsylvania, though there is no proof that such a person ever existed. Another possibility is Robert Heinlein; a character in his 1941 short story ‘Logic of Empire’ came out with a very similar aphorism that was later falsely attributed to Albert Einstein. Hanlon’s Razor says this: ‘Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity’.

Wikipedia, Hanlon’s Razor

I joined Indra and Liz (and Indra’s dog Bailey) walking along what’s left of the old railway line. It seemed important to know what it’s really like. It’s so easy to have great discussions and arguments over nothing but a line on a map, but here we were walking on a clear day in early autumn along what is now a farm track, surrounded by fields and in some places overhung with trees. It’s a delightful walk, and quite a revelation: it ought to be opened up as a proper public footpath.

With the Tor in the background, it is both more peaceful and more picturesque than the dog-walkers’ thoroughfare that I remember of the section further down the line – that was used for the western relief road back in the 1990s. Most of the way the course of the former railway is still quite obvious, though in some places the landowners and farmers must have dug up the hardcore. The atmosphere along much of the route still has the charm of a Victorian railway, which is easy to imagine with a train steaming along here. John Betjeman’s BBC film from the 1960s came readily to mind.

We took a few photographs, though none that really produced the image that I would have liked – one that would capture the feel as well as the scenery of the former course of the railway. Most people probably don’t realise what they would lose if it is destroyed. With camera in hand I was thinking, of course, of an image that would be good to use on a campaigning leaflet or an information hand-out. I had to acknowledge to myself that this was now my intention.

One thing that was becoming more and more important to me now was an overwhelming desire to find out what was really going on. The whole thing, the apparent scheme to have a bypass built here, smelt of unseemly half-truths and unspoken assumptions. I would be spending the next weeks digging for reliable information, and letting people know the real story as best as I could.

Glastonbury A361 Committee, August 2017

The meeting on August 24th 2017 had been the key moment. People who were there seem to have retained a vivid memory of the image conjured up by James Heappey’s presentation: the ‘Somerset Freeway’, something just a step or two down from a motorway. Some committee members were excited, a few were horrified.

It took a while to find a copy of the minutes, which were not distributed until shortly before the following meeting. When I did get hold of them they seemed woefully lacking: “A lengthy discussion of these issues followed, during which Councillor Napper reassured the committee that County Councillors along the route are in favour of the improvements, as are the District Councillors”. Was that really the only thing of importance that came out of a ‘lengthy discussion’? I knew one person who had asked about traffic volumes for instance, and Mr Heappey had agreed that they would increase if a new bypass was built.

It was explained that the government’s intention is to use all road fund tax receipts for building and maintaining roads; of this, a substantial portion would be channeled to local authorities for upgrading A-roads – this is the so-called ‘bypass fund’. A key factor in which schemes would be selected would be their potential for economic development. (1) This has been generally defined in terms of new housing and commercial development related to the road proposal, and the cutting of journey times. In response to a question about how the proposed road scheme would relate to overall regional strategy, however, he said that “in relation to a secondary growth zone including North Devon and Mendip, the A39/A361 was the obvious route.” (2) This statement – though minuted – was given no real attention at the time, but it puts a much greater meaning on the phrase, ‘potential for economic development’.

Also of central importance was the need to establish that residents would actually want a bypass, though this seemed to be assumed by most committee members. The Transport Department would be consulting local authorities around the country on the principles of this proposal (though not on possible individual road schemes) early in the new year.

All of this information was given to Glastonbury’s County Councillors and to members of the A361 committee in August 2017, just a few weeks after the government’s proposal for a new ‘Major Road Network’ (MRN) had been presented to parliament. James Heappey had just been given the job of Parliamentary Private Secretary to Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport. The MRN proposal was to create a new tier of roads, in between motorways and local roads, by upgrading A-roads that were designated as county freight routes. It would be financed from the government’s central Road Fund, along with substantial ‘partnership funding’ from developers. That was not made clear to the people of Glastonbury until after they had been asked to respond to a ‘Road Consultation’ several months later.
What can be seen from the MP’s answers to pre-arranged questions was that he wanted the committee to play a role in his much wider scheme. In his new position as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Transport he was mounting a campaign, a lobbying campaign; he had already visited Somerset County Council, Mendip and Sedgemoor District Councils, and the parish councils at Walton and Ashcott. “He has reported universal support for the scheme.” (3) He was aware that Glastonbury had a Neighbourhood Plan consultation coming up, and he saw this as an opportunity “to ensure that the community of Glastonbury understood the economic basis of the bypass application and demonstrated local commitment to it”. (4)

He was also in close touch with the Devon and Somerset Local Enterprise Partnership, the partnership being between business leaders and local authorities – with business being the senior partner. (5) It was presumably the LEP’s local growth plan that had identified North Devon and Mendip as a “secondary growth zone”, which meant that “the A39/A361 was the obvious route” for road improvements that would support the regional economic strategy. (6)

What Mr Heappey may not have understood was that the A361 Committee and Glastonbury’s Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group were two very different bodies, the latter having strong community input and a keen awareness of its relative autonomy. There was limited cross-over between the two, and the A361 committee had no more than a vague understanding of what the Neighbourhood Plan consultation involved. It had even less of how an effective public consultation should be carried out.

The Transport Department’s recent proposal for a Major Road Network was never mentioned during the meeting, nor by the MP in any local public (or semi-public) context that I am aware of. The intention is to “double the strategic road network” whilst recognising that “many of the economically important routes that join up the country are the responsibility of cash-strapped local councils”. (7) The use of Vehicle Excise Duty in its entirety for road building and maintenance would be in place by the financial year 2020/21, which would mean a huge hidden subsidy for the road haulage industry. “Today’s announcement is a big step on the way to winning back [road users’] trust”.

The new tier of roads, to be formed largely by upgrading county freight routes, would require bypasses in many places to avoid ‘pinch points’ and to make the network fit for purpose. That purpose, in a local context, is to move traffic more quickly and efficiently to and from centres of economic production (such as the Mendip quarries) and the M5 motorway.

In spite of Heappey’s statement that Glastonbury should understand the ‘economic basis of the bypass’, the truth is that committee members had only a loose understanding of the concept. In reality the project was being sold to them purely as a means to solve the long-standing problems of road safety and traffic congestion on the freight route through Glastonbury. The committee eagerly bought it, and did not appreciate the cost.

The A361 committee had always met every month or two, and the next meeting was to take place when County Councillors were able to report on progress with the committee’s requests from the small improvement scheme (i.e a zebra crossing and 20 mph speed restrictions), which was expected to mean in September. In fact the committee did not meet again until early January, after a gap of more than four months. During the intervening period, however, there was a great deal quietly going on behind the scenes.

​Somerset County Council Scrutiny for Policies and Place Committee

At a County Council level a different story was unfolding. On September 5th, Somerset County Council’s Scrutiny for Policies and Place Committee discussed an update on potential investment for strategic roads. Historically, one of the primary functions of County Councils has been to build roads, but in Somerset as in many counties this is no longer possible within the limits of the Council’s own diminished resources. Somerset County Council is said to be still paying off the money it borrowed in the 1990s to pay for Glastonbury’s western relief road. So the County Council’s committee were considering a list of possible funding sources, all of them (except ‘developer funds’) derived directly or indirectly from central government.

Newly added to the list was an ‘emerging policy on a new Major Road Network (MRN) for England’, which together with the motorways would carry “43% of England’s traffic on just 4% of its roads”. There would be a consultation process focusing mainly on management arrangements for the MRN at a regional level, though highway authority responsibility would remain with local authorities. “Recent correspondence from the DfT indicates that the consultation will [also] consider funding for improvements to such a network as well as an enhanced maintenance regime.” (8) This would mean money for the County Council to do its job, though strictly limited to road schemes that would comply with the Transport Department’s central priorities.

On the fifth page of this document appeared a small map of south west England – extracted from a larger, national ‘indicative’ map of the suggested new road network – showing, amongst the ‘Local Authority selected A roads’, the the A361 and A39 between Frome and the M5. Because Glastonbury had become a designated County Freight Route twenty years ago, it was now about to be included in the proposed Major Road Network.

The paper, with its telling little map, was not a policy document and its contents were not reported in the press. Glastonbury & Street County Councillor Liz Leyshon is a member of the committee, but when reporting to Glastonbury Town Council in December she said only that there were ‘no plans’ for a Glastonbury bypass (9) – as of course there were not, the MRN proposal was still just a proposal, though its progress through the various stages on its way to becoming policy was proceeding steadily. At the same time it was clear, to anyone with an ear near to the ground, that informal discussions about this new proposal were certainly going on at County Hall.

Meanwhile, James Heappey’s website was suggesting that “An expressway is needed at Ashcott and Walton to expedite traffic on A39 from M5/J23 into Glastonbury, Street, Shepton and Wells”. (10) This he later admitted was misleading. In the new regime of proliferating road networks, the word ‘expressway’ has a specific meaning: upgraded A-roads designed to be ‘motorway standard’, as is being planned for the A303. This means they will be dual carriageway with a central barrier, bus routes will be diverted, cyclists and other non-motorway traffic will be excluded, and there will be motorway junctions, more service stations, overhead gantries, large signs and concrete barriers. (11) Later Mr Heappey would regretfully admit that even an ordinary dual carriageway is unlikely, though the ‘Mendip Expressway’ piece remains up on his website.

Glastonbury Neighbourhood Plan, Development Land Focus Group

The Localism Act of 2011 allows Town and Parish Councils to develop neighbourhood plans, as a way of giving local communities more input into the planning process. This new provision had been strongly endorsed by the local Green Party during the Town Council election of May 2015, and the following October the Town Council agreed in principle to embark on the two-year process of developing such a plan. They also applied for a grant to employ a part-time ‘qualified officer’ to assist in the process. (12)

In May 2016 Gerard Tucker, soon to be elected as a Conservative District Councillor in South Somerset, was employed as assistant Town Clerk and part-time Neighbourhood Planning Officer, and the Neighbourhood Plan steering group began work under the chairmanship of Green Party Mayor Jon Cousins. The following year, with a mass of material to cover in several different subject areas – Housing, Employment, Trees, Green Space, Heritage, Art and Culture – a ‘focus group’ for each was established. These discussed ideas and proposals in detail, and produced the initial drafts for a questionnaire that would be circulated to all households in the town. Ultimately the community could produce its own policies through the Neighbourhood Plan process, and the finished result would be put to a local referendum.

This is a lengthy procedure and James Heappey’s suggestion that such a difficult subject as a potential bypass should be included, at a late stage in the drafting process, was thoroughly misplaced. Nevertheless those Councillors – members of the A361 committee – who were particular supporters of his proposal endeavoured to get it included anyway. Gerard Tucker was clearly open to the idea, and was able to use the Neighbourhood Plan ‘roadshow’ events to canvass the public about a bypass. At the NHP Steering Group meeting in September he talked (though not as part of the agenda) about the possibility of opening up land outside the development boundary for commercial development. The idea of moving Sparks Transport depot to a new site adjacent to a bypass along the former railway line, and using the vacated site for housing, had clearly been discussed privately with some enthusiasm.

A week later there was an email from Gerard Tucker to members of the Development Land Focus Group, saying that the A361 committee had asked them to discuss their preferred route for a bypass. This was extraordinary because the A361 committee had not met for a month. This initiative must have come from a few individuals keen to pursue James Heappey’s agenda. The Focus Group had a meeting scheduled for October 4th, and Gerard Tucker invited to this meeting several people from the local business community who were interested in development, and the meeting’s proper purpose of working on the NHP questionnaire was effectively abandoned. The group who met was entirely made up of men, seven out of nine of them more than 50 years old.

Ian Tucker was present as a ‘representative of the A361 committee’, and most of the meeting was given over to a discussion of a possible bypass. The route along the old railway line was the only one seen as realistic and was clearly regarded as being desirable, this being presented as if it was the consensus view of the A361 committee. Brindham and Wick, near the eastern end of the route, were suggested as the best place for associated development. In a brief ‘go-round’ at the end of the discussion, only one out of the nine people present spoke against the suggested plan. (13)

The meeting was not minuted, and I am relying on notes from one of those present for the information. When the Steering Group met the following week, it was reported only that “the group discussed longer-term aspirations to remove traffic congestion through the building of a by-pass. This if delivered would potentially open up additional employment and residential opportunities”. (14) The assumption that all this was realistic, and that it would automatically have support from the whole of Glastonbury, seems all-pervading. At the same time, Ian Tucker and others who were promoting the plan were wary of too much public discussion: none of this was intended to be in the public domain until it could be announced at the Town Council meeting on October 10th.

Glastonbury Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group

​If it was intended for the October Town Council meeting to be the frame for a dramatic announcement, it wasn’t to be. By then people across the town were already talking about a possible bypass anyway, and the meeting began with contributions from the public gallery asking the Council not to allow such damage to Glastonbury’s sacred landscape. Such discussion as there was had to wait until near the end of the meeting, when ‘Reports from Working Groups’ was reached on the agenda – in the absence of the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group’s Chairman and Vice Chairman, and the Community Planning Officer.

The minutes skate over the confusion that arose when it was realised that the Steering Group’s remit does not extend beyond the current development boundary. This was not a report from the Steering Group, as it purported to be. Neither was it a report from the A361 committee, which by then had not met for more than six weeks. It was Councillor Tucker finding an opportunity to take the floor and talk about possible bypass routes, and it was agreed by the Council that he should ask the Neighbourhood Planning Officer to obtain clear information about historic bypass proposals.

According to the minutes the Mayor, Emma George, closed the discussion by saying quite definitively that “The Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group is working towards carrying out a full and comprehensive consultation on the plan, and that traffic problems including relieving the problems on the A361 will be part of the consultation. Full details of previous plans will be included for the information of the public.” (15) The Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group, however, had not yet formally discussed this ‘plan’ at all. The Mayor’s statement was a fiction, presumably based on a conversational report of the Focus Group’s discussion that had been set up by Gerard Tucker and Ian Tucker. This had not been minuted and had no official status at all.

When the Steering Group did consider the issue, the following evening, their response was by no means so cut and dried. The discussion was extremely long, so long that the meeting had to be re-convened a week later. Denise Abbott, who is Chair of the A361 committee but had not hitherto been a member of the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group, put herself forward to fill a vacancy at the first meeting and, having been elected, was there once again for the second. Two new community members were also elected.

There followed hours of discussion, but it was extremely sparsely minuted. At the end of the first session, on the 11th, it was recorded only that “A long discussion ensued [about the content of the questionnaire generally] addressing each proposed question in turn. There was insufficient time to conclude this agenda item. It was agreed to reconvene the following week.” (16) There was a great deal of work to do, finalising the questionnaire form. This far-reaching interjection from the A361 committee can hardly have been helpful.

On the 18th, according to the minutes, “With regards to the inclusion of a question on the by-pass, a ‘round table straw poll’ was taken asking for members’ input,” though no decision was recorded. (17) In fact the Steering Group had decided by a clear majority not to include a question about a bypass in the questionnaire. The Steering Group was not keen on including controversial issues as that might jeopardise its success at the eventual referendum. There were more straightforward reasons to reject the Council’s request, however, such as that it would mean too great an extra workload to take on at this stage; and also because it was too big an issue to be tucked away at the bottom of a long list of diverse questions, and it was too complex an issue to be covered by a yes/no answer on a questionnaire. I believe their recommendation at the time was that it should be taken to a Town Hall meeting.

When the Steering Group met again on November 1st, there was a further discussion over the accuracy of the minutes from October. As a result the item about a bypass question was amended rather clumsily to, “With regards to the inclusion of a question on the by-pass, a ‘round table straw poll’ was taken asking for members input and the consensus was to not include a question on the by-pass and the decision was taken.” (18) By then, however, the Planning Committee – which includes Councillors Abbott and Tucker, and also Jon Cousins – had used its regular review of the Steering Group’s progress to make the following recommendation:

“The Neighbourhood Planning Steering Group should include the options of alternative road routes from the A361 as part of the Neighbourhood Plan consultation, with the implications of development along these historical routes.” (19)

When the Steering Group considered this, after “much debate” (said to be two hours on the Planning Committee’s recommendation alone) it was “agreed to include two questions relating to commercial and residential development outside of the defined development boundaries alongside a new road,” (20) though the eventual agreed wording did not refer to a road at all.

There was a choice between “Accepting housing development only within the defined development boundary”, “Accepting housing development outside of the defined development boundary”, and “Accepting housing development outside of the defined development boundary if it addresses identified needs for our community”. (21) What kind of ‘identified needs for our community’, one wonders, are likely to come up so suddenly that there would be no chance to take account of them in long term plans? This strikingly meaningless compromise did not receive a lot of support from respondents.

Members of the Steering Group remember also voting to produce a new separate consultation document concerning the potential relief road, which could be done in the new year. This, however, was not minuted and was not taken up by the A361 committee or the Town Council.

When the Planning Committee’s recommendation was first sent to members of the Steering Group, it had arrived with draft questions concerning a relief road and related development. Also included were these additional options: “Traffic congestion should be reduced by redirecting Heavy Goods Vehicles away from Glastonbury along existing alternative routes” and “Traffic congestion should be reduced by introducing a 7.5 tonne weight restriction in residential areas of Glastonbury”, as well as “No new roads should be built around Glastonbury”. (22) After the Steering Group had turned down the suggestion entirely, Town Councillors chose to create their own ‘Road Consultation’. None of these last three options were included.

James Heappey MP

​Part of the reason for all this convolution was that it was not at all clear what the scale of development might be, nor whether the road really was envisaged as an ‘expressway’ or merely a single carriageway bypass – and speculation on both subjects was rife. It was therefore further agreed, at the Steering Group meeting on November 1st, to approach James Heappey and to ask for clarification.

According to the minutes, it was resolved that Neighbourhood Planning Officer Gerard Tucker would contact the MP to obtain clarification on the difference between the two expressions ‘relief road’ and ‘expressway’. (23) According to members of the Steering Group who I spoke to soon after this meeting, it was Emma George who had agreed to email him, and to ask for ‘a full and comprehensive explanation of exactly what is on the table, what is proposed and what is just hearsay, along with all the relevant implications’. (24) Emma apparently delegated this task to her Deputy Mayor, Denise Abbott, with the assurance that “I will, of course, ensure that any information forthcoming is shared publicly.” (25) Whatever was the case, members of the Steering Group waited patiently for the MP’s response, though two more meetings in November passed by and it still had not appeared by the time their questionnaire was finalised in mid-December.

In fact an emailed letter had been sent to James Heappey by Denise Abbott and it seems that, in her mind at least, she had written it in her capacity as Chair of the A361 committee. A reply was received on 29th November – four weeks later – addressed to Denise Abbott and Gerard Tucker, who did not bring it to the Steering Group’s attention. It had been copied to Emma George, and also to both of Glastonbury’s county councillors as well as the three conservative district councillors – though not to the fourth, who is a Liberal Democrat. It also went to Councillor Harvey Siggs, leader of Mendip District Council. Neither Denise Abbott nor Emma George attended the Steering Group meetings on November 29th or December 13th.

The letter was never given to members of the Steering Group, whose resolution had led to it being solicited in the first place. It eventually emerged beyond the select group who had received it when on December 19th it accompanied the agenda for an ‘emergency’ meeting of the A361 committee. After more than four months with no meeting at all, this was suddenly called the week before Christmas to take place three days into the new year.

Little new came to light as a result of the letter, though having done much himself to raise both the fears and the expectations that were now becoming the chief talking points in Glastonbury, James Heappey was now absolving himself from responsibility. He asked his correspondents to “reassure those in the community with the wildest plans that there certainly won’t be a new motorway rumbling across the Somerset Levels. I’m pretty sure that we won’t even get a dual carriageway, but we can live in hope”. (26)

Later he would make clear that the proposal would need to include development of houses ‘in the thousands’, but for now he stated firmly that developing the scheme would be entirely up to the local authorities: “It is not for me to say exactly what the road is or where it should go. These are really decisions for Mendip District Council from the perspective of house building and economic development, and Somerset County Council as the Highways Authority.”

Ian Tucker and others had been pursuing what they seem to have taken as Heappey’s directive, to ensure that the bypass plan was included in the Neighbourhood Plan consultation. Now that they had failed to do so, the arrival of this letter seems to have galvanised them into a frantic effort to produce their own ‘Road Consultation’. The Steering Group’s offer to carry this out once the Neighbourhood Plan questionnaire had been completed was ignored. Time, for whatever reason, was suddenly of the essence.

What private communication there was at this time between James Heappey and senior Town Councillors we do not know, but it seems more than likely that there was some. It is interesting, for instance, that the agenda for the January A361 committee meeting was dated several days before the MRN consultation began, suggesting that key committee members had been alerted to this, rather than finding out about it for themselves. When Lindsay MacDougall approached Denise Abbott to ask why the Council’s ‘Road Consultation’ had been timed to coincide with the MRN consultation, she got no reply but was referred to James Heappey. None of this provides anything conclusive, and James Heappey later reminded the Town Council that the survey was entirely their responsibility and of their own devising, but it is very curious.

The main item on the agenda for the committee meeting of January 3rd was a “Town wide consultation on potential relief road and discussion of its wording”. A questionnaire and some rather flimsy ‘background information’ had been hurriedly drafted during the first half of December. The agenda that was then sent out to committee members scarcely followed on at all from the previous meeting in August. Those who had not been involved in the behind-the-scenes developments were presented with a situation “as if”, as one of them put it, “there had been a big important meeting in between, which I had completely missed”.

Glastonbury A361 Committee, January 2018

The discussion, as minuted, opens with this: “There had been a recent confirmation announcement from government that funds were being allocated for relief road improvements and public consultation for this would be from January to March 2018. Given that the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group had opted not to include any consultation on a possible relief road in the Neighbourhood Plan and taking into consideration the urgent time constraints for gathering relevant information, a draft town-wide consultation paper addressing the points raised by James Heappey had been prepared jointly by Councillors I Tucker and J Cousins for consideration by the committee. It was proposed that to save cost and time the consultation document might be included in the same envelope as the Neighbourhood Plan consultation document later in the month.” (27)

This rationale is based entirely on a complete misunderstanding of the government’s Major Road Network consultation, and it led to endless argument, debate, confusion, letters of complaint, mistrust and an exhausting rush to get the ‘Road Consultation’ prepared, distributed and collated to meet a totally unnecessary deadline.

At the same time, James Heappey’s letter of ‘clarification’ had been boiled down to two over-simplified points, which would be the ‘points raised by James Heappey’ that would be addressed by the committee’s ‘consultation paper’. They betray a lack of any real understanding of what the MP had been attempting to convey. The minutes say, “He had emphasised that the preferred route for a possible relief road should be identified locally,” and he had “made it clear that housing and economic development would ensue”. (28)

They just had not been paying attention. James Heappey’s letter had been distributed to them all, but if they had read it then it cannot have been very carefully. He had made quite clear that “detail of the proposal will need to be developed by Mendip [District Council] and Somerset [County Council]”, and that housing and commercial development would have to be planned in advance and would contribute to the funding package, not that they would rather vaguely “ensue”. (29)

Furthermore, if the committee had taken the trouble to have a look at the Department for Transport’s MRN consultation document, which was available as a free download on the Department’s website, they would have seen that it was not about individual road schemes at all, and that funds were not being allocated in the immediate future. This was about setting up the bureaucratic structure to deliver the MRN, regionally and nationally.

“The consultation seeks views on the criteria being used to define the network … on 
how the Investment Programme for the MRN is developed … and on the investment assessment criteria used to assess MRN schemes.” (30) These views would be sought from bodies such as Somerset County Council’s Highways Department. The time scale for actual road schemes to be identified and developed would – as Heappey had said several times – stretch several years ahead. The implied notion that communities all over the country were now rushing to fill in questionnaires designed to show that they were keen to have a bypass is, frankly, quite laughable. There were no ‘urgent time constraints’.

However, the committee had not grasped this, and most people in the town had not heard it at all. The inordinate haste alarmed people who were already alive to the suggestion that a bypass could be built along the old railway line, and who were worried that “the impact on the environment would be enormous. The heritage aspect of Glastonbury as a historical spiritual centre would be severely damaged. The Tor and Chalice Hill would be cut off from the open countryside and put in danger of becoming green blobs in the midst of urban sprawl. What is most important here would be disrespected, even desecrated, and made subservient to a crass version of economic development”. (31)

The rush to put the ‘Road Consultation’ together caused alarm because it gave the impression that this was a deliberate ploy, intended to catch people with a knee-jerk reaction in favour of a bypass, without having time to think about the proposal clearly nor all the information needed to make an informed decision. These were indeed the effects in many cases, whether or not deliberately induced.

Members of the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group were also alarmed, even insulted, by the prospect of this ‘back-of-an-envelope’ document being foisted upon them and included with their own carefully prepared consultation questionnaire. Their next meeting was scheduled for Wednesday January 10th and they were bracing themselves for another long and difficult discussion. On the Tuesday evening, however, it was announced by the Mayor at the Town Council’s monthly meeting that “Natasha Durham from Mendip District Council, who advises on the Neighbourhood Plan, and Jane Llewellyn, Neighbourhood Planning Officer for Frome, strongly advise not to circulate the road survey before the Neighbourhood Plan questionnaires are returned, as it could jeopardise the adoption of the Plan.” (32) I am told that the necessary phone calls had been made by Gerard Tucker, without whom this would probably not have been checked.

The pressure that the Steering Group had been put under to accede to the A361 committee’s demands, and in particular the proposal to include a document that they did not want and that was to be printed on the Town Council’s headed notepaper, amounted to undue influence by the Council and was, in fact, unlawful.

The Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group met on January 10th and Denise Abbott informed them that the Town Council would go ahead itself with the survey, “on the demand for and potential route of a relief road around the peripheries of the town. To avoid any correlation with the Neighbourhood Plan, this will be a separate questionnaire which will not be circulated until after the [Neighbourhood Plan questionnaire’s] return date of 14th February”. (33) Everyone breathed a sigh of relief and got on with preparing for their questionnaire’s imminent distribution.

Notes and References

   1. Based on notes taken by Councillor Lindsay MacDougall, member of the A361 committee.
2. Glastonbury A361 committee minutes, 24 August 2017.
3. James Heappey, Mendip Expressway, included under ‘My Campaigns’: https://www.jamesheappey.org.uk/campaigns/mendip-expressway
   4. Glastonbury A361 committee minutes, 24 August 2017.
5. There are 38 regional LEPs, set up following the incoming Conservative government’s budget in 2010. They receive government funding from the Business Department through its Local Growth Fund, allocated on the basis of competitive bidding based on local growth plans drawn up by the LEPs for that purpose. The previous Regional Development Agencies, established by the Labour government, were abolished in March 2012. See Wikipedia, Local Enterprise Partnership, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Local_enterprise_partnership
6. See James Heappey’s response to an enquiry from Lilli Mayborn, the one remaining community member of the A361 committee: A361 committee minutes, 24 August 2017.
7. RAC Foundation, Eight thousand mile major road network to be formed, 5 July 2017. https://www.racfoundation.org/media-centre/eight-thousand-mile-major-road-network-formed-road-fund
8. Somerset County Council Scrutiny for Policies and Place Committee, 5 September 2017: Strategic Roads Update, paragraphs 3.19 – 3.21
9. Glastonbury Town Council minutes, 12 December 2017.
10. James Heappey, Mendip Expressway, included under ‘My Campaigns’: https://www.jamesheappey.org.uk/campaigns/mendip-expressway
   11. Campaign for Better Transport, Expressways coming your way: http://bettertransport.org.uk/expressways-coming-your-way
12. Glastonbury Town Council minutes, October 2015.
13. Personal communication from Robert Macbeth, member of the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group and Development Land Focus Group.
14. Glastonbury Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group minutes, 11 October 2017.
15. Glastonbury Town Council minutes, 10 October 2017.
16. Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group minutes, 11 October 2017.
17. Notes of the subsequent meeting of the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group held 18 October 2017, appended to the minutes from 11 October 2017.
18. Glastonbury Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group minutes, 1 November 2017.
19. Glastonbury Town Council Planning Committee minutes, 24 October 2017. Jon Cousins provided me with a lengthy rationale for his support for this recommendation, which sadly there is insufficient space for here. He did clarify that, ‘Although initially convened by the Planning Committee, the Steering Group has its own sovereignty in undertaking the Neighbourhood Planning process, and so the Town Council/Planning Committee cannot overturn any decision made by the Steering Group. It can, however, make recommendations to the Steering Group.’
   20. Glastonbury Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group minutes, 1 November 2017.
21. Glastonbury Neighbourhood Plan Consultation Questionnaire, 14 February 2018, Question 11. Question 12, regarding ‘employment development’, offered only the straightforward options of ‘within’ or ‘outside of’ the development boundary.
22. Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group, notes to agenda item, October 2017.
23. Glastonbury Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group minutes, 1 November 2017.
24. Bruce Garrard, diary entry, 2 November 2017.
25. Emma George, email to Green Party Town Councillors and others, 3 November 2017.
26. Emailed letter from James Heappey MP to Councillor Denise Abbott, Community Planning Officer Gerard Tucker and others, 29 November 2017.
27. Glastonbury A361 Committee minutes, 3 January 2018. Item 30: ‘Town wide consultation on potential relief road’. The MRN consultation actually ran from 23 December 2017 until 19 March 2018.
28. Ditto, item 29: ‘Email from James Heappey MP’.
29. Emailed letter from James Heappey MP, 29 November 2017.
30. Department for Transport, Proposals for the Creation of a Major Road Network, Consultation document December 2017: Executive Summary, Consultation Focus, pp 7-8.
31. Bruce Garrard, A new Glastonbury relief road: what is really going on? Glastonbury Oracle , December 2017.
32. Glastonbury Town Council minutes, 9 January 2018.
33. Glastonbury Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group minutes, 10 January 2018.