Leaflet text, in response to Glastonbury Town Council’s ‘Road Consultation’, February 2018:
Although a bypass is an attractive proposition at first sight, this suggestion needs a second look. The questionnaire, due to arrive soon after February 14th, has been hastily prepared and lacks a lot of important information – which is needed for people to make a properly informed decision.
Firstly, funding for the proposed road would come from the Transport Department’s National Roads Fund, in partnership with private developers. This would mean:
• A road without the development is not an option. It would only go ahead with substantial housing and commercial development along the route.
• For the northern route, this could be 1,000 houses – a 20% increase in Glastonbury’s size!
• The development would be entirely outside the town’s agreed development boundary.
Second, this new road would not simply be a bypass for Glastonbury. As part of their proposal for a new national road network, the government has raised the possibility of upgrading the A361 and the A39 between Frome and the M5. This could include a bypass around Glastonbury, as an ‘improvement’ to the A361 as part of creating a strategic road. This would mean:
• An increase in traffic and pollution through the Glastonbury area.
• Most of this traffic is not local traffic. We just happen to live on its route.
• Key decisions concerning the development would be made in London – which is where the results of the questionnaire will be sent in March.
The combination of a major road and substantial development would have an enormous impact on Glastonbury’s world-renowned landscape. Particularly if the ‘northern’ route were chosen, along the old railway line behind the Tor, the damage to our heritage, our environment and our tourist trade could be far greater than the current problem of heavy traffic. There are other ways of solving that problem. Rerouting lorries away from Glastonbury is still very much achievable and would take the strategic road away with it, making a bypass unnecessary. That would be real progress.
These additional pieces (links to articles on the website) are designed to answer specific questions arising from the consultation:
1. What are the alternative routes to the A361 through Glastonbury?
Roadworks are frequently needed in Chilkwell Street (particularly with the battering that the road surface gets these days!) but there is always another route to send the HGVs onto. Meanwhile trucks carrying aggregate from Whatley Quarry to Hinkley Point are using at least three different routes, so as not to overload any one of them. There are clearly viable freight routes other than along the A361 through Glastonbury.
The A303 route: The main one would be down the A37 as far as the A303 and then the A358 to the motorway and Taunton. This is already a designated freight route, so would require no changes except altering the A361 to a Local Freight Route (restricted to local deliveries etc). This would not only re-direct most of the HGVs, but would also mean that the A303 route would come up on car drivers’ satnavs when they want to get to the M5.
There would be a problem for some large trucks because of a low railway bridge at Lydford – and of course the freight hauliers don’t like the route because it’s longer than the A361, which is perhaps why any alternative suggestion is said to be ‘impossible’.
The A39 through Wells: Another possibility is to go via Wells. At the moment traffic coming down the A39 from the Bristol direction is directed from Rush Hill Wood (on the Wells side of Farrington Gurney) along the A37 to Shepton Mallet, where it joins the A361.
Local drivers ignore this sign because they know the quickest and the obvious way to Glastonbury is to continute along the A39 through Wells. Many people expected the sign at Rush Hill to be removed when the Wells relief road was built more than 20 years ago, at the same time as the Glastonbury relief road. The two schemes together were considered to provide a viable route that would avoid both historic town centres. Nevertheless, the sign is still there.
The ridge route: For traffic from the Frome direction, the A371 to Wells and then the A39 skirting Glastonbury is another possibility, and one that is used when there are major roadworks on the A361. However, this takes the heavy traffic through Croscombe and several other villages.
The proposal for a ‘ridge route’ from Shepton Mallet to Dulcote, joining up with the dual carriageway section of the A371 on its way into Wells, was put forward when plans were made to extend Whatley Quarry during the 1990s. This never materialised and the traffic continued to come down the A361, though many people felt that this would have been a good solution even without the enormous proposed quarry extension.
Any route through or around Wells would require some road improvements, though mostly less (and less expensive) than is being suggested for Glastonbury. The real reasons for this being ‘impossible’ to implement appear to be political, with major landed vested interests around Wells.
Reynalds Way: One other suggestion has been to widen the ‘top road’ (Reynalds Way) along Street Hill and Walton Hill, which is a route much less populated than the A361 and A39. By the same token, It runs along the Polden Ridge next to many nature reserves, including Collard Hill which is home to the exceptionally rare Large Blue butterfly. The whole length of that hill, including the Polden Way footpath, is beautiful and much visited by walkers.
This route would mean traffic coming down the A37 and turning off onto an ‘improved’ B3153 – which would be shorter than going via the A303. It would also effectively bypass Walton and Pilton as well as Glastonbury, making it a cheaper option overall.
The problem with suggesting alternatives has been that the County Council always finds a reason why the particular route that’s suggested is ‘impossible’. However if they are in a position where they have to find an alternative themselves then they always can – so renewing the campaign to have the inappropriate freight route designation removed from the A361 through Glastonbury may be the only real solution.
2. The Town Council has said that this consultation is only ‘preliminary’, and that we can consult further when we have ‘all the information’. Is this true?
Town Councillors may believe that it’s true, but please consider this: MP James Heappey has already said that he is seeking funding for a ‘feasibility study’, which will probably go ahead soon if the Council’s consultation produces the result that he wants. A feasibility study would be needed not to show whether the road construction is feasible but, in his words, because ‘it will be essential to emphasise the project’s contribution to regional economic benefits … and how it would stimulate significant economic growth’.
This means a lot of number crunching, mostly based on assumptions, which would be expressed as ‘jobs created’ and ‘new houses built’. This exercise will be expensive – I seem to remember £80,000 mentioned somewhere. The results would be fed into a ‘regional evidence base’ and submitted to the Department for Transport.
The project will by then have reached ‘OBC’ (Outline Business Case) stage, and will be considered for preliminary approval by the Secretary of State. So at this early stage, before the County Council has begun to develop detailed plans or to apply for funds to build the road, significant investment of both money and political capital will already have been made.
Once this has been done, and a whole new tier of regional bureaucracy has been established so as to prioritise projects from the South West, we would all be fed into a ‘funding pipeline’. Having been pumped along this, we would emerge back in London where the Secretary of State would prioritise funds between the various regions. The whole thing will, of course, take a number of years, but what the Town Councillors have seemingly failed to even think about is this: is it reasonable to assume that Glastonbury Town Council will be able to consult further and if necessary change its mind ‘when we have all the information’, in the midst of this enormous, multi-layered bureaucratic process?
Besides all that the history of road projects, particularly those that have been predicated on the basis of economic benefit and economic development, is not encouraging – things are said, even promised, and then what actually happens has an alarming tendency to be something different. What we decide now is almost certain to be the only chance we have to make a decision, beyond perhaps a little tweaking of the details.
3. What is the planning status of the old railway line? Surely the District Council’s Local Plan will spell out what it can be used for?
A correspondent called John asked this: I don’t know the area. I have been to Glastonbury once. I don’t understand the assumption that even if the road is built that must inevitably mean development in the view from the Tor. There must be Local Plan policies about the use of this land and it seems a bit simplistic for the article not to state what these policies are. It is critical because any development in addition to the road would need consent and an application that is against policy should not get consent. Objectors get into a muddle about proximity but developers have to make financial contributions to a lot of benefits anywhere in the local authority area. The school they help pay for does not have to be next to their development, it could be 30 miles away.
The Local Plan policy for old railway tracks in general is that they should be used for ’sustainable transport development’, i.e. footpaths, bridleways, etc. However, this particular section was given consent for a bypass back in the 1990s, though the incoming Labour government then called a moratorium on road building. In 2000, as the result of political actions by a prominent Town Councillor, businessman and property developer, who is still there and still a leading member of the pro-road lobby, this permission was retained and put on the back burner rather than cancelled.
Development associated with the proposed road would indeed need its own planning consent, and the District Council is already subject to lobbying in that respect from the local MP (James Heappey, Chris Grayling’s Parliamentary Private Secretary). Housing proposed in the current District Plan has already been taken up, and Glastonbury (being surrounded by peat moors and wetland) is running out of building space. Marginal areas, however, are already being filled up with hardcore or Mendip limestone as space becomes more and more at a premium. Heappey seems confident of getting Mendip’s compliance, which probably implies at least 1,000 houses, or its equivalent partly in commercial development, i.e an increase in the size of Glastonbury by 20% or more at one throw.
No-one has challenged the idea that development would be adjacent to the road – rather than elsewhere in the town – even though it would be outside the current development boundary. Proposals such as re-locating a local haulage firm to beside the new road and using their existing site for new housing are already being enthusiastically discussed in some circles.
There is nowhere within the development boundary remotely big enough for development on the scale envisaged. It would probably begin at the western end of the route about a mile and a half from the Tor, though – and this is an assumption, but I think a reasonable one – once development had begun there it is very likely to gradually creep along the route. From the point of view of the Tor itself, simply the road and its traffic would be extremely intrusive, as well as meaning that both the Tor and Chalice Hill would be cut off from open countryside and in danger of being gradually encircled by suburban development.
4. Why is the Road Consultation being carried out in such a rush?
An article in the Central Somerset Gazette (February 15th) confirmed that the Town Council’s Road Consultation is being carried out at the request of MP James Heappey, and goes on to say that people in Glastonbury are ‘being asked to respond quickly, as the government has a short deadline for accepting proposals’.
This latter statement is nothing short of bizarre. In the very next paragraph the article goes on to say that this proposal is a ‘long-term solution’ that will take five years or more to actually come about. The Department for Transport’s national consultation is consulting about how the Major Road Network programme is to be organised, how investment planning is to be carried out and so on. Communities across the country are not carrying out hurried consultations like this one. The MRN programme is at a very early stage – in fact it is still a ‘proposal’ until next summer, after the national consultation has been completed. No detailed local proposals have as yet been invited.
The national consultation includes only two questions (out of 16) that say anything at all about individual routes. These ask whether there are any routes that are not included on the Indicative Major Road Network map that should be, or any that are that shouldn’t be – according to very strict criteria that do not include opinions from local people as to whether they would like a bypass.
So why is Glastonbury’s consultation process – which is asking whether Glastonbury people would prefer ‘Route A’ or ‘Route B’ – tied to the Department for Transport’s deadline? That is one of the many unanswered questions about the consultation process – and about the real reason why we are being asked to respond quickly; so quickly in fact that the questionnaire and its background information have been insufficiently thought through, and were certainly not agreed democratically by the Council as a whole.
As a result we now have half the relevant information in the consultation document and the other half in leaflets that are flying around the town. What we really needed was to have this consultation withdrawn, and for it be re-run properly, with full information about what the options are and what implications they may have; to ensure that everyone is properly informed and engaged in the process. It may now be too late for this, but it is still important is to get it right from the community’s point of view, rather than the Department of Transport’s.