More on Glastonbury’s southern bypass proposal

Blog post, 28/3/2019

From the Central Somerset Gazette, 21 February 2019

There is more to this proposed Glastonbury southern bypass scheme than immediately meets the eye. It was made known at the recent Glastonbury Town Council meeting, by our County Councillor Liz Leyshon, that the work done by Somerset County Council to work up the proposal for the Peninsula Transport meeting on March 1st was actually financed by Mendip District Council. Somerset County Council is famously close to bankruptcy, so it’s not surprising that they might have been looking round for funding sources for their proposal, but to get the money from the District Council must be unprecedented.

In February, Mendip had announced a ‘major transport project’ that meant allocating £320,000 for “technical studies and developing a business case around major new transport projects in the district”. These projects were to create a new railway station at Shepton Mallet, the Walton/Ashcott bypass, and “works to address pinch points on the A361 at Glastonbury and Pilton”. A rail link to Shepton Mallet has long been a pet project of MP James Heappey, though it is very unlikely ever to happen. The road proposals are those that appeared amongst the ten short-listed schemes from the southwest at the Peninsula Transort meeting. The impression was that they were somewhat sketchy and hurriedly prepared, compared to proposals put forward from Devon and Cornwall.

The £320k allocation had been a District Council cabinet decision, and when it was announced to the full council it was presented with the railway station as the ‘headline’ item. Mendip is not the Highway Authority, and some District Councillors went away with the impression that this was mainly about the railway station, announced as a ‘feel-good’ proposal prior to the local elections.

In fact the money, or a major chunk of it, was used to pay for the County Council’s road proposals. This raises the uncomfortable likelihood that all this has been deliberately co-ordinated, by someone outside the County or District Councils. With this in mind, it is interesting to note that the District Council’s ‘project’ was announced in the same week that Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was visiting Somerset, and that his Parliamentary Private Secretary is James Heappey, MP for Wells and surrounding area.

As I said at the time, “In my opinion, our MP James Heappey will only see his plan for a ‘strategic road into the heart of Mendip’ come about if he has a very persuasive word in the ear of his boss, Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling.” If – in spite of their sketchy nature – the Glastonbury and Pilton project, and the Ashcott and Walton project, are chosen as two of the three proposals to go forward from the southwest, then his persuasiveness will have to be acknowledged as astonishing.