Things have gone very quiet …

Glastonbury Oracle, November 2018

​Things have gone very quiet, so far as any bypass proposal is concerned. It’s not quiet in Chilkwell Street, the traffic is worse than ever, whilst there seems to be a reducing chance of anything being done about it. In particular the County Council has flatly refused to send HGVs by another route, and it becomes increasingly obvious that the main reason is that they cannot afford to.

Meanwhile the government, which made quite a noise last year about their proposal for a Major Road Network, is so bogged down in negotiations to leave the EU that governing the country has practically ground to a halt.

In any case the Transport Department has a history of incoherence when it comes to policy, with Transport Secretaries rarely staying longer than a year or two. Chris Grayling has now been there nearly as long as Barbara Castle, so he must be due to move soon.  There’s bound to be a big shake-up before long anyway, if not a change of government.

At a community level, I decided it could provide a helpful perspective to research the history of this road. Until the Romans arrived and started building bridges and causeways, for instance, there could be no through traffic via Glastonbury because west of here it was just too wet.

More recently, the basis of the modern road system began with the turnpike trusts and the toll roads in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Then once the roads had been ‘disturnpiked’ the 1888 Local Government Act created County Councils and gave them responsibility for main roads. This produced some remarkable parallels to the present-day situation.

The County Councils and the Boroughs – in our case represented by Glastonbury Town Council – were left to haggle over what constituted a ‘main road’ (which had not been clearly defined). Somerset County Council put in place a standing order to the effect that a road could only be ‘mained’ if it was at least 20 feet wide; however, along Coursing Batch, Chilkwell Street, Bere Lane and Fisher’s Hill there were (and still are) 17 places where the road is less than 20 feet wide, and this was all former turnpike road so the County definitely had to pay for its upkeep.

The road leading to the railway station was more contentious; it had always been a Borough road, but it was now used largely by non-local traffic so the Borough sent the County Council a bill for its upkeep. They proposed doing a traffic survey to support their case. The County claimed that no application for highways to be declared main roads could be entertained ‘for the present’, because the matter should wait until the formation of District Councils (requiring another Act of Parliament, which had to wait for a general election and a change of government).

When this ploy didn’t work, the County would only agree to pay 80% of the Borough’s costs, even though in Wiltshire the entire cost was met. The argument went on for years.

These days, so long as the A361 through Glastonbury remains part of the proposed Major Road Network, there could be a government move to upgrade it. So, for the time being, the most important thing is to keep our eyes and ears wide open just in case.