Why pick a fight with the County Council when the real problem is the government?

Glastonbury Oracle, October 2018

ethel 5 orig

Ethel the road protester

​Heavy traffic continues to rumble along the A361, though ‘silent witnesses’ are beginning to appear in Chilkwell Street. They lead to some interesting conversations, and they may even help to slow the traffic down.

Meanwhile, our Green Party town councillors have written to the press; it’s good to see their commitment to ‘no new roads’ stated in public, though it’s a shame that their answer to Glastonbury’s traffic problem is simply to change a few signposts. Sadly, that’s not realistic.

Somerset County Council is broke, and though there are several possible alternative routes for freight traffic, they would all require some engineering work to make them fit for purpose. For instance the A37, which could take traffic from Shepton onto the A303, goes under a low railway bridge at East Lydford and lowering the road beneath it would cost several million pounds. Much cheaper than a whole new bypass round Glastonbury, but still substantial money.

Successive governments, with rate-capping and austerity measures, have reduced county councils to penury. Somerset can now barely afford to cover its statutory obligations. Glastonbury’s western relief road, and the Wells inner relief road, both completed in the 1990s, were the last major road schemes built by the county council – which is still paying off the loan required to finance them.

So they cannot afford to de-designate the A361. They don’t admit it, but their oft-repeated refrain that the A361 is the most suitable route available really means that it’s the only one that doesn’t need expensive work to make it usable. The only source of real money now is central government, so whatever is done has to suit the Transport Department’s agenda. Yes, we want the A361 de-designated as a county freight route, but more important in the long term is that the A361 should be removed from the ‘indicative map’ for the proposed Major Road Network.

Another interesting fact has recently emerged (or is about to … please read on). A retired traffic engineer now working for the CPRE, assisted by volunteers from the Love Our Levels group, has been carrying out an ‘origin and destination’ survey of traffic through Glastonbury.

Preliminary results show, much as expected, that only 20% of HGVs coming down the A361 is actually heading for Glastonbury; the rest is not ‘our’ traffic at all, we just happen to be in its way. More surprising is that very nearly half of the HGVs travelling west along Chilkwell Street turns right at the B&Q roundabout and goes down the A39 Wells Road. However, the volume of heavy traffic going towards the motorway through Walton and Ashcott is still greater than the volume coming into Glastonbury from Shepton and Frome, because more than half of it comes from the Wells direction.

So re-directing freight traffic down the A37 onto the A303 is not the solution, because half of it wants to head north through Wells. And if the government, as represented by James Heappey MP, wants a ‘strategic road into the heart of Mendip’ as part of the Major Road Network, then it makes more sense to base that road on the A39 rather than the A361 – because that’s the road that most of the heavy traffic is actually already using.