Questions from the Public: Cabinet, 4th November 2019

Questions from the public at Cabinet held on the 4th November 2019.

What work has been carried out to assess the viability of the outlined routes?

Only initial, high-level options assessments have been conducted at this stage to inform the initial expression of interest to Government.  Further work will take place to fully evaluate the potential feasibility, benefits and issues associated with a wide range of potential options.  Information on the options sifting and assessment process will be published as part of the public consultation in 2020.

Are there plans to build houses on land adjacent to one of the suggested routes?

There are no specific plans to build houses along the indicative route options although these would need to be considered to inform the feasibility and potential benefit from alternative options. Any decisions on preferred options would be based on a balanced assessment of planning and environmental considerations.

Will the released information be included in property searches?

As 'indicative' route options only demonstrate an early stage of the process and are not 'preferred route options' then these are not notified to Local Land Charges.

Will potential routes be revised if and when central government funding is secured?

There is no certainty of any proposal receiving the required government funding. All Sub-National Transport Bodies across England have been invited by Government to consult with their local highway authorities and submit proposals for consideration under the Major Road Network and Large Local Major Schemes programmes.   Initial submissions have been broadly accepted by Government to proceed with further detail but will be subject to a great deal of further scrutiny before any funding is formally decided.

Who drew up the Pilton bypass plans?

MDC has worked in partnership with SCC to examine the current constraints of the A39/A361 across the District and to prepare initial outline submissions to Department for Transport.  Work has included some initial early stage transport modelling to help establish the likely transport and economic benefits of road improvements to local communities and business. This has been necessary to support the initial case to Government that the issues in the area and potential solutions are likely to meet the economic tests for investment.  The bulk of this work has been conducted by specialist Transport Consultants WSP who are retained under a Consultancy contract with SCC for such work throughout Somerset. The consultants have also undertaken initial Option Appraisals, in accordance with Government Guidelines for such projects including provisional ideas on improvement to existing routes, managing freight movement differently and potential alternative by-pass options.

What is the extent of Mendip District Council's involvement?

The District Council has responsibility to plan for the sustainable development of the District and promote opportunities for investment where it is needed.   MDC, therefore, works in partnership with SCC, in their role as the Highways Authority, and others to identify local constraints and opportunities for improvement and to lobby partners to support our objectives.  To inform this, a Strategic Economic Review agreed by Cabinet in February 2019 identified a range of baseline technical work to support consideration of future infrastructure needs, as well as helping to inform the next Local Plan.

How have matters progressed to this stage? 

In December 2018 the Department for Transport (DfT), following a national consultation, set out the final Major Road Network (MRN) and the eligibility requirements for schemes that could see funding from the National Roads Fund (this is set out within the "Investment Planning Guidance For the Major Road Network and Large Local Majors Programmes").  A route across Somerset, including the A361 from Beardly Batch to Glastonbury, was included within that network.  Other MRN routes in Mendip include the A37 and A39. 

In early 2019 the DfT invited local authorities to consider where, on the MRN network, improvements may be required to meet five key objectives. DfT asked the newly formed Peninsula Transport Sub-National Transport Body (comprising local highway authorities in the Region) to prioritise major improvements which could be started by 2025.  Ashcott, Walton, Glastonbury and Pilton were identified as key pinch points on the east-west network in Mendip which currently cause issues for road users, have a significant impact on the lives of local residents.

All applications for funding from the DfT are required to follow their "Transport Business Cases" guidance which sets out the process and three business case gateways.  For the MRN, the DfT added an additional phase for potential schemes that are not yet developed to a sufficient level detail to meet the "Transport Business Cases" guidance, this is called the pre-Strategic Outline Business Case stage (pre-SOBC). This phase is for potential schemes where a problem has been identified, and is well understood, but very little or no solution investigation has taken place, where there is no preferred option as the optioneering work is still to be carried out in detail and where the construction of a scheme, if it gets to that stage, would be some years hence. 

The pinch points that have been identified have been the subject of much community concern over a long period of time due to the adverse impact of traffic on local residents, the local environment and economy. The new local roads fund provides a unique opportunity to seek investment from Government to address these issues.  The Government has designated the A361, A39 and A37 in Mendip as routes that now form part of a strategic network across the Country and has asked the local authorities to prioritise investment to improve those routes. 

The routes are vital for the movement of goods and people across our County and improving them will help support continued economic growth and prosperity.  The fund can only be used for major road improvements, although schemes should also provide associated improvements for walking cycling and public transport where appropriate.  The funding could not be used solely for a walking or cycling scheme or a public transport scheme.  If the local area does not wish to promote improvements to the routes, then the funding will go elsewhere in the Country.

How many Members have inspected the potential route?

A wide range of different options, including the potential to improve the existing road alignment are all still under consideration and subject to further refinement and analysis.  Members would not be asked to inspect routes at this early stage.

What was the rationale for increasing HGV traffic?

Analysis of future traffic growth (including HGV and other commercial vehicles) will be included in the detailed scheme appraisals which will form part of the business cases. One of the primary objectives for any proposed route option is to better manage future traffic and especially direct HGV movements to the best available route.  

All options are carefully assessed in terms of impact on the local landscape and environment which will result in some early considered options being rejected and others being modified or adapted to minimise their impact and future consequence.  As potential options are refined and designed to a greater level of detail, further assessments are conducted and the final preferred option will be subject to formal Environmental Impact Assessment as part of the planning process.

Why has the Council not challenged plans put forward by the Department for Transport?

The Department for Transport has not put forward any plans, the proposals are an early response to a competitive fund published by the Department for Transport to undertake road improvement schemes.

Will Members confirm that no further work or spend would be undertaken on the two proposals in the public domain until a public consultation has been completed?

Once a full and comprehensive assessment of the potential options for all A39/A361 improvement works have been undertaken the next step will be for Somerset County Council to carry out public consultation, in order to inform selection for the preferred solution to each of the pinch points.  

This consultation will set out the technical work that will have been carried out and will ask the public's opinion on a short list of options. It is currently anticipated that the consultation will take place in late summer / autumn 2020 although this is subject to change as it depends on securing Government support to take forward and develop solutions at these pinch points, and the outcome of the technical work. 

Is there a point of contact for further questions?

Questions relating to the Highways Authority should go to:

Transport Policy Team
Somerset County Council
County Hall
The Crescent
Taunton
TA1 4DY

They will be carrying out the public consultation which will be undertaken in Summer/Autumn 2020

Questions regarding Mendip's involvement, contact the Group Manager for Planning & Growth

Mendip District Council
Cannards Grave Road
Shepton Mallet
BA4 5BT

Will Members take steps to prevent implementation of these proposals?

Members will be kept informed as Somerset County Council and the Peninsula Transport Board work through the next steps of the process, and will give due consideration to all comments received as part of the public consultation process which is anticipated to start in Summer 2020.

Is there confirmation of the date that the potential bypass routes were released to the public and when were potential routes negotiated?

No definitive set of route options have been identified as yet and a wide range of potential ideas are currently under consideration.  Information on potential directions has been shared for information whilst further work is underway to fully explore these and other solutions. The detailed analysis and supporting evidence will be published next year to inform the process of public consultation on the issues, options and potential way forward.

Who is the responsible authority, Mendip District Council or Somerset County Council?

Somerset County Council is the local Highway Authority for the Somerset area responsible for establishing strategic transport priorities working in partnership with other authorities across Peninsula Transport Board area and in consultation with the Somerset District Councils.  The County Council is a voting member on the Peninsula Transport Board in selecting and agreeing scheme priorities.  Scheme priorities agreed by Peninsula Transport are required to be formally ratified by Somerset County Council. 

Any schemes promoted through the MRN or LLM process need to be promoted by the County Council as Highway Authority.    The County Council will receive any capital grant funding allocated through the process in order to build the schemes and will be responsible for scheme delivery.