23 July 2008
The Government's long-awaited response to the draft regional spatial strategy (RSS) for the SW will make grim reading for Wiltshire and Dorset County Councils. Their shared vision of the A350 as a regionally significant route betwen the M4 and the South Coast appears to have been rejected by Hazel Blears, Secretary of State for Communities.
Even worse for Wiltshire, its key road project on this route, the controversial Westbury eastern bypass, does not get a mention. In a further setback for the county, plans for new roads at Salisbury have been specifically rejected by the Secretary of State.
The Government's proposed modifications to the regional spatial strategy were presented at meetings of the South West Regional Assembly in Taunton on Wednesday 23 July.
Inspectors running the planning inquiry into the Westbury bypass scheme have ruled that the emerging RSS would be one of the matters to be examined if the Government's proposals came out before the end of the inquiry. The inquiry is due to adjourn on Thursday 24 July and reconvene for two days in September.
'We are glad that the inquiry will now be able to look at the proposed bypass in the light of emerging regional policy for transport and development,' said a spokesperson for the White Horse Alliance, a coalition of local, regional and national bodies opposing planning permission for the road.
'There seems to be a new emphasis on integrated transport and on transport corridors such as the road and rail route between Cardiff and Southampton. The A350 seems to have vanished from the map and it is difficult to see how a road-only project such as the Westbury bypass can have a place in regional transport priorities.'
The adjournment was ordered by the inspectors to give the county council time to publish new information and receive comments on it from statutory environmental bodies and members of the public. The new information covers a proposed weight limit of 3 tonnes on the Station Road railway bridge in Westbury and a correction to predicted estimates of the number of trucks that would use the proposed bypass. The council's consultants have admitted that the number of HGVs on a new road through the Wellhead valley to the east of the town would be double the figure they had first given in evidence.
On the subject of the proposed lorry ban on Station Road, WCC's document says that 'the weight restriction would be required to be implemented prior to the construction of the Westbury Bypass.'
New road signs at the approaches to the bridge would say 'Weak bridge' but the structure is currently carrying the largest HGVs, including 44 tonne articulated lorries. It is believed that Station road is carrying higher than usual volumes of lorries due to the road closure for re-surfacing at Southwick.
The new information supplied to the inquiry on Friday last week will be on display at the Laverton in Westbury until Friday 25 July and after that on the public inquiry web site. Comments should be submitted to the county council by 27 August.
The Government's proposed changes were published on the South West Regional Assembly web site. www.southwest-ra.gov.uk There are fairly dramatic deletions and the Transport Chapter is rewritten. There is now no reference to a review of A36/350 and it refers only to the A4/A36 corridor. We have so far found no reference to the A350.
The objectives of the Transport Strategy in Chapter 5 include 'Reducing the negative impacts of transport on the environment INCLUDING CLIMATE CHANGE' so that the new traffic figures revealing increased carbon emissions as a result of building a Westbury bypass support the case presented to the inquiry by the WHA.
The Brunel Link/Harnham Relief Road scheme at Salisbury is out, again - the Panel's recommendation 4.11.4 which had made this surprising addition as a way to support increased housing develoment in the district has been rejected by the Secretary of State, with quite a strong criticism of how the recommendation was arrived at, which concludes:
"Having given full consideration to the Panel’s conclusions and recommendations, the Secretary of State has concluded that the concerns about the way in which infrastructure requirements were identified in the draft RSS are very significant and, consequently, she is proposing that the RSS should not, at this stage, include specific proposals for infrastructure provision. Rather desired transport outcomes are identified which subsequent infrastructure improvements will help to deliver. The letter to the Chair of the South West Regional Assembly accompanying the Proposed Changes sets out an approach to addressing these outstanding issues."