Campaign to Protect Rural England - Somerset

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A303 Widening - Our Position

14th March 2017

Highways England are proposing two different options for widening the A303 between Sparkford and Ilchester.  Here is our letter to local News Editors setting out our view:

CPRE Somerset strongly objects to the current plans by Highways England to widen the A303 between Sparkford and Ilchester. Many people feel that it is essential that the A303 is widened at this point but we beg to differ. There is scant evidence that road schemes produce economic benefits; in fact they increase traffic dramatically and damage our countryside. They also fail to deliver the boost to jobs and local economies so often promised and this scheme will deliver only minimal time savings to those travelling through Somerset to the SW.

CPRE believes that building ever bigger roads should be the option of absolute last resort. Building new roads is hugely expensive - the average cost per metre of recent local roads is nearly £25,000.  This money should be spent on repairing potholes, public transport, and harnessing new technology to make more efficient use of existing road space. 

On top of this general objection to the very principle of widening the road, we feel it is too early to make any decision about Sparkford. The critical areas of the A303/A358 route to the SW are at Stonehenge and Taunton. Until these are solved there is no need to consider this section.

We also have the following specific observations on Options 1 and 2 proposed by Highways England between Sparkford and Ilchester:

Option 2 is completely unacceptable to CPRE as it will mean the destruction of an unspoilt valley and would take up approx. 25 hectares of good quality, sensitively managed farmland.  The new road would run close to four rural wildlife sites and ancient woodland and would cut through registered parkland in this unpopulated unspoilt valley.  Option 2 would also dramatically increase levels of noise and light pollution in this tranquil, open landscape.

Option 1 - in comparison - seems less obviously damaging as it will follow the existing route.  However, we know that building new roads creates more traffic and has a negligible effect on journey times so CPRE cannot support this option either. There are many unanswered questions about the proximity of the road to existing homes, how much land will be taken up, what the junction layouts will be – and what, if any, economic impact there will be for this part of Somerset. 

CPRE is aware that some feel that Option 2 is preferable to Option 1 as it will enable the construction work to be carried out without major disruption to motorists.  CPRE rejects this approach.  We all have a responsibility to think longer term and take some responsibility for how future generations will view the decisions we make.  Sparkford Vale has been managed by farmers for generations.  Are we really going to destroy this just because we can’t bear the thought of a few minutes extra journey time for a few months? 

In CPRE Somerset’s view, both options are unacceptable but, if there is to be a widening scheme at Sparkford, then Option 1 is very much preferable as it causes less damage to the countryside.  We will be making that clear in our response to Highways England and will be able to provide more detailed evidence to back up our arguments.

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Somerset patchwork landscape