Conditions & Suitability
The A36 route within the Limpley Stoke Valley is geologically unstable and ongoing large scale movement is prevalent. This was made clear by the DfT at the 1990 Batheaston Public Inquiry into a proposed link road between the new Batheaston Bypass (A4) and the A36 at Dry Arch. 1 Fig. 8. The DfT stated that, in view of the instability of the A36 terrain south of Bathampton, it simply considered the proposed link road as a ‘temporary solution’ until it had completed evaluations of previously identified ‘East of Bath to Beckington’ and ‘South of Bath’ options. The Planning Inquiry Inspector suggested that the DfT should accelerate its evaluation of these options and made it clear that, in the event that both were found to be unacceptable, the A350 would have to be looked at properly. The unsuitability of the A36 was again highlighted in the DfT’s justification for the 1994 ‘East of Bath to Beckington’ scheme: “The Bath to Beckington section of the A36 is generally of poor standard” and “The section of the route southwards from Bath, through the Limpley Stoke valley, is narrow with severe bends, poor visibility and steep gradients”.
This scheme, which was considered to offer much wider strategic traffic benefits and remove traffic from Bradford on Avon as well as Bath, was subsequently withdrawn by the DfT in 1996 following a review of the National Roads Programme. Since 1992 the A36 through the Limpley Stoke Valley has suffered terrain instability problems with the consequent need to employ enhanced maintenance to retain the integrity of the route, e.g. to maintain the steep embankments of Limpley Stoke Hill between Monkton Combe and Limpley Stoke. These problems, which have resulted in extended road closures, are highlighted in the Highways Agency’s 2014 ‘South West Peninsula Route Strategy Evidence Report’. Notwithstanding the lack of resolution of the DfT’s strategy for the area, the A36 through the Limpley Stoke Valley remains geologically unstable and, therefore, intrinsically unsuitable for the significant increase in HGV traffic which would result from a link road. Similarly, the DfT has long recognised that the A46, location of many recorded incidents and subject to local subsidence, is inadequate for present day traffic. 2 Fig. 8.
A46 problems and potential problems are well documented. e.g. In a 1993 DfT A46 Trunk Road (Tormarton to Upper Swainswick) Improvement scheme, subsequently shelved, in which a predicted increase in A46 traffic included a 40% increase in HGVs was expected to exacerbate existing problems.
New roads, inevitably, induce more traffic. This phenomenon was described in published in 1994 by the government’s advisory body SACTRA (Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment).
An indication of this problem is provided by the 2004 Bristol, Bath to South CoastStudy (BB2SCS) which predicted that a link road would cause increases in traffic, particularly HGVs, on the A46 (10%) and A36 (30%) in the Limpley Stoke area. These additions to both A36 and A46 traffic would result in the Limpley Stoke area becoming an even more severe bottleneck, greater safety issues on the A46 between
Bath and M4 junction 18, and route maintenance requirements expected to increase significantly, e.g. with higher frequency of need to repair Limpley Stoke Hill. Regardless of the intended purpose –whether as a Bath relief road or trunk route improvement it would, inevitably, attract additional traffic to the Bath area. Incremental cost implications of increased maintenance to both the A36 and A46, over and above the huge costs associated with link road schemes, are also obvious.
The Beckford Spur (referred to by MPs Mr Howlett and Mr Rees-Mogg as being known as the preferred route) is not a feasible link road option.
Prior to 1985 this was an integral part of DfT’s proposals to bypass Batheaston and Swainswick. However, in 1985 the DfT published, for consultation, options which included a link road from a new Batheaston Bypass to the A36 at Dry Arch but excluded a Beckford Spur. Avon County Council expressed concerns to the DfT regarding the omission.
In 1986 the DfT announced the Swainswick-Batheaston Bypass plan with a link road, but again excluded a Beckford Spur. The DFT informed Avon County Council that, with the Batheaston Bypass and A36 link, the Beckford Spur was no longer considered necessary. The DfT advised Avon County Council that it was up to them whether or not to promote the Beckford Spur.
Avon County Council subsequently decided to evaluate options and published a report in 1989 in which two options (red and blue routes, Fig. 9 ) were presented. An A36 Improvement option was also identified, i.e. local widening and junction improvements along the A36 Warminster Road to cater for the increase in traffic flows resulting from a possible relaxation of the DfT’s proposed link road right-turn ban at Dry Arch.
Avon County Council failed to get support for either of the Beckford Spur options, with one of the main factors being the implacable opposition of Bath City Council which expressed extreme concern about the environmental damage the spur would cause, noting the link road would be very damaging environmentally but would not be seen from the city.
Since the dropping of the Beckford Spur by Avon County Council, the 1992 DfT rejection of a Dry Arch link road, and 1996 abandonment of the ‘East of Bath to Beckington’ scheme, the following link road options have been considered:
(a) Routes from A4 Batheaston Bypass to A36 Dry Arch Area The BB2SCS recommended consideration of two link road options between the A4 Batheaston Bypass and the A36 Dry Arch area (Fig. 10). These options are equivalent to the scheme rejected following the 1990 Batheaston Public Inquiry. The 2006 GBSTS considered a link road equivalent to the BB2SCS Option. 4 Fig. 10.
(b) Route traversing Limpley Stoke Valley, linking A363 to A36 A third option (route traversing the Limpley Stoke Valley to link the A363 to the A36) was discarded by the BB2SCS because of engineering constraints, the impact on the Avon Valley flood plain, the difficulty of achieving a satisfactory tie-in to the A363 and adverse feedback on the cross-valley alignment. 5 Fig. 10.It is clear that any of the above options would mean a new, intrusive, road which would have severe adverse impacts on landscape, recreation and tourism, and blight irreversibly the Avon & Limpley Stoke Valley and WHS landscape setting. They would be particularly disruptive to the many leisure users of the Kennet & Avon Canal.
It is of grave concern, therefore, that B&NES’ preference for a link road is a bridge structure which would straddle the Limpley Stoke Valley to link the A363 to the A36, equivalent to the plan discarded by the Government commissioned BB2SCS in 2004.
The 1990 Batheaston Public Inquiry conclusion of a link road as “having intolerable impacts on landscape and being devastating to recreational amenity” is unambiguous and remains wholly relevant to B&NES’s preferred route.
Such a scheme would be extremely expensive but, even with an unlimited budget, it would be impossible to build a structure which could mitigate, by design, the severe adverse impacts of large junctions, gantry signs, lighting and noise associated with thousands of vehicle movements daily on an intrusive, elevatedroad traversing the valley.