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Bypass Refused!

October 26, 2011 2:02 PM

The government's decision to refuse Wiltshire Council permission to build the Westbury Eastern bypass was announced in summer 2009.

Ironically the final decision in support of the planning inspector was made by transport minister Andrew Adonis, who was briefly LibDem prospective parliamentary candidate for Westbury in the 1990s before he decided to become a Blairite.

Inspectors Alan Langton and John Yellowley held a public inquiry into the scheme between 17 June and 8 October 2008, after the government decided Wiltshire Council should not be allowed to make the decision themselves.

For the full decision notice see

http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/planning-callins/pdf/westburybypassreport.pdf

Wiltshire Council initially considered an appeal against the decision, despite the fact that there were clearly no reasonable grounds for such an appeal nor, since a planning inspector's decision is effectively final, any route for an appeal to go to. However the council eventually saw sense and decided not to waste any more taxpayers' money on legal blind alleys.

The devastatingly destructive reasoning within the inspector's decision would also have make it clear even to local Tories that this bypass is dead and should be quickly forgotten.

The main reasons given for refusal of the application were that it is not in accord with the Structure Plan, and that the environmental damage done does not compensate for the benefits of the scheme in taking traffic out of Westbury.

On the first point although the council had put the route in the Structure Plan, other general policies in the same plan argued against its construction, to the extent that the bypass proposal actually conflicted with the plan.

There were further contradictions in the evidence produced by Wiltshire Council (WC). On the one hand they said the road was intended to be a local bypass for Westbury, but they also tried to make out that the A350 was an important regional route. The Inspector pointed out that the Regional Spacial Strategy "recognises just national and regional corridors, unambiguously omitting the A350 corridor between the A36 and M4."

The inability of WC to present a coherent case extended also to evidence on traffic and the local economy, or as the Inspector puts it, "The Council's evidence on traffic and economics was subject to considerable change during the inquiry."

The Inspector also posed the very basic question as to whether Westbury needs a bypass at all, taking the view that "the overall conditions are fairly typical for an urban road of this type; that outside of the peak hours the route is generally not congested; and that there is little of the peak period spreading in duration which is typical of locations with heavy and extended congestion."

The traffic model presented by the council was so muddled as to be of little or no value, and their cost-benefit analysis didn't demonstrate that the scheme would be of any practical use.

Even more devastating, and casting severe doubts on the competence of the politicians who promoted the scheme, are the Inspector's comments on its environmental aspects. The effects on the Wellhead Valley are classed as " 'very large adverse' in year 1 reducing no more than to 'large adverse' as the scheme matures." The proposals as a whole would be "very damaging." The visual impact is classed as 'severe adverse'.

Lafarge Cement Works would have benefited from the scheme. Since the Enquiry the factory has been closed, though the report makes clear that even if the works were still thriving it wouldn't have affected the decision.

The Inspector recognised that some properties on the existing A350 would benefit from reductions in noise and vibration, but this wouldn't justify the way that "the Wellhead Valley would be permanently blighted by traffic noise from the scheme, and ... the adverse effects there would cause significant harm which adds to concern about the harm to the landscape as a whole.

The council's evidence on flood mitigation was poor - it was apparent to the Inspector during a site visit that an area of land put aside for flood storage to compensate the land lost to the road embankment was inadequate.

Overall on rural and sustainability issues, the conclusion was that "the application scheme would cause considerable harm to the countryside and landscape, and also result in increased climate change emissions. Thus rural and sustainability matters weigh against the scheme."

Objectors to the scheme had invoked the effect on wildlife and legislation such as the European Habitats Directive, but the Inspector concluded that mitigation could be used to satisfy these concerns, and that on their own the badgers, bats, dormice, newts and other protected species wouldn't be a reason to stop the road being built.

Would a Western Route get approval? The implication is that it wouldn't, because the need for a bypass hasn't been demonstrated, but the Inspector does say that if a scheme were brought forward it would have to be looked at on its own merits.

In summary the Inspector's overall conclusions are that although "The Council has produced evidence that overcomes what might otherwise be valid objections to the scheme, ... this evidence cannot be viewed as demonstrating any positive benefits supporting the scheme."

Although "There are existing adverse traffic impacts in the town, ... objectively in absolute terms of traffic volumes, the proportion of HGVs and the accident rate are not exceptional for a Primary Route passing through a town. Traffic delays and journey time unreliability are primarily caused by problems elsewhere rather than on the length of the A350 that would be bypassed." A reference perhaps to Yarnbrook, where regular congestion does occur.

"The scheme would do little to encourage modal shift from cars, and might well encourage the reverse, nor of freight to rail notwithstanding Westbury's location at a junction of two main lines. There is no clear evidence of how the scheme would encourage sustainable economic development in the Westbury locality or more widely in West Wiltshire. It would increase climate change emissions and conflict with PPG13. There are significant technical concerns about the traffic modelling and cost-benefit appraisal. Evidence from the work done to date implies that the benefits of the scheme are highly sensitive to quite small increases in traffic, and this adds to concerns on the robustness of the traffic modelling and the errors that have been found in the cost benefit appraisal. Taking all relevant matters into account, the transport need for the proposal has not been adequately justified."

"The scheme would be very damaging to the landscape and tranquillity of the Wellhead Valley. There would be large adverse effects on the landscape of the proposed route as a whole and severe adverse impacts on views from particular locations. For this reason the Secretary of State considers that the scheme conflicts with development plan policies to safeguard the environment and, in consequence, the development plan as a whole despite the qualified support in principle in certain other development plan policies."

And the Formal Decision is:

"Accordingly, for the reasons given above, the Secretary of State agrees with the Inspector's recommendation. He hereby refuses planning permission for the construction of a new single carriageway road with a climbing lane over part of the route, roundabout junctions, associated infrastructure and works in accordance with application number W.07.09002 dated 14 February 2007."

And the summary of that is that this road is dead and buried. The Inspector's report is so damning that it couldn't be revisited, and the questions about the competence of the council so great that heads should roll, and an apology should be made to the people of Wiltshire for the amount of their money which has been wasted in this hopeless scheme.

For the latest see: http://www.corridor-alliance.co.uk/latestnews.html