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EYEBROWS have been raised about Wiltshire Council’s decision to move forward with only one route option for the proposed A350 Melksham bypass.
Some local residents have suggested that the selected route (10c), to the east of Melksham, around Bowerhill – which was one of 18 consulted on earlier this year – was “the only option that has ever been on the table”.
“I think this decision was made long before all these surveys, what a waste of money,” said one resident. “Lip service, that’s all it ever was.”
Echoing the concerns of local residents, Wiltshire councillor, Jon Hubbard – who is also a town councillor and the town’s mayor – has expressed his surprise at what he describes as the “shortest” shortlist he has “ever seen”.
“Whatever the reasons for this decision,” said cllr Hubbard at a Wiltshire Council meeting last week, “it will create the impression of decisions being made long in advance of the conclusion of the consultation process and the opinions and future contributions of local residents being ignored.
“The shame of it, I support a Melksham bypass and, on balance and with the evidence currently available, I think that route 10c is probably the best option. However, I am desperately concerned that whatever happens from this stage on, the credibility of this process will lie in tatters, and it will be much harder to get people to engage, as they will see the whole consultation process as a sham…we should be ensuring that there is a range of options that we are working on, not just one.”
According to Wiltshire Council, they received 1,018 responses to the online survey and 175 written and email responses during the consultation period, which ran from Nov. 2020 to Jan. 2021.
10c – ‘Significantly more popular’
And according to Wiltshire Council’s cabinet member for highways, cllr Dr Mark McClelland, speaking at last week’s meeting, route 10c – which will connect the A350 north of Beanacre with the A350 Semington bypass, south of Bowerhill – was “much more popular” than other routes, and had “significantly more popular support” from the public.
Wiltshire Council confirmed last week that the bypass project will move to the next stage later this month. A second public consultation focusing on route 10c will be launched at the next meeting of the Melksham Area Board on Wednesday 23rd June.
“The focus of the shortlist is option 10c, the long route to the east of the town, and various alignments at the northern end of the proposed bypass,” said a Wiltshire Council spokesperson. “The forthcoming consultation will also look at improving cycling and walking facilities along the route, either in conjunction with the scheme or separately.”
However, public resistance to the proposed route is already growing, with residents worried about the environmental impact of the bypass and the loss of green space. Some have also suggested that the bypass is a ways and means for Wiltshire Council to build more housing.
“This so-called bypass will be the source of a massive increase in pollution, notwithstanding the environmental damage to the landscape,” said local man Andrew Griffin. “It’s purely designed to enable the building of thousands of new houses on the land it opens up.”
Phil Chipper added, “Wiltshire Council are building the so-called bypass as a feeder to their massive house building programme.
“Melksham doesn’t need another bypass as the existing one is more than adequate for traffic flows, and there is proper independent surveys that corroborate that.”
However, news of the project’s progress has been welcomed by some, especially those living by the existing A350 in Beanacre, who have long campaigned for help to relieve traffic in the area.
One Beanacre resident told Melksham News, “The traffic is constant, it can take some time to get out of our road. I have a chest condition which has worsened during the past few months. I attribute this partly to air pollution.
“Any of the several proposed options would ease the congestion and improve our quality of life.”
About the decision to progress the project, Wiltshire Council’s cabinet member for highways, cllr Dr Mark McClelland said, “This cabinet decision marks the next step towards a bypass for Melksham that, if approved by the Department for Transport (DfT), would create more reliable journeys and less congestion on the A350, improve safety and reduce emissions, and support economic growth in the area.
“It’s really important that people get involved in the second consultation, which we’ll launch at Melksham Area Board on Wednesday 23rd June, as it will help to shape the outline business case that we’ll present to DfT.
“DfT will then review the outline business case against its criteria and ensure the views of the local community have been properly considered, before deciding whether to proceed with the scheme.
“The first consultation was held predominantly online due to Covid restrictions, but as long as the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown continues to progress, we hope to hold both in-person and online events for this consultation, so that as many people as possible have the opportunity to have their say. We’ll also put displays in Melksham Library so that people can come and find out more about the proposals.
“We’ll be releasing more details soon on how people can have their say on the proposals ahead of the consultation launch at Melksham Area Board.”
To find out more about the proposed A350 Melksham bypass project, people should see: www.wiltshire.gov.uk/highways-a350-melksham-bypass