More than two months of roadworks on a key Somerset route have been postponed – just hours after they were publicly announced.
Somerset County Council issued a press statement on Tuesday morning (April 5) announcing that a key stretch of the A358 between Taunton and Williton would be closed for more than a month from April 25 to allow for drainage improvements to be made.
Within hours of issuing this statement, the council u-turned, confirming the scheme had been postponed until later in the year.
The scheme would have seen the A358 under traffic signals near Yard Farm in the village of Combe Florey, on the western edge of the Quantock Hills area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), between 9.30am and 3.30pm each day between April 25 and May 8.
This would be followed by a full, 24/7 road closure between May 9-12 - with a local diversion being advertised - and a further 15 days under traffic lights until the scheme’s conclusion on May 27.
The scheme, funded by the Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA), would have followed on from emergency repairs to the embankment in the same stretch of road in 2021, which led to the road being closed for several weeks.
David Carter, the council’s interim deputy director for economic and community infrastructure, stated: “Since last year our highways team has been working closely with the local landowner and the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group South West (FWAG SW) to try and make sure this doesn’t happen again.
“As well as the drainage improvement works our team is carrying out, the FWAG SW has worked with the landowner on a new planting regime to reduce surface run-off, and the landowner is installing attenuation ponds and swales in the field adjacent to the A358 to help ensure this stretch isn’t flooded in the future during similar events.”
But within hours of this statement being released, the council issued a new release stating that the scheme had been postponed – with all trace of it being removed from the Travel Somerset roadworks portal.
A spokesman said: “The scheme is no longer taking place and will be rescheduled to a later date.”
Cllr Mike Rigby - whose Lydeard division on the county council includes Combe Florey and the neighbouring villages - was first alerted to the scheme taking place on March 31, with the Travel Somerset portal indicating the road could be closed for up to 70 days.
He subsequently raised the issue with chief executive Pat Flaherty, whom Mr Rigby claims assured him that the scheme would be postponed until a later date.
Mr Rigby – who also serves as the portfolio holder for planning policy and transport on Somerset West and Taunton Council – said he was ‘astonished’ about the scheme, which he feared would damage businesses in the former West Somerset area which rely heavily on tourism.
He said: “I was very disappointed to receive last week notification of a 70-day closure on the A358. I raised my concerns with the council’s chief executive and then received a notification that the work had been postponed.
“I was then astonished to receive a press release today [April 5] saying the work was going ahead as planned, despite receiving notification of the postponement. I have spoken to the chief executive again, who has assured me work has been postponed again.
“I remain very concerned about the disruption that any closure or long-term roadworks on this road will have on local residents and businesses, particularly those operating in the tourist sector who are still trying to recover from the economic impact of covid.
“I’ll continue to liaise with the county council to make sure that any disruption is minimised.”
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