The Department for Transport (DfT) has shelved one of its three flagship road schemes for the A303 corridor but has declined to provide any explanation.
National Highways’ A358 Taunton to Southfields scheme was first put forward in the first (2015-20) Road Investment Strategy but has suffered repeated delays.
Currently costed at £250m to £500m, the scheme would involve upgrading the A358 to dual carriageway between Southfields Roundabout on the A303 and the M5 at Taunton.
National Highways says the scheme is part of a long-term aim to create a high-quality dual carriageway link between London and the South East and the South West.
Last week, the government-owned company said that ‘with the support from Government’ it will not be submitting the Development Consent Order (DCO) application for the scheme as planned this year, adding that it is ‘working with Government on the next steps’.
The company declined to comment further or provide any explanation, as has the DfT.
Chris Todd, director of Transport Action Network, said: ‘We welcome any pausing of road schemes as they are the wrong infrastructure to be expanding in a climate emergency. The dire warnings from COP28 highlight that unless we take urgent steps to reduce emissions we are headed for three degrees of global warming. This is something which will cause massive economic disruption.
‘Instead we need investment in public transport to reduce the amount of traffic on our roads and to cut emissions quickly enough. This would remove the case for highly damaging schemes like the A358 and the one going through Stonehenge World Heritage Site, to which the A358 is linked.’
The A358 scheme, first announced by David Cameron in 2014, has been subject to a number of consultations.
In 2021 National Highways said it would be submitting its DCO application last year and that, if granted, it expected works to start in late 2024 or early 2025.
In its Annual Assessment of National Highways’ performance April 2022 to March 2023, the Office of Rail and Road said the scheme was at risk of missing its start of works commitment.
It revealed that the DCO application had been delayed in October 2022, December 2022 and February 2023 and had been rescheduled for May 2023 but was now expected ‘at a later date’, subject to government advice.
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