Thank you to the Churchwardens of St Peter’s Church for allowing the Parish Council to host a meeting for parishioners to discuss their concerns about the Highways England route proposals last night (26th January 2017) and for turning on the heating so early – it probably saved a few parishioners from hypothermia. Thanks to Neil MacDougall, Chairman of Berwick St James’ Parish Meeting, who came along as an observer and who resisted overwhelming temptation to join in at every turn. Thanks also to our MP, John Glen, who gave up his evening to attend and made many of us wonder why anyone would voluntarily choose to become a politician.
Particular thanks though, to all those who turned out on a bitterly cold evening, who sat, listened, thought, and contributed questions and ideas. We seemed to have a fair cross-section of the village: from north to south, east to west and the middle. It was never going to be an easy meeting to try and organise, run or even attend, as across the village opinions on route are split in a non-binary way; as our door-stepping exercise over the weekend showed.
It isn’t just a question of north or south. Some villagers must opt for one route or another because of the huge impact on their personal circumstances, others have opted for a route on the basis of their own understanding and knowledge. Still others have no clear preference, or want to have a preference but can’t get answers to their fairly basic questions from Highways England. Some because they can’t get answers, would prefer to stick with the status quo and some think the whole idea of a bypass is an enormous waste of money and are happy with the A303 as it is. We know already that of the many villagers who want to go ahead with the bypass, a proportion are torn between the two routes, with their head saying one thing and their hearts the opposite. This spread of views appeared to come as a bit of a surprise to some last night and was why the Parish Council did not want to host a discussion of “which route is best” as it would have been highly emotive, it would have constrained discussion and could have so easily turned to frustration and even anger. So thank you again, to all who came, for your forbearance, politeness and good humour. Thanks again to John Glen MP, who was put on the spot for answers, time and time again, and who must have gone away with a shopping list of questions to seek answers to as long as your arm.
It’s going to take a while for us to distil out all the detail from the many questions and comments made last night, but we will do so as soon as we can and make them available both here and on the Parish Noticeboard, or directly to all who wish to see them, before the Parish Council send them off to Highways England. But the big issues that came out were these:
- The majority felt that a bypass would benefit the village.
- There was an urgent need for 3D models and ground level fly-thrus, even at this stage, to give villagers a better idea of the routes and their impacts.
- There was near unanimity that Highways England had failed to provide sufficient information to answer the most fundamental of questions posed by parishioners:
- Will either route improve, or at least not make any worse, those environmental factors (noise, pollution, light, etc) that affect me and the village on a daily basis?
- Which of the two routes offers the greatest environmental benefit to me and to the village?
- Most of those present felt it was unreasonable for Highways England to ask us to state a preference for one route or another, until these questions were answered, and that they needed answering well before 5 March 2017.
- There was a feeling that the design of both routes was driven more by the need to get rid of spoil than by good design principles, but that better design and creative use of the spoil to provide noise mitigation could be beneficial.
- There was a general view that heights of the viaducts was being driven by the desire to get rid of spoil and was being justified by their impact on the River Till SSI. There was near unanimity that the SSI status should be revoked at the point of the proposed crossings to allow lower viaducts to be built.
- There was unanimous dissatisfaction with both the route proposals in regards to their connections to the current A303 back into the village and to the A360. Both designs were believed likely to encourage rat-running north to Shrewton and south through Berwick by traffic keen to avoid the northern part of the A360 and the Airman’s Cross roundabout. This was felt to apply to vehicles approaching Winterbourne Stoke on both bypass routes from the north and south.
- There was unanimous concern about the impacts the construction would have on the community and the local area. Early reassurance about mitigation measures was needed. Again it was felt that insufficient detail as to the likely scale of impact had been made available
If we’ve missed any issues here, be assured they were all captured last night by our scriveners and will appear in due course.
Thanks, yet again to all who participated.