Controversy rages over Axminster bypass plan
PUBLISHED: 15:01 04 December 2018
Many residents continue to oppose the council's preferred easterly route - citing the Weycroft Bridge as a major concern
A public presentation of the masterplan for Axminster’s new £17million north-south relief road takes place at The Guildhall this Thursday (December 6) – and it already looks set to be a very lively affair.
A growing number of residents are voicing their concerns about the route of the proposed bypass – to the east of the town rather than the west.
Many say this will not address the notorious Weycroft Bridge bottleneck on the northern side of the road and there could be more problems at the other end when the road meets up with the A35.
Here is what some of our readers are saying:
You published two excellent letters on the thorny subject of the route of the north/south by pass in your November 14 edition.
Both of your correspondents giving very compelling reasons against the proposed route, ie the shorter one to run from Raymond’s Hill to some point on the town side of Weycroft Bridge. Mr Phil Wales states with total accuracy that at the extremely, well attended public meeting, at the Guildhall, the huge majority of those present were totally against this route and unanimously favoured a route basically following the railway line or further to the west.
We seem to be looking at a complete disaster if the proposed route goes ahead, with a huge amount being spent with very little achieved. Indeed it seems that the principal beneficiaries will be Persimmon’s Homes, who have experienced some shocking press of late with their, now former chief executive, awarding himself a £75,000,000 bonus for a years work, this presumably be separate from his salary, which was probably several more million. Does the town council really want to do business with this company or should they be ‘wary of Greeks bearing gifts’? (A reference by the poet Virgil in about 50bc and referring to the Trojan horse and not meant to offend modern day Greeks).
What is also absolutely incredible, along with several other very valid reasons, is the fact that this proposed route will end/start on the town side of Weycroft Bridge. Already this ancient packhorse bridge is subjected to a constant flow of the most enormous lorries, tractors, caravans etc on a daily basis with traffic queues frequently going back beyond the railway bridge. No doubt a great deal of the construction traffic will also be very regular users of the bridge, which will simply add to what is already a considerable problem. Does anyone out there really have any idea of the amount of traffic which uses the bridge? Eventually it is inevitable that the bridge will fail or even collapse and then what? Has anyone thought of this? Apparently not or this ridiculous plan would not have been considered in the first place. As for the statement of ‘the problems of the bridge will be looked at’, I can only say that this is totally without value.
Another valid question to be considered is whether the drivers of the heavy goods vehicles travelling to and from the Honiton direction will considerably extend their journeys and fuel use by travelling the full length of the existing east/west by pass, and all uphill, just to use the new road when the existing road offers a quick, flat journey, albeit with a few difficult turns through the town centre? Human nature suggests that they will simply carry on using the same route as they do now leaving the same problems as before. It must surely be a matter, before more mistakes are made, of returning to the drawing board and this time taking heed of what the town people want and not that of a major house builder, whose interests will be purely be of what is most beneficial to them. If this is not done then this can only be a disastrous escapade from which Axminster might never recover.
Yes, the bypass could be built on stilts alongside the railway, with pre-fabricated sections being delivered by rail. Another contentious issue is Persimmon’s record for build quality in the South West. Has anyone noticed that the chief executive resigned recently, taking with him a bonus of £75,000,000 while the firm negotiates the building of 750 houses in Axminster? Do the maths: the houses could have been made affordable for those on the low wages paid in the South West.
On November 7 you reported on the East Devon District Council’s (EDDC’s) cabinet meeting to progress delivery of the Axminster relief road – a road that is ‘vital to the future’ of the town - noting that a full report to cabinet can be found on www.eastdevon.gov.uk/media/2670608/311018combinedcabinetagenda.pdf . Pages 96-104 of this report, together with the linked Axminster Masterplan Consultation, give an excellent and very comprehensive and very readable account of the current position – this being the intention that EDDC and Devon County Council to jointly deliver the road before the urban extension to the east of Axminster is started.
Short term this could be considered good news in that it will free up the town centre and Stoney Lane from the A358 through traffic and improve access to the Industrial Estate. But it is clear from the report that delivery of the proposed eastern relief road will have a considerable downside for both Axminster and the A358 traffic itself - for the following reasons:
1. The report confusing in emphasizing that the road would divert 57% of the A358 HGV traffic away to the east of the town. But to be effective it would also have to divert the 23% of south and west bound HGV traffic that currently goes through the town centre ie both the Stoney Lane HGV’s and the town centre HGVs need diverting. However that means 80% of the HGV traffic would be diverted via a new part of the town designated to include a new school and community facilities – simply moving the problem from one part of the town to another.
2. That would also mean that the south and west bound traffic would have to climb to the top of a hill and down again simply to get from one side of Axminster to the other whereas there is a deliverable western route, just clear of the Axe valley flood plain, that would provide a relatively simple and level route. That route would also put the east bound HGVs on to the A35 well positioned to take advantage of the existing modern bypass well designed to make an optimum fuel efficient climb instead of taking the clearly tortuous climb of the currently proposed eastern route.
3. The health hazard of roadside air pollution and the long-term carbon footprint would be considerably reduced by use of a western route outside the town.
4. The current proposals do not include a solution to the Weycroft Bridge bottleneck problem at the northern end and a safe connection to the A35 at the southern end. A deliverable western route starting north of the bridge would inherently cover both (albeit leaving Weycroft Bridge itself and access to the Industrial Estate as challenges in their own right).
5. A deliverable western route, being outside the town, would clearly have to be funded properly by a road fund that would free up any available community infrastructure funds needed to support the huge eastern urban expansion of Axminster. Here it is noted that already developers are making noises about the challenging topography of the urban development area and about the viability of only 650 houses, the number of affordable houses and housing density.
So at the end of the day, even at a much higher cost, a deliverable western route, unlike the proposed eastern route, would represent value for money; would free up community infrastructure funding for it’s intended purpose; and would benefit the community of Axminster as well as the A358 passing traffic itself. Hopefully we will get reasonable notice of the next consultation apparently due any time soon.
Responding to the critics of the proposed bypass route Axminster’s district and county councillor Ian Hall says:
“The principle of a north-south relief road for Axminster that runs around the eastern side of the town was agreed many years ago and is now allocated in the adopted East Devon Local Plan following extensive consultation with the community.
“I appreciate that there remain those in the town who favour and alternative route to the west of the town but this is not an option because of its impact on the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the flood plain for the River Axe.
“In any event, it would be too expensive and there is no opportunity to fund it through development due to the constraints on that side of town.
“We now have a proposed route for the relief road and a way to deliver it so I would urge residents to focus on this option which we can potentially deliver rather than an alternative option that we know we cannot deliver.
“We have not forgotten about the Weycroft Bridge and the junction with the A35 and these are being looked at with the highways authorities with a view to future improvements to address the issues with them.
“I encourage everyone to attend the second masterplan consultation on Thursday, December 6, at Axminster Guildhall between 10am and 2pm and 4pm and 6.30pm.”