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How Highways England mitigated planning delays to its A303 upgrade

Highways England bosses have revealed how they reduced the impact of planning delays on the A303 Sparkford to Ilchester dualling scheme.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps delayed his decision on the scheme's planning application on three occasions, meaning Highways England had to wait an additional 13 months before it could proceed with the project.

The project was held up by deliberations over a separate planning application for the A303 Stonehenge Tunnel, along with delays associated with the 2019 General Election, Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Highways England South West regional delivery director Nick Aldworth told NCE’s Future of Roads conference that the team “anticipated for delays well and had contingencies in place”.

“A development consent order (DCO) decision for this was delayed quite significantly,” he said.

“It was timed for around the time the Stonehenge decision was due and got wrapped up in those discussions, it then fell around the time of Brexit and it also then got hit by coronavirus. So pretty much a perfect storm.”

The road scheme was given the green light by transport secretary Grant Shapps earlier this year despite the Planning Inspectorate recommending the scheme be declined a DCO.

It is estimated to cost between £100M and £250M and will provide a continuous dual carriageway on the A303 between the Podimore Roundabout and the Sparkford Bypass.

Aldworth said that while the delays have pushed back the formal start of work the impact of this has been mitigated by the fact that work has been able to progress on some early aspects of the scheme. This included work on a “significant fibre cable that runs through the route” and some survey works.

“So it wasn’t the effect it could have been if we hadn’t been anticipating some of these things,” he said.

Work could begin as soon as August with clearing and the establishment of a compound at Downhead Lane and works to build a new bridge at Steart Hill.

Main works along the entire route will begin in September with clearing and diversion of utilities at Podimore roundabout, Camel Cross and Downhead Lane as well as the start of construction of the Steart Hill Over bridge, which is scheduled to last until May 2022.

Works to the north of the A303 include a temporary road to move materials around the site without adding traffic to the existing road network, other plans include starting construction on an underbridge at Hazelgrove beneath the existing A303 and a new access road to Hazelgrove School.

Construction is scheduled to be complete by 2023-24 and will be carried out parallel to the A303 Stonehenge Tunnel project.

(Credit: Catherine Kennedy.

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