FUNDING for new roads in Bridgwater has been “squandered” on schemes which will not ease congestion, according to a former district councillor.

David Preece served on Sedgemoor District Council between 2003 and 2011, and has been a passionate advocate for better transport links across the town for many years.

At Somerset Council’s annual budget meeting – held in Bridgwater on Tuesday (February 20) – Mr Preece vociferously attacked the lack of progress on fixing the town’s existing road problems, arguing money set aside for improvements had been “squandered” elsewhere in Somerset.

He also attacked the high levels of housing growth planned on the town’s eastern edge, claiming there had been a “total disregarding” of residents’ views about traffic congestion and over-development.

Somerset Council said it had “carefully considered” residents’ views to ensure the new developments met local need, and defended the improvements which are at an early stage of being implemented.

Mr Preece began his excoriating attack by claiming that Bridgwater would not be receiving adequate funding for road maintenance within the council’s revenue budget – a budget which include £35m of cuts to local services.

He said: “Where is the new highway spending for Bridgwater in this year’s budget?

“We have potholes that need repairing in and around Bridgwater, with road safety barriers near St John’s School needing to be replaced and weeds needing to be removed – it’s not a great look.”

Mr Preece then turned his attention to the East Bridgwater housing allocation, which comprises three major housing developments – namely:

  • Up to 750 homes and a primary school on Bower Lane, south of the Polden Bower special school (a decision on which is still pending)
  • 260 homes on the Strawberry Grange site, north of the A372 Westonzoyland Road (currently being constructed by Countryside Partnerships)
  • 530 homes on the Folletts Farm site, south of Westonzoyland Road (which were approved by the district council in February 2023)

A new spine road will eventually link the A372 with the A39 Bath Road, with other funding being set aside for new pedestrian and cycle links from the new homes towards the town centre.

Mr Preece said that the spine road would not alleviate existing traffic problems, and criticised funding from the three sites being allocated to upgrading the Dunball roundabout (which will be getting under way in the summer).

Bridgwater Mercury: An artist's impression of the public open space and play area within the Bower Lane development in Bridgwater.An artist's impression of the public open space and play area within the Bower Lane development in Bridgwater. (Image: Thrive Architects)

He said: “We have 530 new homes being proposed at Folletts Farm, but £600,000 of Section 106 money from that site has been allocated to the Dunball roundabout upgrade.

“How is that going to relieve traffic on Westonzoyland Road? Obviously it will not.

“Then there’s the planned 750 homes off Bower Lane, on council-owned land – a former tenanted farm. Traffic will exit from the internal spine road onto Bower Lane by Penrose School and the community hospital – that area is now gridlocked with traffic.

“You are proposing 400 new homes than in the 20-year Sedgemoor Local Plan that we approved.

“There is been a total disregarding of local, existing residents’ views and concerns. You have dismissed our legitimate objections.

“You will be adding 2,300 daily vehicles movements in and out of these developments onto an already burdens main road into Bridgwater town centre – by another school, with a 20mph speed limit and a school crossing patrol holding up traffic twice a day at school times.

“There is no planned increase to local bus services – at present there’s one bus from Langport every two hours to and from the Asda store.”

The 16 service, operated by Hatch Green Coaches, runs from Langport Town Hall to Bridgwater bus station every two hours from Monday to Saturday.

Motorists moving into the Folletts Farm site will have to rely on Westonzoyland Road to access the town centre – a road which is already congested at peak times with traffic from the neighbouring housing estates and commuters coming in from Langport and the neighbouring villages.

Bridgwater Mercury: A squibbing display at the opening of Squibbers Way in 2019.A squibbing display at the opening of Squibbers Way in 2019. (Image: Archive)

Somerset Council confirmed in October 2023 that a new relief road linking the new homes to Squibbers Way was “not part of the conversation” with the Folletts Farm developments – though funding would be allocated to improve walking and cycling links to the town centre, following the River Parrett.

Mr Preece also criticised the delays in delivering improvements to the Cross Rifle roundabouts, which received funding from the government’s levelling up fund in late-2021.

He said: “Upgrading the junction between the A38 Bristol Road and the A39 Bath Road was proposed when I set on Sedgemoor District Council’s planning committee. It’s been delayed again after 15 years – this is not acceptable.

“While other towns across Somerset have multi-million-pound highway schemes approved and built, what did you do with all the millions from the Hinkley Point C highway mitigation funding?

“This was squandered across Somerset – certainly not where the heaviest impacts of new traffic to and from the nuclear site would impact.

“We have no new relief roads, or bypasses, or ring roads for Bridgwater – everything has just been deferred, delayed or cancelled.

“Yet there has been plenty of spending elsewhere across the county and on cycle routes – routes for the few to abuse and not use while holding up traffic on the main roads.”

Bridgwater Mercury: The Hinkley Point C construction site.The Hinkley Point C construction site. (Image: Steve Richardson)

EDF Energy, which is delivering the Hinkley Point C site, has contributed significant sums to mitigate the impact of the new power station, including funding for village halls, support for tourist destinations and funding for walking and cycling routes across Bridgwater.

The company contributed funding towards the cycle route between the Express Park and the Saltlands recycling centre, which opened in November 2022 and forms part of the ‘purple route’ which will eventually link the town centre with the Gravity Enterprise Zone in the neighbouring village of Puriton.

Councillor Richard Wilkins, portfolio holder for transport and digital, said the housing targets for the East Bridgwater allocation were always intended to be minimum amounts – as is the case with any allocation within the Sedgemoor Local Plan.

He said: “The associated adopted development and design guide suggests 1,350 new homes in this location. Housing targets are expressed as minimums in the Local Plan, with the final scale of dependant informed by detailed assessments through the planning application process.

“The allocation always envisaged a new spine road connecting Westonzoyland Road to the A39, as well as additional traffic mitigation based on detailed traffic impact assessments.

“Contributions towards additional off-site highway works are to be secured through Section 106 agreements, along with funding for travel planning.

“In addition to this, contributions are also secured for the improvement to Dunball roundabout. This is necessary to address wider concerns raised by National Highways in respect of impacts on the strategic route network (i.e. the M5) and is consistent with the approach applied to other housing
developments in and around Bridgwater.”

Mr Wilkins – who represents the Curry Rivel and Langport division – said that residents’ objections were “carefully considered” regarding the Folletts Farm proposals, but that their concerned had been successfully mitigated by the developers.

He said: “A decision on the application was deferred to enable additional information to be presented that addressed concerns around traffic, scale of development and noise mitigation.

“Local objections were not therefore ignored or dismissed; however the issues raised were mitigated through changes to the planning proposal.

“With regard to the current application for up to 750 dwellings and the new spine road on the remainder of the allocated land, this has yet to be presented to the planning committee north, and therefore no decision has yet been made on this.

“It would therefore be premature to speculate on the outcome of the current planning process.”

The planning committee north (which handles major applications in the former Sedgemoor area) will next meet on Tuesday afternoon (February 26) to discuss plans for 511 homes on the Bridgwater Gateway site, near junction 24 of the M5.

The proposals comprise two separate developments – 361 homes on the eastern section, put forward by Boklok Housing Ltd., and a further 150 homes on the western section, to be delivered by Vistry Homes.