South West 2022 - a year in review
22 Dec 2022
With the New Year fast approaching, we're looking back on a year of great news, milestones reached and fascinating work in the South West.
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From bat boxes to tree planting, and planning permission granted to refurbishments completed early, read on for our 2022 regional roundup.
A303 Sparkford to Ilchester
Work on the Sparkford to Ilchester scheme has been taking place for well over a year now. If you’ve driven through the work, you'll have no doubt spotted that lots is changing. So far we've:
- installed a temporary bridge over the A303, so we can do most of the earth-moving from one side of the site to the other without having to put lots of heavy goods traffic on the existing A303. In October, when we’d finished, we removed it again! Both complicated operations went well and were completed ahead of schedule
- created northern and southern haul roads, so we could transport earth across both sides of the site without using local roads
- put the bridge beams of the Steart Hill bridge in, ready to have the deck added in 2023
- created a new temporary access onto the A303 from Downhead Lane, completed the ‘Wales’ embankment – across the site, we’ve now completed 95% of the earth moving we’ll need to do for the scheme
- installed more than 220 bird, bat, owl and dormouse boxes around the site
- created five attenuation ponds across the scheme to manage the drainage of the scheme
- cleared most of the vegetation we’ve needed to take out for construction – including working under a dormouse license we applied for after we discovered a nest at Steart Hill
- worked with parish councils, tourism organisations, and local school groups
- successfully applied for a ‘social value’ funded project to improve local amenities such as sports and play equipment
We've also had many close encounters with the world's only true flying mammal - bats! The project environmental team have gone the extra mile to help preserve the species that made their home along the scheme. Read more about the work here - https://nationalhighways.co.uk/article/to-the-bat-cave-national-highways-supporting-bats-living-alongside-the-a303-1/
As you can see, it’s been a busy year for us on site and we continue to make good progress towards our ‘open for traffic’ date in Spring 2024.
Dormouse boxes to be installed on site, decorated by local school children
A417 Missing Link
Early this year, The Planning Inspectorate closed it's 6 month examination of the A417 Missing Link proposals. While awaiting a final report and a decision on whether planning permission would be granted, we stayed busy!
The project team along with representatives from Cotswold Archaeology visited Birdlip Primary School, where year 3 and 4 pupils got the chance to chat to them about their jobs and see what finds have been dug up along the route, which used to be the home to Romans. One item was an almost 2,000-year-old figurine depicting Cupid, the Roman God of love, which was discovered along with a bow-shaped brooch, and a Roman or early Saxon skeleton. The Cupid was a rare find, with less than 50 known in the UK, and is one of only three that have been found as part of an archaeological dig as opposed to by metal detectorists.
After a competitive procurement process, Kier was announced as the firm appointed to design and construct the new road. Kier is a national business with a local and regional focus - throughout the duration of the project, it will support the local community by providing local jobs and contracts, and through initiatives to improve the local area leave a positive legacy.
The proposal for the new wildlife-friendly crossing - Gloucestershire Way
Surveys were undertaken throughout the year to gather more information about ground conditions and local plants and wildlife. They'll help finalise the detailed design of the road, crossings, landscaping and new local features such as the Air Balloon Way: a proposed new walking, cycling and horse riding route on the old A417.
In November, the project received the long-awaited great news that the scheme had been granted an approved Development Consent Order - meaning the project can finally start being built! Construction of the A417 Missing Link will start in 2023 and be completed by early 2027. You can find out more by reading the latest newsletter here and by watching the latest fly through video of the scheme below.
A358 Taunton to Southfields
The project started the year by announcing its key charity partners, Taunton Open Door and Taunton Opportunity Group. Taunton Opportunity Group support families with babies and young children who have a wide range of special needs and disabilities, and Taunton Open Door charity support rough sleepers and those in temporary accommodation.
As part of their involvement with Taunton Open Door, the scheme donated more than 80 coats and clothes to those in need as part of an ongoing initiative which will be continued. The project team also donated 56 hours of time and more than £500 in materials to paint the hallways and create step-free access at Taunton Opportunity Group. It allowed staff to easily take the children who require wheelchairs to the outside space. Helen, the manager at Taunton Opportunity Group said “The dropped kerb has been fantastic, we have taken the children down to the wooded area a few times and have had a great time listening to the birds and throwing leaves up in the air.”
In March, as part of British Science Week, the team planned and delivered activities for students at Somerset Progressive School. The school provide a learning environment for children with special educational needs. The activities were a great success, in total 30 students and staff were involved in learning about the project from behind the scenes, including the range of survey works taking place. The theme for British Science Week was growth, and the students planted more than 50 trees (willow, oak and silver birch) in their outdoor education area, went on a nature walk exploring the school grounds, carried out scavenger hunts and talked about the different types of habitats. A video was shown as part of International Women’s Day which detailed the range of job opportunities available in the infrastructure sector.
Members of the A358 project team, with science teacher Mark
In May the team announced changes to its preliminary design, following feedback from a statutory consultation in late 2021. A supplementary consultation was held till the end of June on those design changes, and feedback was encouraged to help develop the design. You can watch a fly through of the proposals above. The project team continued their work to compile the feedback into a Consultation Report, which will form part of the planning application for a Development Consent Order.
Over the year, the team interviewed key members of the local public to hear their personal view of the benefits the scheme could bring, such as creating opportunities for local businesses and for regional growth, the importance of tourism and the ‘visitor economy’, and how reducing congestion will improve local air quality. In the series, you can hear from a hotel business, Peninsula Transport, Visit Somerset, Somerset Chamber of Commerce, the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership and a Parish Council, who outline how important the A358 upgrade is. Watch the series summary below.
During Autumn the project team wrapped up survey activity for the year, which included:
- completing archaeological surveys. For this survey work, trenches were dug across different areas to look for any archaeological finds to help our understanding of the area. More than 750 trial trenches were surveyed over nine months, working alongside South West Heritage Trust and Historic England
- carrying out the final bat surveys for 2022. For these surveys special equipment was used which included bat detectors, to find out more about the bats’ habitats and what species live on the A358 route
- starting to look at when it'll be possible to close or cap (decommission) long-term monitoring boreholes. These are holes in the ground used to find out more about ground conditions, water levels and stability. Work to decommission the first batch is well underway and will continue into next year
A30 Chiverton to Carland Cross
The A30 is another project in construction, and has made real progress particularly with the movement of thousands of tonnes of earth to form the footprint of the new road, construction of the new bridges, culverts and sections of the new A30 and side roads.
4 separate beams have been successfully lifted into place at Marazanvose, Chiverton interchange, Chybucca and Carland interchange, and other milestones have included the opening of the temporary roundabout at Chybucca in May, the diversion of the A3075 in October and most recently, diverting traffic onto the new section of A30 between Chybucca and Chiverton in December. All were completed ahead of schedule, keeping on track for open to traffic in winter 2023.
The temporary roundabout at Chybucca, with the new realigned A30 being constructed ahead
Earlier in the year, the team shared how Cornwall’s very own china clay mining industry was playing a big part in the construction of the A30. With sustainability and reducing the carbon footprint being key drivers behind construction of the scheme, and as a result scheme contractors are tapping into natural Cornish materials and a significant investment in local companies. Larger infrastructure projects typically use millions of tonnes of aggregate – representing a large carbon footprint – but as with other modern-day road building schemes, the A30 is utilising a by-product from the china clay mining industry. The residue, known as stent, would normally have no use and be left in white spoil heaps, scarring the local landscape. Instead, the material from the Littlejohns Pit near St Austell is being processed into sustainable secondary sand and aggregate for construction use. You can read more about the work on the project page here - https://nationalhighways.co.uk/our-roads/south-west-news/new-habitats-for-reptiles-on-the-a30/
The ecology team spent a large part of the year working on a solution to moving and protecting a traditional reptile habitat, making way for construction. Survey work had identified a number of adders, grass snakes, slow worms and common lizards living on heathland at Higher Ennis along the path of the new route. The reptiles were safely gathered up before the heathland itself was cut into turfs and transferred across the road to a location close to a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) at Newlyn Downs. The new location offered an excellent habitat for the reptiles to thrive. With permission from Natural England, two reptile ‘houses’ were built making the Newlyn Downs habitat even better for the reptiles, and ecologists are already seeing success, with the slow worms, lizards and snakes now settling nicely into their new home. You can read more about the work here - https://nationalhighways.co.uk/our-roads/south-west-news/new-habitats-for-reptiles-on-the-a30/
A slow worm in its improved habitat
Operations and maintenance schemes
As well as developing and constructing new road projects, we're also responsible for operating and maintaining motorways and major A-roads, and earlier this year we announced a £167 million investment of roads, pavements and bridges in the South West alone. The investment funded a package of continuing works to benefit Motorists, pedestrians and cyclists, which include road resurfacing, bridge joint replacements, the creation of cycle lanes, improved signage and landscaping.
Works completed this year have included -
• Brookfield bridge – the complex major refurbishment included concrete repairs to the bridge decks, replacement of bridge bearings, removal and reconstruction of parapet beams and safety fencing, waterproofing and entire resurfacing. The scheme ensured the safety of the bridge for years to come, and finished 2 months ahead of schedule!
The completed Brookfield bridge
• Goodstone sinkhole – after a sinkhole appeared on the A38 off-slip and cycleway for Goodstone, a scheme was designed to protect any future issues, and completed a month early.
• M5 J13 to J14 Michaelwood bridge lift - in 2020, a 40 year old footbridge was removed over the M5, and this year a 230-tonne crane lifted the new 200ft (61-metre) footbridge into place. The footbridge allows access between the northbound and southbound Michaelwood services.
• Ashburn check weir – a scheme to help fish navigate the River Ashburn in Devon was completed in time for the autumn migration season. You can read more about the work here - https://nationalhighways.co.uk/about-us/a38-weir-scheme-helps-fish-migration-in-devon/
A highlight of the year was, along with our partners, winning the ICE Civil Engineering award for the project over £8 million re-engineered - M5 J11 Golden Valley north and south bridges. You can read more about the work here.
The completed fish pass on the River Ashburn
We hope you've enjoyed learning more about some of the work we've done this year, and look forward to sharing more good news stories across the South West in 2023. You can keep up to date with all the projects and stories mentioned via our regional website here - https://nationalhighways.co.uk/our-roads/south-west/