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Darling overrules region over Blackdown Hills


TRANSPORT SECRETARY Alistair Darling this week backed engineering judgement and ruled against the controversial dualling of the A303 through the Blackdown Hills in Somerset.

Instead the A358 from Illminster to the M5 at Taunton will be widened, cutting £90M from the project cost and avoiding a showdown with environmental campaigners.

Friends of the Earth had warned that the impacts of the A303 dualling would be 'catastrophic'. It sees the A358 option as the lesser of two evils.

But Darling's decision flies in the face of the South West Regional Assembly, which voted in favour of the A303 scheme in May. Instead he has heeded advice from consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff, which produced a report for the Highways Agency strongly backing the A358 option.

The report concluded that the A303/A30 route would require 24.4km of dualling at an estimated cost of £338M and would produce 'very large adverse' outcomes in landscape and biodiversity.

The A358/M5 route, with 14.5km of improvement, would cost £246M and have 'slightly adverse' outcomes. The benefit to cost ratio for the A358 (3.46 assuming high growth) is also better than for the A303/A30 (2.79 assuming high growth).

'Improving the A358 will protect the Blackdown Hills, an area of outstanding natural beauty, and bring real benefits to the region - reducing journey times for tourists and business traffic heading to and from the south west, ' said Darling.

The Highways Agency will now work up the scheme in detail. The timetable will be determined once the south west's Regional Transport Board is established.

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