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FoE discounts A303 Blackdown Hills option

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THE A303 is unlikely to be dualled through the Blackdown Hills despite the South West Regional Assembly's controversial vote in favour of the scheme earlier this month, environmental pressure groups said this week.

'The environmental impacts of this road would be catastrophic, ' said Friends of the Earth south west regional campaigner Mike Birkin.

'We don't need a second strategic road to the south west, but if the government is determined to build one, then it should not be through the Blackdown Hills. The alternative route is far from perfect, but it's the lesser of two evils.'

The Assembly's vote on options for a second strategic road to the south west narrowly favoured the environmentally sensitive A303 route in favour of upgrading the A358 from Ilminster to the M5 at Taunton (NCE 6 May).

In doing so the Assembly, which is made up largely of local business leaders, ignored a Highways Agency report prepared by consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff which clearly favours the A358 option.

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.

Benefit to cost ratios for the A358 (3.46 assuming high growth) are better than for the A303/A30 (2.79 assuming high growth). Transport secretary Alistair Darling is expected to make a decision on the routes by the end of year.

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