Wessex Water’s controversial bridge over the River Avon is approved

Wessex Water’s plan for a bridge over the River Avon as part of a new link road between its treatment centre in Saltford and the A431 south of Swineford has been approved.

Work is expected to start in spring 2022 and take 12 months.

The decision by Bath & North East Somerset Council has been welcomed in Saltford, where heavy traffic will be removed from narrow roads, but with dismay over the river in South Gloucestershire where residents fear a tenfold increase in HGVs through Swineford and Bitton.

The bridge will remove heavy traffic from Saltford’s narrow roads

Saltford Water Recycling Centre at Mead Lane takes sewage from the Bath and Saltford areas. Wessex Water says it needs to improve the approach to the site, which also houses the regional scientific centre, to accommodate projected growth. The existing access along Mead Lane can flood when the river level is high, while a low bridge also affects access for some vehicles.

The scheme will provide a new vehicular access and the bridge will include a footpath for pedestrians and a cycle path for Wessex water staff. The existing access route along Mead Lane will continue to remain open. The approaches to the bridge will be on embankments to ensure the access road remains flood-free.

The site is within the Green Belt and Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (now known as the Cotswolds National Landscape). The scheme also includes landscape planting, flood compensation storage and a wetland scrape. There will be a new junction with the A431 on a stretch that is in B&NES but close to the South Glos border.

This week Saltford Environment Group (SEG) welcomed the decision and said that following redistribution of existing operational traffic, a 20% decrease on Norman Road in Saltford is expected. It said the proposals keep Green Belt loss and damage to the natural environment to a minimum compared to other routes that were considered.

“The Bath Road (A4) already has severe traffic congestion at peak periods; sharing the volume of vehicles travelling to and from the Wessex Water site between the existing access from the A4 and the proposed new A431 access should help even out the traffic load between those two roads. There are genuine safety concerns about HGVs frequently passing through Saltford’s narrow residential streets, including the conservation area.

“The proposed wetland habitat will help our local wildlife recover from existing habitat losses.”

The A431 in Bitton

Many people in the Bitton and Swineford area objected to Wessex Water’s proposals, including Bitton Village Residents’ Association (BVRA), the parish council and local MP Chris Skidmore. South Gloucestershire Council raised no objection in principle. Bitton is also a designated conservation area and the width of the A431 is narrowed in places by parked vehicles. Locals also pointed out that the road floods at Swineford. They have been petitioning for flood gates for 20 years.

This week the BVRA said: “The residents of Bitton are very distressed about this decision. Although residents have been told it will only increase the overall traffic through Bitton by about 2%, it will increase the number of HGVs from two or three per hour to 20 per hour – a tenfold increase. We made this clear to Wessex Water, B&NES and South Gloucestershire but to no avail.

“The A431 through Bitton is quite unsuitable for HGVs. As well as causing traffic jams, the HGV traffic from Wessex Water will also present a real danger to pedestrians, particularly schoolchildren, who frequently use the narrow pavements in the village, not to mention the impact on the environment.”

We revealed in 2019 that Wessex Water was considering a bridge but after people in the Bitton and Swineford area raised concerns, the company’s chief executive said the idea had been dropped and that other options would be explored.

However, none of the other options – 11 of which would have provided access from the A4 – were considered suitable. The alternatives included a new 1.6km road to connect to the A4 from Pixash Lane.

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