Traders fuming at 'surprise' news of road closure
PEOPLE in and around Castle Cary have reacted angrily to shock plans to close a major local highway for up to 20 weeks.
Network Rail has secured a closure order for the A371 between Ansford Bridge and Castle Cary Station from Monday 10th September to Thursday 31st January.
The closure, for bridge strengthening works, will mean a 20-mile detour for anyone trying to access the station (which is less than 400 metres from the bridge) from Castle Cary and Ansford. Anyone wishing to travel to and from Shepton Mallet and Bristol is being advised to take the same diversion via Clanville, which will still be accessible from Ansford, Lydford and the A37. Low bridges mean high-sided vehicles face an even longer slog, being advised to travel between Castle Cary and Shepton Mallet via Sparkford, Podimore, Somerton and Keinton Mandeville before joining the A37 at Lydford.
Lynn Powell, landlady of the Brook House inn, which is situated on the A371 just the other side of the closure from Castle Cary, said she was shocked by Network Rail and Somerset County Council's failure to provide traders with early notice of the disruption. Mrs Powell said she only found out when a delivery driver mentioned it to her last week, while others were left in the dark until a notice appeared in last Thursday's Western Gazette. She has also questioned whether legal requirements were met in terms of notification.
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"I can understand the need to make the bridge safe but this could put people out of business. The road is a main artery between the A303 and Bristol and local people use it all the time," Mrs Powell said.
"I have received no official notification and only found out by rumour. I can't believe the lack of consultation with people who will be affected. They are effectively cutting off Castle Cary from Shepton Mallet with no consideration for local businesses and there doesn't appear to have been any communication between anybody."
Mrs Powell said the lack of passing traffic is likely to have a serious impact on her business, which also includes a year-round caravan site, and countless other local traders.
"We will miss out on people travelling out from Castle Cary for a meal, and people towing caravans don't want to follow diversions down narrow country lanes," she added.
"It is already a bad time for pubs. It is a struggle for us and the weather has already ruined our camping season – this is the icing on the cake."
Terry Philpott, chairman of Castle Cary Town Council and owner of the town's Martins Stores, said the closure was as much of a surprise to local councillors as it was to residents and traders.
"It really has come out of the blue so there is a feeling they were trying to creep it through," he said.
"Local traders are shocked and concerned not to have been told before. Even if legal requirements have been met, it is not very good from a PR point of view."
A spokesman for Somerset County Council said notice of the closure was given within the statutory timeframe.
"There is a legal requirement for advertising a temporary road closure at least seven days before an order is signed, and in this case the order was published a week in advance of the deadline.
"The diversion routes are advisory, not mandatory, to provide a suitable alternative for the traffic affected. We appreciate that local people will most likely find their own way round."
A Network Rail spokesman said the organisation will try to minimise disruption and engineers will be working seven days a week to complete the works as quickly as possible. It is hoped that the closure will be limited to a single lane with traffic control from Sunday 23rd December.
Network Rail community relations manager Robin Basu said: "We'd like to apologise in advance for the disruption this work is likely to cause. This is obviously going to have a big impact on local residents, businesses and passengers, who will have to go on a long diversion in order to reach the station.
"We will be working hard to minimise the disruption and would be grateful if local people, businesses and passengers can bear with us while this work is taking place."
Representatives from Network Rail will discuss the road closure with local traders and councillors at a meeting in the Brook House next Tuesday.