Moves to delay road closure after backlash
NETWORK Rail officials are hoping to delay controversial plans to close a major road into Castle Cary until 2013.
News of the delay came after more than 100 outraged business owners and residents condemned plans to close part of the A371 in a public meeting on Tuesday evening.
Network Rail had planned to close the road between Turnpike Cottage and the entrance to Castle Cary railway station for 15 weeks as engineering works are carried out on Ansford Bridge.
At a turbulent meeting called by Wayne and Lynn Powell, landlords of the Brook House Inn situated on the A371, Network Rail officials admitted failures in their consultation with local businesses.
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John Baker, Network Rail's media relations manager for Wales and West, said yesterday: "We have made the decision to delay the road closure until Monday, January 7, 2013.
"It will be a 19-week programme, with work expected to end on Sunday, May 19, 2013. The road will be open to traffic from Monday, May 20, 2013.
"It must be stressed that this delay has been agreed in principle, but needs to be confirmed by Somerset County Council.
"The decision was made in recognition of the strength of local feeling from businesses and residents, and this will allow them time to put in place any contingency plans."
Speaking at the meeting on Tuesday, project manager Daniel Recchia said: "Hand on heart we could look back and say additional notices and earlier consultation would have been a benefit, but unfortunately we didn't understand the repercussions this would cause.
"I empathise with everyone and it's a failure on behalf of myself and my team."
The town's traders claimed the original timing of the road closure could have put them out of business.
Mrs Powell said she had received little notice of the original closure plans and the disruption could threaten her business.
She said: "This was a complete surprise. We knew nothing until one of my meat deliverers told me what was happening.
"Our pub relies on passing traffic and we also have a campsite open all year round. Keeping them both going will become a daily struggle and I fear people will decide to just drop into Shepton Mallet instead. The work on the bridge needs to be done, but at the same time, we don't want our livelihood to be harmed. People could go out of business because of this."
Robin Basu, Network Rail's community relations manager for Wales and West, admitted he was only made aware of the road closure four weeks ago.
He said: "My advisers and I conduct a tremendous amount of consultation across the entire network, but with regard to this project, I was not notified. The first I found out about the closure was August 1. All I can do is apologise.
"I would have liked to have engaged with local businesses before something like this was finalised."
Mr Baker, said the road closure was only recently been agreed with Somerset County Council.
He said: "We've done our best to minimise the effects of the work. Although talks have been ongoing for several months we couldn't go public before everything was agreed."