It is a long time since a council meeting in Somerton could fill the main room in the Edgar Hall. Not since the days of the Somerton Civil War when the cost of building said Hall, the mass resignation of town councillors and factional in fighting blighted council meetings between 2009 and 2015. In the bad old days the Hall was regularly full as both side took turns to criticise each other.
These are more peaceful times so as everyone trooped in I stopped counting when it got to over 50 members of the public. And still they kept coming. What was it that brought in so many concerned members of the public? A public meeting called to precede the main council meeting. At issue, and it is a serious issue, was the state of Russet Road, an estate road built on the new Bovis Homes development. The road is narrow has two hideous curves in it and is regularly impassable when the council waste collection lorries are about their business. The layout of the road forces vehicles into the path of oncoming traffic as they negotiate the bends in the road.
It is not the only time we have heard complaints along these lines about a new development in Somerset (the same issue came up at Huish Episcopi when discussing a proposed housing estate for the old Kelways Trial Ground, but the Somerton development has caused a lot of concern and with good reason. During the summer I sat and watched the traffic going through the estate with Town Council chair Dean Ruddle. The problem is obvious for anyone who wants to see it.
So Cllr Ruddle arranged for the Operations Director for Economic and Community Infrastructure at Somerset County Council to come along and hear the concerns for himself.
It is very much to his credit that he did, faced the questions calmly and courteously and if he was unable to offer much by way of a solution, at least he has not simply sat behind a desk and pontificated by email. He spoke first and explained the dilemma. It is this. According to SCC Highways the road does exactly what South Somerset District Council and Bovis designed it do. To limit the speed of traffic by design. When SCC Highways were asked to comment on the road, they did so and agreed that it would indeed do this. It is true that it works to the extent that traffic tends to go through at less than 20mph. But that does not address the issue of vehicles being forced on to the wrong side of the road. A head on collision at 20mph is less serious than one at 40mph, but it is still a head on collision.
Since then SCC have conducted a view of the signage, run a traffic survey and looked at possible traffic calming measures. All of which they have done.
In conclusion SCC could not afford or justify traffic calming measures but are sympathetic to the concerns of the town and would support Somerton Town Council if they wanted to pay for their own traffic calming.
The content of the rest of the meeting was not a great surprise. The problems are well known locally. Time and again members of the public spoke to warn that this was an accident waiting to happen, someone will get killed, emergency service vehicles will not be able to get through and that a lot of the traffic is vans and lorries taking a short cut from the Bancombe Road industrial Estate.
So where do we go from here? If the Town Council will look at traffic calming using say concrete planters to narrow the approaches to either side of Russet Road, that might work. But the onus is on the local community to take action. It is clear that SCC cannot, unsatisfactory but that is where we are.