ONE of Somerset’s local authorities has agreed to spend up £100,000 towards the cost of dualling the A303 – so the project can be completed before funding is lost.

Highways England – which is responsible for England’s major A-roads and motorways – intends to begin work to dual the A303 between Ilchester and Sparkford in March 2020.

To get to this stage, a large-scale planning application – known as a development consent order (DCO) – must be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for intense scrutiny.

Putting this application together will require officers from South Somerset District Council and Somerset County Council working extensively with Highways England staff.

The district council’s executive committee agreed on Thursday morning (July 5) to commit £100,000 from its reserves to help to cover these costs.

Policy planner Jo Manley said that both the county council and Highways England were looking to speed up the planning process, in light of the fact that the money set aside to dual the road (up to £250M) has to be spent by 2022.

To this end, Highways England had consulted further with Yeovil MP Marcus Fysh and West Camel Parish Council to try and solve any problems.

She said in her report: “The parish council is concerned that their existing rat running issue will be exacerbated by the scheme.

“Highways England state that their modelling does not show significant adverse effects, but as a gesture of goodwill they have offered the parish highways mitigation outside of the DCO process. The parish council is still considering the offer.”

Jan Gamon, the council’s lead specialist in strategic planning, strategy and commissioning, claimed that Highways England would only offer £60,000 jointly to the county and district councils to help to cover their costs.

Of this, the district council would only see around £15,000 – a situation which Councillor Harry Hobhouse branded “a complete joke”.

Ms Gamon added that the amount of time the council’s officers would have to spend on this project would slow down the ongoing review of the council’s Local Plan for housing, unless more staff were brought in.

She said: “We will probably have to buy in external resources to continue with the Local Plan review”.

Councillor Mike Lewis – whose Camelot ward will be most affected by the dualling – said that the money should be provided in principle, but that Highways England should pay for the full cost of the councils’ work.

He said: “The £100,000 will depend on Highways England not fully supporting the work that is necessary.

“It should be their responsibility to fully fund this, but we do not wish to hold up the process by refusing to fully fund this.”

Council leader Ric Pallister said that Highways England had “under-estimated” how much the work to bring forward the DCO would take, and that he would support the dualling while lobbying them for more money.

He said: “In order for us to meet their accelerated time-scale, we do not consider the resource will be sufficient for us to do all the work needed to meet their time-scale.

“We will give it our best shot at trying to get a more realistic amount out of Highways England, but we will not hold things up.”

Once the DCO has been completed and submitted, the Planning Inspectorate will allow for up to six months to “public examination”, running from December 13, 2018.

The transport secretary will make a final decision by the end of 2019, with construction then beginning in March 2020 and the road being operational by 2023 at the latest.