SOMERSET motorists have been dealt a further blow after “bird strike” concerns pushed back a decision on a major road improvement scheme.

Highways England has put forward plans to dual the A303 between the Podimore and Sparkford roundabouts, as part of a government promise to provide a complete dual carriageway link between the M3 and the M5.

The Department for Transport (DfT) was originally due to make a decision in December 2019, but this has been repeatedly delayed – first by the general election, then the Court of Appeal’s ruling on the third runway at Heathrow, and finally by “outstanding concerns” regarding the new road’s design.

Now the decision has been pushed back again by a further two months following concerns about bird strike affecting the RNAS Yeoviliton base.

This delay comes less than 24 hours after plans to dual a separate section of the A303 – including a new tunnel near Stonehenge – were given the go-ahead.

Yeovil Express:

The Hazlegrove roundabout on the A303 near Sparkford. Pic: Highways England.

Transport minister Andrew Stevenson MP released a statement regarding the Sparkford to Podimore stretch on Thursday afternoon (November 12), following the confirmation of the Stonehenge scheme.

He said: “The transport secretary received the Planning Inspectorate’s report on the A303 Sparkford to Ilchester application on September 12, 2019.

“The deadline for a decision was previously extended from December 12, 2019 to July 17, 2020, and then further extended until November 20, 2020 to allow for further work to be carried out.

“The deadline for the decision is to be further extended to January 29, 2021 (an extension of just over two months) to enable further information to be provided by Highways England and the Defence Infrastructure Organisation regarding outstanding concerns pertaining to the issue of bird strike.

“The decision to set a new deadline is without prejudice to the decision on whether to give development consent.”

As part of the proposals for the new dual carriageway, new ponds will be constructed near RNAS Yeovilton, which lies a short distance south of the Podimore roundabout.

The  Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), part of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has raised concerns that this will lead to more potential cases of ‘bird strike’ (birds getting caught in aircraft engines or helicopter blades), increasing the risk of crashes.

Hannah Sanderson, Highways England’s senior project manager for the A303 scheme, gave reassurances regarding bird strike in a letter to the DfT dated October 5.

She said: “The DIO raised concerns regarding the potential of bird strike resulting from the nesting and breeding of certain species of birds on the ponds.

“We have continued dialogue with the MoD and understands its concerns and requirements in respect of design, bird monitoring and management of the ponds.

“We consider that we can amend the design of the ponds through the road design approval process in order to deter the use of the ponds by birds.”

Highways England has until December 11 to provide the additional information requested by the government.

If approved, the new road is expected to cost up to £250M.