By Harry Mottram: Ten years ago I reported for the Cheddar Valley Gazette that finally Banwell would have a bypass – along with a new school and shopping area plus hundreds of new homes. The village was promised a bypass as long ago as 1927 – but at each turn something would hold up the project and the traffic would continue to clog up West Street and Castle Hill. The main image below shows the planned bypass – an image from North Somerset Council. It would cut down beside Dark Lane from Castle Hill’s crest and circle north and rejoin the A371 at Knightcott Road at the Weston-super-Mare end of the village with infilling development on either side of Wolvershill Road.

Banwell is just five miles from Axbridge and was once part of the Axbridge Rural District Council and despite being in North Somerset retains ties with the town. The former railway – The Strawberry Line – had a station at Sandford known as Banwell and Sandford – where the retirement home is now. Back in the day Banwell residents would walk or cycle to the station that linked them to Wells and Yatton (and Axbridge).

The latest plan was agreed to go ahead last year with contractors appointed – but now the bypass is once again in doubt after the main contractor has pulled out of the plan. Writing for Somerset Live, fellow Bath journalist and local democracy reporter John Wimperis has reported: “Alun Griffiths — who were handed the £56.5m contract to build the road by North Somerset Council — have walked away from the deal.”

He continued: “Alun Griffiths had already been on site to work on enabling works ahead of the main bypass construction. But now they have downed tools and said they will not deliver the scheme. The council signed off on the contract in November, which was a “pain/gain” contract designed to encourage the contractors to deliver the scheme on time. The scheme as a whole is set to cost £89.2m, when factoring in other costs such as consultants, utilities, and contingency money alongside the £56.5m contract to build the road. Homes England has provided £77.3m of this money, with North Somerset Council contributing £11.9m.”

Banwell before the car came to cause congestion – then a market was held in The Square. Pic: Roy Rice.

Many Axbridge residents have been caught up in the congestion in the village of Banwell and know the frustration of waiting up to 30 minutes to get through and longer if as often happens when two lorries or other large vehicles become stuck in trying to negotiate the narrow main street. The prospect of a bypass would transform the village which has a number of period properties that have been badly affected by the traffic that has only increased over the years. There is also the historic rock embedded in the pavement on the corner of Church Street – thought to be a prehistoric marker stone and then used as a mount for horse riders but remains a quirky reminder of the community’s long history dating back to pre-Roman Britain. If the bypass was built then those properties in West Street would become as desirable as those in Axbridge’s High Street which were badly affected by traffic until the construction of Axbridge’s own bypass.

The rock in Banwell’s West Street is thought to date to prehistoric times – here modelled by India for the Strawberry Line Times magazine

North Somerset Council’s council leader Mike Bell said: “Alun Griffiths joined the bypass team in 2021, so it is incredibly frustrating for them to pull out without warning just as they were getting spades in the ground. This is unexpected and unprecedented news and we feel both let down and disappointed, as I’m sure many residents will too. Despite challenges created by Griffiths’ decision, I’d like to reassure residents that the council remains committed to the bypass and that we are working closely with partners at Homes England to understand next steps and solutions.”

Mr Bell added: “The Banwell bypass is an important scheme for us and, over the past two years, we have made more progress towards making it a reality than anyone in the century since it was first proposed. This includes designing the scheme in collaboration with local residents, overcoming financial pressures and successfully securing planning permission and compulsory purchase orders. Not only would the bypass remove long-standing and intolerable congestion from Banwell, but the wider scheme includes miles of walking and cycling tracks, as well as a substantial bio-diversity net gain. The bypass is also key to unlocking future housing sites, which are vital in seizing the opportunities presented by regional growth. As ever, we are focussing our efforts on moving this top-quality scheme forward and delivering for our communities, working alongside partners and doing all we can to get back on track and back on site soon.”

Also see:

The Rock in Banwell back in the 1930s when the village expected the bypass to be built. Pic: Roy Rice

Axbridge News is edited by Harry Mottram and is published for the interest of himself and fellow residents.

Harry is a freelance journalist. Follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube etc