Council funding row as M4 junction works start

Chris Ames

Work is to start next week on a £17.5m motorway junction improvement project after the council controversially diverted nearly £5m from an art gallery to make up a funding shortfall.

The 12-month project starts on Monday (10 August) and aims to improve journey times and reliability for motorists by tackling congestion at both the M4 junction and on the A419, particularly at peak times.

Highways England is contributing £5m to the upgrade from its Growth and Housing Fund while the Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership (SWLEP) is putting in £3m, alongside £4.35m developer contributions from Persimmon and Redrow.

Swindon Borough Council is controversially contributing £4.8m after diverting cash that was intended to fund the town’s art gallery. The shortfall arose after the council and Highways England put in a bid to SWELP in January for £5.85m, at which time the projected cost of the scheme was £15.2m.

The council’s opposition Labour Group opposes the move. Group leader Jim Grant told Highways: ‘We agree that the works need to happen but we are of the view that Junction 15 is the responsibility of Highways England.

‘We believe it is a misuse of taxpayers money to take the money from the art gallery or any other town centre regeneration project and for this £5m to be spent on something which is not a Swindon Borough Council responsibility. If the £5m is to be spent on highways improvements, then Labour would spend it on fixing the town's pothole problem, which is both horrendous and a council responsibility.’

Gary Sumner, cabinet member for strategic infrastructure, transport and planning, said: ‘Anyone who has sat in the tailbacks at Junction 15 of the M4 at peak periods knows just why these improvements are needed.

‘I am pleased this vital work is about to start as it will relieve congestion on what is a notoriously busy bottleneck. This is a further example of the Council investing in the Borough’s road network to benefit both local residents and the wider Swindon economy.’

The works will involve:

  • widening of the A419 southbound approach to M4 J15 Commonhead Roundabout from two to three lanes, with a dedicated left lane for London-bound traffic;
  • widening of the A419 northbound exit from M4 J15 to 3 lanes up to the Highways England compound entrance, and back to two lanes north of the compound exit;
  • widening of the A346 to the south of M4 Junction 15 from one to two lanes; and from two to three lanes on the immediate approach to the roundabout;
  • widening of the M4 J15 eastbound exit slip road from two to three lanes;
  • lengthening of the three-lane M4 J15 westbound exit slip road;
  • widening of the M4 J15 southern circulatory carriageway from two to four lanes;
  • upgrading existing footpaths and installing a new signalised pedestrian crossing over the M4 Junction 15 westbound entry slip road.

The council cash adds to more than £72.5m for road improvements linked to the nearby New Eastern Villages development: the Wichelstowe underpass project further south near M4 junction 16, and improvement work at the White Hart junction, a vital link between the A419 and A420.

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