Highways England awards £328m contract on delayed A358 scheme

Dominic Browne

Highways England has awarded a £328m contract to design and deliver a long-awaited upgrade to the A358 between the M5 at Taunton and the Southfields roundabout on the A303.

Taylor Woodrow Plus won the work following a competitive procurement process through Highways England’s Regional Delivery Partnership framework.

The preferred route was announced in June 2019, following two non-statutory consultations in 2017 and 2018.

The chosen 'Pink Modified' route is a hybrid of the options presented in 2018.

The scheme has a difficult history and has been delayed by at least a year. 

Having had two consultations, it is now heading for a third this autumn with complete plans still yet to be finalised.

Highways England said: 'Before we can submit our application for a [Development Consent Order]  DCO we will hold a statutory public consultation on the design where we invite comments on our proposals. We are still finalising the future programme for the scheme, but we anticipate holding this consultation in 2021.'

The costs of the scheme have also fluctuated. The cost is set between £250m and £500m on the project's webpage, however in 2019, the National Audit Office pointed out that the then estimated £452m cost estimate was ‘significantly above Highways England’s operational planning budget for this project, meaning it may be required to consider lower cost alternatives which could result in fewer benefits’.

Former Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan said he had to write to the Department for Transport (DfT) for clearance on the scheme as it such a low benefit cost ratio (BCR).

The costs were brought down to around £397m under Regional Delivery Partnership arrangements. However, a Highways England spokesperson has confirmed to Highways that the scheme still has a BCR of just 1.2. This is considered 'low' value by the DfT guidelines.

In 2019, low value schemes made up just 6% of DfT's approved project spending, and in 2016 and 2018 there was no low value spending at all. 

However, the A358 scheme forms part of the wider A303/A358 corridor as part of the Government’s intention to provide south east to south west connections using the A303/A358/A30.

Construction is expected to begin 2024/25 with the works completed within Roads Period 3 (2025-2030) depending on the start date, groundworks season and the design.

Preparatory works including ground investigations and environmental surveys have been taking place with Taylor Woodrow, in partnership with Arup and Ramboll, to inform their design proposals.

This is in preparation for a statutory consultation on the proposals scheduled for this autumn ahead of the submission of the scheme’s DCO application to the Planning Inspectorate.

Andrew Alcorn, Highways England programme leader for the A358, said: 'Taylor Woodrow has an extensive track record working with Highways England and delivering large scale infrastructure projects, so we are confident they will deliver a scheme that will support economic growth, improve traffic flows at peak times and make the road safer.'

Julian Gatward, managing director of Taylor Woodrow, said: 'Taylor Woodrow Plus is pleased to have been awarded the contract to deliver such a significant improvement for motorists and the local community.

'Taylor Woodrow Plus brings together the expertise of Taylor Woodrow, Arup and Ramboll in delivering solutions from conception through to construction.'

'Supported by Taylor Woodrow’s VINCI sister companies, we are committed to contributing to the local community whilst supporting economic growth in the area.'

The A358 is currently managed by Somerset County Council but the scheme is part of a long-term aim to create a dual carriageway link between London and the south east and the south west. While much of the corridor is a dual carriageway, there are still over 35 miles of single carriageway, which can cause rat-running.

To address this, Highways England is proposing to upgrade a nine-mile section of the A358 between Southfields roundabout on the A303 and the M5 in Somerset to high quality dual carriageway.

The government-owned company said it will also provide direct access to the Nexus 25 development near Taunton, while traffic through Henlade will be reduced by almost 90%.

The scheme will also make journeys safer by reducing the number of road junctions and other private accesses with direct access onto the A358, where traffic turns across on-coming traffic - replacing them with a number of slip road type junctions and other access arrangements.

Paula Hewitt, the county council’s lead director for economic and community infrastructure, said: 'The A358/A303 is an important transport corridor, and this long-awaited and vital improvement will provide a massive boost for the economy of Somerset, as well as improving connectivity and travel times.'

For Highways England, the news follows last year’s DCO approval of the A303 Stonehenge upgrade and January’s approval of the A303 Sparkford to Ilchester scheme along the same travel corridor.

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