£200m increase in A358 cost to be pulled from other UK projects
A rise of £200million in the projected cost of A358 dualling may be funded by other major infrastructure projects across the UK, Highways England’s CEO has revealed.
Highways England is planning to dual the A358 between Taunton and Ilminster as part of the government’s commitment to provide a complete dual carriageway link between the M3 and the M5.
A government report published in May indicated the cost of the scheme could rise by 80 per cent.
But the chief executive of Highways England has promised that the road can be delivered, thanks to new contracting arrangements and money becoming available from other schemes which had been delivered under-budget.
Jim O’Sullivan was given a grilling about the scheme by the public accounts committee at Westminster on Wednesday (June 5).
He admitted to Anne Marie Morris – the MP for Newton Abbot – that the scheme would be “a year late” as a result of having to stage an additional round of public consultation, after the first route option was not warmly received by local residents.
He said: “The A358 looks as if it is more expensive than we originally intended. It is a difficult road to build.
“The business case return for it has been quite low, but as a result of our new contracting arrangements, we have just found a way to reduce the cost of that scheme significantly.”
When Highways England originally consulted on the A358, it had intended to begin construction in March 2020, with an estimated budget of £251million.
At the second consultation, the strongest public support was for the most expensive route – which, if approved, would push the scheme’s total cost to £452million, according to a report published by the National Audit Office in May.
Mr O’Sullivan said: “Some of our schemes come in below budget and some come in above, and we have found a way to make this affordable within our portfolio costs.
“We have found other projects that had come in under-budget and moved the money across.”
Ms Morris queried: “Okay – so it’s not actually cheaper. You have just found money elsewhere?”
Mr O’Sullivan responded: “We have done both. We have reduced the cost of it significantly as a result of our new contracting arrangements.”
He also committed that the road would be “open to traffic” by the summer of 2024, provided there were no delays with the preferred route consultation or the official examination period that would follow it.
But when pushed over the inclusion of a bypass around Henlade, he answered: “I don’t know” – and promised to provide more detail in writing to the committee at the later date.
Highways England is expected to announce its preferred route for the dualled A358 before the end of June.