Highways England is undertaking a major strategic study looking at the road network in Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset – particularly the A36, A46 and A350. This is an initiative that I have championed for a number of years and I also led a collective lobbying effort by regional MPs in partnership with local authorities. The parameters of that study are currently being decided in a scoping exercise that will report back in April.
In advance of that, yesterday I wrote to Highways England reiterating my support for the strategic study and highlighting that this exercise must not solely focus on upgrading the A350 corridor, but also look at making tangible reductions in congestion on the A36 through Salisbury. I have specifically requested that all options are considered in this study, including radical solutions such as rerouting the A36 outside Salisbury as a bypass, as well as more limited improvements to the worst congestion hotspots such as Southampton Road. I note the decision taken by Salisbury City Council on Monday to remove their backing for a bypass from their response to the Local Plan, but at this stage, I believe it is a strategic mistake to take this option off the table before it has been properly considered.
I know that the question of a bypass for Salisbury has been a constant topic of political debate in South Wiltshire for many decades. With the increase in housing over the past twenty years, and more still in the pipeline, our population has grown and the need to consider a more radical solution for our city such as a bypass or outer relief road is more acute than it was when the previous scheme was cancelled two decades ago.
Alongside this work looking at the wider strategic road network and the potential to remove through traffic, I remain committed to increasing the amount of cycling and walking in the city centre. As we move out of the pandemic later this year, I will be working with Wiltshire Council and the Future Salisbury Place Board which I chair to move forward again on this work and develop a new proposal that can command wider support than the previous project which was suspended in November.
Transport is an enormous issue for Salisbury and I know that many of you reading this will have very strong views one way or the other on controversial issues such as cycle lanes and bypasses. But our priority must be to deliver an overarching strategy that improves air quality for all Salisbury residents by increasing cycling and walking AND reducing congestion and through traffic on our road network – particularly the A36.