I’m writing to make a submission about investment to improve capacity on the M5 between J21 and J20. Although Covid has temporarily masked the problem over the past year or so, the peak commuter road traffic between Weston and Bristol grows year on year and makes current (already unacceptable) jams around Junction 21 even worse. Added to this, Weston as both a Tourism town and a business hub (with projects such as our Enterprise Area and Food WorksSW Innovation Centre for example) sees an increasing number of visitors who need to access the Junction to enter and leave the town. After a huge local campaign, our previous Local Plan, which ignored many of these issues, was thrown out by Government Inspectors with orders for a new one to be drawn up. In 2019, the Roads Minister, Baroness Vere Of Norbiton, even wrote to North Somerset Council urging them to think bigger to solve the problems. However, apart from a few (very welcome) proposals for better train services as a greener alternative to cars, the latest versions of local Plans are largely silent about improving capacity to handle the ever-growing volumes of roadtraffic between Bristol and Weston, and the ever-worsening congestion between J21 and J20. They seem to view it as an ‘either-or’ question where we must make a choice between improved public transport or better major roads, when in reality both are urgently needed. This is one of the most important infrastructure problems south of Bristol and will make the difference between how good a place Weston is to live, work, holiday and do business.
I should also add that, since it is essential to improve M5 capacity between J21 and J20 to handle the existing congestion anyway, it may also create better and much more cost-effective solutions for the expected increases in traffic from the many planned new homes around Nailsea and Backwell, and from Bristol airport too (under their existing plans, regardless of whether their additional expansion is approved or not). At the moment these developments will all increase congestion through North Somerset’s rural villages and narrow country roads, but nearby extra capacity on the M5 could provide local residents with cheaper and more popular answers to at least some of these emerging new problems too.
Even if we maximise every opportunity to create sustainable and green communities where people live closer to work by ‘Building Up, Not Out’ in Weston and in Bristol; and even if we improve train and bus transport links dramatically (as we should), the M5 north of Weston between J21 and J20 will still need work. Given the jams and congestion it causes already, and all the extra homes which are due to be built in our area, the number of commuter car journeys will inevitably increase. We can and should minimise the rate of growth and make each journey cleaner, and the pandemic may create a one-off cut in commuting too, but no-one seriously expects the long term underlying trend to change or reverse.
As the Ministers say in their letter, “In any imaginable circumstances the clear majority of longer journeys, passenger, and freight, will be made by road.” So we shouldn’t kid either ourselves or local residents that the M5 can remain the way it is. In fact the next decade presents a major local opportunity, if we can get J21 and M5 flowing smoothly, we’d be gifting local people as much as 5 hours a week extra with their families, reduce damaging emissions and make Weston more attractive to businesses, investors and visitors too. Preliminary discussions I’ve had with Highways England and Transport Ministers have been positive and I believe the RoadInvestment Strategy would be the perfect opportunity to get the ball rolling because this matter really can’t be ignored any longer.
I would welcome the opportunity to discuss further these issues and possible solutions with officials from the Department and National Highways.
Letters for reference are here:
John Penrose MP’s written response to the Joint Spatial Plan – John Penrose
A couple of articles too:
Weston’s MP Condemns Council’s Reaction To M5 Jams & Green Belt – John Penrose
Weston Mercury: Council ‘badly out of touch’ on M5 traffic – John Penrose