Banwell bypass first proposed 97 years ago may finally happen

The Banwell bypass scheme
-Credit: (Image: North Somerset Council)

Plans to build a bypass around a congested North Somerset village are still “on the road” as new contractors are set to be appointed.

Building a bypass around the tiny but congested village of Banwell was first proposed in 1927 and work was supposed to have begun in May. But Alun Griffiths — who were handed the £56.5m contract to build the road by North Somerset Council — walked away from the deal in March, throwing the project into disarray.

But North Somerset Council, which remained committed to the project, says it is now set to appoint a new contractor. Council leader Mike Bell told a full meeting of the council on Tuesday July 9: “At the moment, the expectation is that we will have a new contractor in place quickly, the programme will remain on track and we will be able to commence construction — spades in the ground — properly in the autumn with the programme still on track to be delivered by the end of 2026.”

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He said he had intended for the award of the new contract to be signed off at the meeting but said “we haven’t been able to land that in time.” The award of the contract will now be signed off later by the council’s director of place.

Congestion in Banwell as A road traffic goes through "the narrows" -Credit:John Wimperis
Congestion in Banwell as A road traffic goes through "the narrows" -Credit:John Wimperis

A design element of the contract will be signed off immediately “with the intent that that will get cracking in a matter of a couple of weeks,” with a report on signing off the construction element expected in September.

Mr Bell said: “I just want to pay tribute to the project team because we have had so many challenges with this project, both in terms of getting funding approvals through some of the funders [and] in terms of making sure we were able to contract services and providers within the budget envelope that we had — which was particularly challenging at a time when inflation was running so high and cost of living pressures were so high last year.

“We have the whole CPO and legal process and inquiries that had to be gone through and then of course we’ve had the contractor pull out — out of the blue — earlier this year. But despite all of that we have managed to keep the project on the road.”

Mike Bell -Credit:North Somerset Council
Mike Bell -Credit:North Somerset Council

He added: “And I am really confident that we are now going to get a new contractor in place who will help us to deliver the project as planned and we will get the bypass open as intended.”

Responding to a question from Banwell’s local councillor Joe Tristram (Banwell and Winscombe, Green), Mr Bell gave an assurance he did not currently expect more funds to be required for the project. He said: “It could well be that the procurement framework that we are using and the new contract co might actually deliver some efficiencies and savings.”

Banwell has been plagued by uniquely terrible traffic since at least the mid-eighteenth century. Today, two A-roads funnel traffic into the village which at one point has to go down a single track lane between houses and the village bakery. Locals say the traffic makes life in the village a “living hell.”

A public inquiry into the compulsory purchase of the land needed for the scheme was held on Weston-super-Mare’s Grand Pier in 2023. The government approved the orders in January — after an intervention from then local MP John Penrose — giving the final green light needed for the road to finally be built.

If the road opens in 2026, it will have taken 99 years since it was first proposed in 1927.