Angry residents pack out meeting to put off repairs
Angry protests by everyone from hauliers to burger van operators have forced a u-turn on Network Rail as they delayed plans to close the main route from the south east into mid Somerset.
The proposals to shut the railway bridge at Castle Cary for repairs, closing the A371 for four months, were released to the public just a fortnight ago.
But such was the impact on life for thousands of travellers that a campaign was launched and Network Rail postponed their plans until 2013.
There was standing room only in the skittle alley at the Brook House Inn as people lined up to voice their protests about the closure plans and the lack of prior consultation.
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Traders argued they might as well shut up shop now as the 19-week road closure which was scheduled to begin on Monday this week threatened them with financial ruin in their busiest time of the year in the run-up to Christmas.
Road hauliers and food company bosses said the extra fuel costs and inconvenience incurred by the detour could cripple their industry.
Ansford Academy's governors' chairman Chris Culpin warned pupils in the outlying villages faced being stuck on buses for up to three hours a day extra getting to and from school via the long detours. "We need better planning to work out a solution," he urged.
Protesters said while they appreciated work had to be done to make the bridge safe, they deplored the lack of public consultation.
Protesters argued the plans were being rail-roaded through – without any prior consultation, proper advertisement in the media or consideration for any options or the effect the road closure of the busy A371 would have on thousands of people and businesses in the area.
"Who is going to pay for my extra mileage or the time it takes me to respond to an emergency call?" asked one worried nurse. "How are emergency services gong to get through?" asked another.
Janette Cronie, chairman of Ansford Parish Council, said bus operators South West Coaches knew nothing about the road closures and the Parish Council had no formal communication from Network Rail either.
Jason Mitchell, who runs the busy Butty Box mobile catering unit at the station, said they should all have been given more notice to allow businesses time to plan for the effects the road closure would have on them.
Richard Fry, director of Shepton Mallet-based Framptons Transport Services Ltd, and national chairman of the Road Haulage Association said his organisation had no notification of the A371 closure.
Somerset county councillor Henry Hobhouse said no consideration had been given to the effect the road closure would have on waste and recycling collections andthe recycling centres at Evercreech and Dimmer.
In the front line of the barrage of complaints were Network Rail's community relations officer Robin Basu and projects manager Daniel Recchia.
Sitting beside them were representatives from their contractors – with contracts signed and due to start work on the 18-week repair job for the railway station bridge on Monday this week.
Mr Recchia said they would take on board the comments and would look into the effect of delaying the contract until after Christmas. But he said Network Rail had to operate within the costs dictated by the Government.
Calling for calm and urging residents not to give the Network Rail team a hard time, Castle Cary town and district councillor Nick Weeks said it was clear people wanted the repair scheme put off until after Christmas to enable everyone concerned to liaise and do their best to mitigate the problems facing them all.
Mr Recchia said he had under-rated the effect the works would have on the community and assured residents all their views would be taken on board.
More information can be found on the town website or email firstname.lastname@example.org.