Battle to open Cheddar Gorge road in time for half term
Longleat and other gorge businesses want to see the Cheddar Gorge road opened in time for half term.
But with water still cascading down the road from Black Rock, their hopes look certain to be washed away – along with vital holiday business.
The Cheddar Caves & Gorge owner Longleat is looking into getting a machine to divert the water off the affected B3135 by the source so it can dry out enough for repair, Cheddar Parish Council heard.
Councillor Andy Bosley, who was at a site meeting with Somerset County Council’s highways department, Longleat and the National Trust, was sceptical if the road would reopen before Monday when half term began.
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He said: “Realistically it does not look like it will be open. The big issue is by Black Rock. They can’t do anything until the water stops running.
“If this will be an every year event more money is needed. If culverts have to be put across where the water runs, it will blow highways’ budget for a year. If that has to be done its higher than Somerset’s highways department.
“The gorge does not look like it’s going to open any time soon. We are effectively the only road still closed from the storms before Christmas.”
The road edges have crumbled away so much on the road that if a car strayed off it, then it would get stuck and damaged in the new roadside ditch carved by the running water.
There was no comment from Longleat at the time of going to press.
Andrew Turner, the area highways manager, told BBC Somerset that he could not put a timeframe on repairs.
He said: “We did about £5,000 of remedial work when the water started receding. But what we have found since then is it’s all been washed out again.
“I think the problem we have at the moment is the strength of water. At the minute it’s very difficult to get in and do some maintenance work and to also see those maintenance works disappear down to the bottom of the gorge.
“I spoke to a lady at the top of the gorge and she said she’s never seen conditions like this ever. Really at this stage, until the water has substantially receded or slows down, it’s very difficult to put a timeframe on it.
“With conditions as they are it’s difficult to put maintenance in place and get the road open. You have to appreciate it’s safety first.”
The highways boss sympathised with traders who relied on the gorge for custom and promised additional signage to say it is business as usual.
Non-seasonal traders who operate out of the gorge remain open as the closure does not take effect until further up the beauty spot.
The lack of a timeframe is not good enough with the road closure being 80 days old on Wednesday, said motorist Trevor Prideaux of Wedmore, who drives to Chew Valley for work daily.
He said: “Sailor Alex Thomson has been around the world in 80 days. There’s a hell of a lot of rocks dug up by the water but they can be swept away. There can be temporary traffic lights on the sections of road where it’s bad.
“It’s absolutely diabolical trying to get anything out of highways. You can’t speak to an engineer directly and there’s nothing on their website. I contacted my own MP, who was not able to update me.
“This is either engineering incompetence in not being able to solve a very simple problem or the county council has run out of money. Whichever way it is it’s disastrous.”
When repairs do happen, the highways department intends to strengthen the road edges and patch where needed.
The road won’t be reopened and then closed again for repairs to happen. Instead the road will stay shut until it is fixed.
But Cheddar Parish Council questioned how wide the road would become once it was repaired. Repairs over the years has seen the road grow wider and wider where crumbled edges have been filled in by heavy machinery.
Mr Bosley reported the highways department will only repair the road where there is substrate.
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