How we did it: Securing consent to upgrade a trunk road

Cornwall Council has won development consent to widen a key section of its main trunk road link. Jonathan Tilley reports.

Getting orders: Cornwall Council senior legal officer Tim Walmsley and DWF head of planning John Moritz helped secure development consent for upgrading road
Getting orders: Cornwall Council senior legal officer Tim Walmsley and DWF head of planning John Moritz helped secure development consent for upgrading road

Project: A30 Temple to Higher Carblake Improvement Order

Key Organisations: Cornwall Council, Department for Transport, DWF, Highways Agency, Planning Inspectorate

The importance of the A30 to Cornwall as a transport route and a potential catalyst for regeneration prompted the local authority to pursue plans to upgrade the road through the nationally significant infrastructure project regime.

Last month, the secretary of state for transport issued a development consent order (DCO) under the Planning Act 2008 authorising proposals to widen a 4.5-kilometre stretch of the A30 east of Bodmin into a dual carriageway.

The Temple to Higher Carblake route is the only remaining single-carriageway section of the A30 between Truro and Exeter. According to Cornwall Council senior legal officer Tim Walmsley, this bottleneck regularly leads to traffic congestion, especially during the summer holiday period.

The council was advised by law firm DWF. John Moritz, DWF’s head of planning, says the road upgrade is also seen as an important driver for economic regeneration in the area because it will improve the county’s links with the rest of the UK.

As a trunk road, the A30 is the responsibility of the secretary of state for transport and is managed by the Highways Agency rather than the council. But Walmsley says the council decided to kick-start the project locally with its own funding.

He says the council was able to form a good relationship with the Department for Transport (DfT), which agreed to delegate responsibility. Moritz adds that applying for the DCO enabled the council to get the scheme approved in time to secure funding and saved it having to make multiple applications for parallel consents.

Walmsley reports that the DCO process itself was challenging, with a number of supplementary regulations that the council had to consider. The tight timescale did not allow much flexibility.

The importance of the road to the area meant that the proposal had strong local support. However, the location presented challenges in terms of the impact it would have on the local landscape and ecology.

Walmsley explains that it also raised issues over common land and rights on Bodmin Moor. "Because it is common land, we had to find replacement land elsewhere, which was not easy," he says. "It was a bit of a jigsaw puzzle." The approved order authorises compulsory purchase of four plots of replacement land.

In line with the act’s frontloaded approach, pre-application consultation began in December 2012, followed by a statutory consultation period. The proposal went through a number of drafts as issues that emerged in the consultations were dealt with, Walmsley says.

He adds that pre-application consultation was an essential part of the process, allowing strong stakeholder relations to develop, as well as a good rapport with the DfT and the Highways Agency.

"Good relationships were invaluable in taking the project over the line," says Walmsley. Moritz adds that allowing a realistic time period for the consultations enabled full engagement with stakeholders.

The council was able to look at examples of DCOs at a similar stage or recently completed. "This was the first DCO in this neck of the woods, but not the first for a road scheme," Moritz notes.

The proposal was submitted to the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) in August 2013. The examination, conducted by Alan Gray, ran for six months from February to August 2014, with public hearings being held in Bodmin from April to July. In accordance with the statutory deadlines set out in the act, Gray’s report was submitted to the secretary of state on 6 November last year and the decision notice was issued on 5 February.

PINS spokesman Peter Rickett says examiners have learnt lessons from all the projects that have been examined under the regime introduced in 2008. This meant that PINS’s approach was evolving while the A30 DCO process was in hand.

During this period, the inspectorate introduced advice on drafting DCOs last October, while further advice on the role of local authorities in the DCO process was published last month. The secretary of state also had to take into account the final version of the national policy statement on national road and rail networks, approved by Parliament in January.

Walmsley says the council had to keep up with all of these changes, ensuring that it addressed the issues arising from new guidance or changes in focus by PINS.

The major benefit of the DCO is the certainty it provides on the project, Moritz says. Construction has not yet begun, but contractor Cormac is due to commence work imminently, with the upgraded road to be operational by summer 2017.

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