Somerset

The man who built his own £150,000 toll road

  • 4 August 2014
  • From the section Somerset

Delays getting to work and a chance conversation at the pub led a Somerset businessman to build his own £150,000 unofficial toll road.

Mike Watts created the shortcut after a section of A road near Bath was closed in February due to a landslip. But why?

"I could probably blame my wife. She was shouting at me and asking when something was going to get done," he said.

The usual eight-minute journey into the city - where he and his wife run businesses in the market - had started to take an hour due to a long diversion.

"We were in the pub and we were talking to the landowner and my wife said we either needed to buy a 4x4 [to drive through the landowner's field] or buy some gravel and make a proper road.

"It sort of went from there. She's a very happy lady now and isn't shouting at me."

Mr Watts said he hoped the toll road had helped local people "get back on track"

Mr Watts rented part of the field from the landowner, then invested in Tarmac and loose gravel to build his 1,300ft (400m) road, bypassing the damaged highway.

"I am a local resident here in Kelston and since the road closed it has impacted on my life and thousands of other people who are in the same situation," he said.

"By opening this road it's helping people commute between Bath and Bristol."

The toll on the A431 shortcut costs £2 for cars and £1 for motorbikes. Vehicles over 3.5 tonnes and cyclists are not allowed to use the road.

Mr Watts said the days since his road opened on 1 August had been "remarkable".

"As we expected, people are just enjoying the fact they can go about their daily business without the 14-mile detour that they've been having to suffer," he said.

"If you've got a 14-mile detour you're going to spend far more than that in time and in fuel costs. It's been very well received."

Mr Watts said the toll road would be open round the clock and have daily operating costs of £1,000

Motorist Martin McConachie, 46, from Oldland Common, used the road on Sunday after playing tennis with his sons in Bath.

"The road is pretty basic - shorter than I'd imagined - but pretty remarkable given the time taken to construct it.

"I'd have no hesitation in using it again and again. It would cost me that much and more in petrol to go the roundabout way.

"His action might spur the council engineers on to get moving a little quicker, which sadly might also bite Mike on the backside as the road may now open earlier, cutting the time for him to recoup his money. "

Mr Watts said the construction of the road had cost £150,000.

With daily 24-hour operating costs of £1,000, including the wages of toll booth operatives, he said the total outlay would be about £300,000.

Bath and North East Somerset Council said Mr Watts had applied for retrospective planning permission

"At £2-per car we've got to get 150,000 cars over here in five months [to recoup the investment]," he added.

"A quick calculation will tell you that we've got to get 30,000 a month; 1,000 cars a day. I'm pretty confident that we'll achieve that."

Mr Watts said over the weekend the road had approximately 50% of what was required, but he expected that number to pick up.

Liberal Democrat leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council Paul Crossley said the road, which does not yet have planning permission, was "working well".

"We're delighted that [Mr Watts] is now putting in a retrospective planning application," he said.

"We haven't not supported it. What we've asked for is the operating plans, the health and safety conditions.

"And we've also sought assurances that it wouldn't actually delay the permanent repairs. We are working with Mike on a number of issues."

The A431 is shut between Penn Hill Road in Bath and Kelston

Vehicles not using the toll road should continue to use the signposted diversionary route.

The permanent repair, costing £1.5m, is due to be complete by the end of 2014. The council said site work "continued to progress well".

Mr Watts said the toll road would be lifted up once the A431 reopened and the field would be reinstated for agricultural use.

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