The route of the Southern Link Road – what could it mean for the environment of Banwell Hill?
One bright sunny morning in October, WinTAG members decided to visit Banwell to familiarise themselves with the proposed route of the Southern Link Road. It was during this walk that the interview took place with the member of Avon Bat Club, the source of our article about the bats in the area. Armed with North Somerset’s plan from their Options Appraisal Report (below left) and an OS map, we walked as close to the proposed route as we could, from the A368 to Banwell Castle.
The photo (below right) was taken looking east in the direction of Sandford. The furthest point in the road is roughly where the eastern arm of the SLR will leave the A368, heading west and south up across the fields. It was too dangerous to stand at the exact place to take a photo! A bit further along is the location of Banwell Great Spring and further along still, the Bat Ochre Caves about which we have already written.
The roadworks for the Southern Link Road would pass through a Groundwater Source Protection Zone. Banwell Great Spring, which is near the planned beginning of the road, is a water source for Bristol Water and Banwell Pumping Station takes water from this source. According to local resident and scientist, Robin Jeacocke, the road would risk contamination to Bristol Water’s abstraction point. A road traffic collision involving spillage of diesel or other chemicals is very likely to dangerously contaminate the water source.
The impact of contaminating the drinking water of around 84,000 people is not discussed in the Banwell Bypass project documentation. However, in their report of the consultation about the route of the bypass, the council said it would be “conducting further ground investigation to help inform the catchment feeding into Banwell Spring. Following this, the design will be further developed to prevent any potential impacts (such as infiltration through the embankment from the road drainage) and minimise ground disturbance as far as is reasonably practicable.”
Along the A368, towards Banwell, the OS map shows further evidence of groundwater in the form of a pond. This is very close to where traffic leaving the village via East Street, will be able to join the Southern Link Road. The two arms of the road will meet where there is currently a field, shown in the photo below.
These fields and woods are in the area designated as an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). Robin Jeacocke has calculated that the average slope of the Southern Link Road is approximately 40m/800m, i.e. one in twenty or 5%. The maximum slope towards the top of Banwell Hill, is over twice this gradient. For such a steep slope, substantial earth-moving, cutting and embanking would be needed which would render the road even more conspicuous. The Southern Link Road would cause prominent landscape intrusion and may be opposed by the relevant local and national landscape bodies such as Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Mendips Society.
Since the road passes through the AONB, it also risks opening up the AONB to new housing development contrary to the wishes of local people and the emerging North Somerset Local Plan. The field and woodlands are important habitats for the rare and protected bats described in our previous article. The route of the Southern Link Road also falls within the Mendip Limestone SAC (Special Area of Conservation). This area is regarded as one of the best examples of semi-natural dry grassland and scrubland. It is known for its caves, wooded slopes, orchids and bats.
As the Southern Link Road crosses the fields, it will approach the back gardens of the houses on the east side of Dark Lane, climbing up the hill, closer and closer to the lane. The residents of Dark Lane will look out onto a road instead of fields and woodland.
Towards the top of the hill, the SLR will meet Dark Lane (left-hand photo) and soon after that, Castle Hill (right-hand photo). These photos show what this area looks like now, with the important habitats of hedgerows, verges and a stone wall. What will it look like when the SLR is in place? Will Castle Hill and Dark Lane be blocked off completely? Will they still be open but for residents only?
The walk along and up Banwell Hill was a reminder of what a lovely part of the Mendips this is. Located within the AONB, it is a protected habitat for bats, a protected source for drinking water and an area of important grassland and scrubland. Its fields, woodland and hedgerows provide important habitats for many species, something we need to protect in order to enhance biodiversity. The habitat assessment done for the bypass scheme reports that there is potential for “Likely Significant Effects (LSE)” in the area.
In the next few months, WinTAG should be told more about North Somerset Council’s plans for this part of their bypass project and any measures to be taken to mitigate the impact of the Southern Link Road on the environment of Banwell Hill.
Watch this space!
For further information, please contact email@example.com.
 North Somerset Council – Banwell Bypass – Information to Inform Habitats Regulations Assessment – Screening, WSP, June 2021