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Plans for M4 Tunnel to go on display

A £26m major highways scheme, which is the next stage in unlocking thousands of homes and employment land at one of Swindon’s newest housing developments, will be unveiled to the public next week.

The Wichelstowe Southern Access will create an additional access into Wichelstowe by building a tunnel under the M4 motorway helping to support 4,500 new homes, a new district centre and up to 2,000 jobs by freeing up 12.5 hectares of land earmarked for new businesses.

Last week the Department for Transport (DfT) allocated £22.9m in funding towards the scheme via Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership, with Swindon Borough Council contributing an additional £3m.

A requirement of the planning permission for the wider Wichelstowe site, the access route will cross the M4 to the east of Junction 16 and will form part of the eventual connection between Hay Lane and Wharf Road, Redposts Drive to the north and Croft Road to the east.

The scheme will also include facilities for cycling and walking through the new link providing a route across the M4.

Alun Griffiths Construction Ltd has been contracted to complete the detailed design and construction of the scheme. Work is expected to be finished in the spring of 2021.

Members of the public can find out more about the new access road at two drop-in events taking place at The Deanery Academy in Wichelstowe.

The first event will take place next Thursday, 17 October between 12pm and 4pm. Residents can see the plans at a further information session on Tuesday, 22 October between 3pm and 7pm.

There is expected to be very little impact on traffic along Hay Lane and Wharf Road, south of the M4, for most of the construction period as the majority of work will happen off the local highway network.

In the new year a section of the M4 will adopt a 50mph speed limit and restrictions will be in place as lanes are narrowed on the motorway. However, three lanes will be kept open in both directions at all times.

The carriageways will be moved, one at a time, on to a widened opposite carriageway to enable the tunnel to be built. This will involve the creation of temporary embankments on both sides of the motorway before moving the carriageways on to the embankments. The speed restrictions will be in place for approximately 10 months.

Great Crested Newts and reptiles in the land directly next to the planned road have already been safely rehomed in the local area to ensure that wildlife species are not adversely affected by the work.

After the completion of the scheme, an additional area will be given over to wildlife to promote greater diversity close to land which has been earmarked for a possible extension of the Wilts & Berks Canal.  

Councillor Gary Sumner, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning, said: “Our plans for delivering thousands of homes and jobs at Wichelstowe hinge on us creating this vital access road and I am delighted we have secured significant DfT funding to get the scheme underway.

“This will be a complex project and a real feat of engineering to effectively move the M4 motorway, allowing us to put our new road underneath the existing carriageway. And our contractor will do this by keeping all motorway lanes open, utilising a temporary speed limit.

“A lot of the groundwork has already been carried out and we have successfully ensured local wildlife species will not be affected by the work. We also have plans in place to create new wildlife habitats once the work has been completed.

“Although the scheme will mostly be taking place off the local highway network I would encourage local people to come along and see the plans at the upcoming drop-in sessions.”

Councillor Maureen Penny, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Transport and the Environment, said: “We have worked hard to lobby the Government for tens of millions of pounds so we can put in important infrastructure before we meet our target of delivering thousands of new homes across the Borough.

“Junction 16 of the M4 was recently upgraded in anticipation of the 4,500 homes that will be built at Wichelstowe and this latest access road is the next phase of our work to create extra capacity on our road network.”