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Bristol Post
Bristol Post
Tristan Cork

The M49 ghost junction missing link is finally being connected

Creating the missing link to the ghost junction on the M49 motorway near Bristol is finally happening - as South Gloucestershire Council has made the first move in what could be a lengthy planning process that will eventually see it built. The unitary authority has taken the first step to getting planning permission to build the junction, three years after the roundabout on the motorway itself was completed.

The M49 junction between Chittening and Severn Beach was meant to provide easy access for the huge distribution centres on the industrial estates between the motorway and the coast, where the likes of Tesco, Amazon and Lidl send large number of lorries into and out of every day. But an issue years ago between National Highways and South Gloucestershire Council means the roundabout road has not been connected to the nearby roads, and a gap of just 150 metres needs to have a road constructed to link the road up with the motorway junction.

This week, finally, South Gloucestershire Council has started the planning process to get the missing link fixed. The council has engaged Bristol-based construction engineering company AECOM, to build the road link, and AECOM has submitted a request to South Gloucestershire Council’s planning department, asking whether it needs to submit an Environmental Impact Assessment as part of a full planning application to build the road.

Read more: Metro mayor's fury over M49 missing link saga

Such a request about an impact assessment is very often the first step in the planning process, and council planners will now decide whether the road builders do have to include one in a planning application or not. A planning application to build the road is expected in the New Year, and if approved - and if the council has sorted the land ownership issue that had held up the project for so long - then work could get underway later next year.

It’s the first formal step towards the missing link issue actually being fixed, and comes six months after West of England metro mayor Dan Norris voiced his fury at the delays and the issues that led to the motorway junction being left unconnected and unused for so long.

The M49 was built at the same time as the Second Severn Crossing back in 1996 and is just five miles long, from what is now the Prince of Wales Bridge to the M5 at Avonmouth. The Severn Beach junction was originally planned as part of the expansion of the industrial estates and distribution centres between Severn Beach and the motorway, and was the first junction on the motorway when it was built in 2019.

But there was a mistake in the planning for the junction and neither South Gloucestershire Council or Highways England - now called National Highways - secured the land between the roundabout exit and Goldcrest Way, and the network of roads and roundabouts that serve the vast distribution centres in the area.

That’s meant huge amounts of traffic, especially lorries, using Severn Road down through Avonmouth to get onto the motorway network - an issue that the new junction was supposed to have solved by now.

Back in May, Mr Norris said it was ‘impossible’ to find out just who was responsible for the gaffe which led to the junction being left unconnected for so long. “Isn’t it terrible for our region that we have all this infrastructure expenditure and for want of a decent bit of foresight and planning we don’t have a motorway junction that could work and alleviate those pressures on local communities around that area. Terrible," he said at the time.

“I am absolutely furious about it. I have made that very clear to the people I’ve spoken to, but pinning down who is actually responsible is impossible.” Asked when the junction was finally likely to open, he said: “There is a date, and I think it’s within the next couple of years.

The M49 junction that does not connect with the road network (The M49 junction that does not connect with the road network)

“Isn’t it amazing that South Gloucestershire Council got themselves into a pickle where we still don’t have a junction for another two years when it’s already been built and it cost a lot of money. Isn’t that crazy?” he added.

In June, South Gloucestershire Council had a cabinet meeting where it was reported that the impasse over the land that was privately-owned was nearing being solved. Councillor Steve Reade, cabinet member with responsibility for planning and transport, said back then: “We made an important decision last year to play a more active role in the delivery of the M49 junction link road and we are pleased to announce that we are making such an important step.

"The submission of the planning application later this year will help us move forward with the plan to deliver the link road and to make sure that the benefits of this new motorway junction are finally delivered as quickly as possible. By taking over as lead on this project and working closely with project partners we are able to maintain progress to get the job done. We will be engaging with the public and will continue to keep stakeholders aware of progress," he added. That planning application process has now begun.

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