Somerset Council has joined forces with local organisations to provide financial support and promote Watchet after the community was hit by the loss of the B3191 Cleeve Hill road.
The Council is ready to provide £30,000 of funding to the newly formed Watchet Task Force, comprising members of the Town Council and Chamber of Trade, subject to an approved plan of action, with the aim of boosting visitor numbers.
The funding could be used to support positive marketing and messaging to highlight alternative routes into Watchet; that the town is accessible, and businesses are open; local events to encourage visitors, as well as improved signage and longer-term plans for regeneration and recovery.
The Council is working alongside the Task Force, as well as the town’s Visitor Centre and community-run Onion Collective, and local businesses, to support the local economy and residents.
Councillor Ros Wyke, Somerset Council’s Lead Member for Economy, Planning and Assets said:
“We understand the concerns of residents and local businesses about the impact of the loss of this key route.
“That’s why we are working hard with partners to ensure that together we do everything we can to get the message out there that Watchet is open for business and is a fantastic destination for day-trippers and holiday makers.”
The B3191 on Cleeve Hill is closed indefinitely due to safety concerns following the results of a geotechnical survey looking at serious and significant cliff erosion close to the road. Detailed inspections revealed further movement is inevitable with the conclusion that it will be impossible to safely reopen the road without major intervention. The Government has confirmed no funding is available for such a scheme at this time.
Somerset Council consequently has no plans to build a new road.
In March, a drop-in event was organised in Watchet’s Pheonix Centre by the Council and Watchet Town Council. Residents were able to meet officers and discuss:
· The engineering and geotechnical reasons for the closure – including the chance to view drone footage of the cliff failure.
· Potential measures which could be taken to promote/support the town.
· Safety measures, including permanent closure signage and other potential measures to alleviate resulting traffic issues affecting the neighbouring communities.
· The costing of options for a replacement road – estimated at between £30-£60 million. This would be dependent on Government funding.
Councillor Mike Rigby, Somerset Council’s Lead Member for Transport and Digital said:
“As well as the impact on Watchet, we know displaced traffic caused by the closure has had an impact on the community around Old Cleeve and Carhampton.
“We’re working with the parish council on a range of measures to encourage responsible driving on these rural roads as well as discouraging HGVs from using them as an alternative route.
“We have to be clear – the road cannot reopen and there is no alternative route planned for the foreseeable future. This is about pulling together to mitigate the impacts of the loss of the road.”
Following feedback from March’s drop-in event and subsequent meetings, the Council, Watchet Task Force, Old Cleeve and Carhampton Parish Councils have been working on a package of measures to support communities. These include.
• The proposed £30,000 of funding to enable a local response in Watchet to the closure, to improve the visitor economy of the town by boosting visitor numbers, including supporting longer-term plans for regeneration and recovery.
• Additional 30mph markings/signage and new Speed Indicator Device (SID) warning signs for Old Cleeve and Carhampton areas to encourage drivers to act responsibly. A review of speed limits is being explored with the Parish Councils.
• Permanent road closure signs for the B3191 to ensure the safety of road users.
• Possible Active travel and Public Rights of Way improvements
• A proposed realignment of the car park entrance in Swain Street to improve traffic flow.
• Proposed realignment of the road at the entrance to Watchet so traffic is directed down Harbour Road rather than Swain Street.
Councillor Sean Terrett, Watchet Town Council member and Chair of the Watchet Task Force said:
“With one of the town centre’s main tourism and residential routes now permanently restricted, in what is a time of great environmental and local change, the funding and support offered by Somerset Council has been gratefully received by the Watchet community.
“The Task Force is looking at ways of securing the existing town infrastructure, maximising the summer seasons trading opportunities as well as looking at ways to secure our town’s future trading through what could be a tougher than usual winter season.
“Watchet is one of the most welcoming, interesting, and historic destinations to visit in Somerset. With this funding and support on offer, we are hoping will go a long way towards giving the town a major promotional boost, as well as helping to secure a brighter future for the local community.”