A MORE than £8m project to clear congestion from one of the most crowded roads in the New Forest has got the green light eight years earlier than planned.
The busy A326, which connects the length of the Waterside between Totton and Fawley, is due to have work start next year on improvements to eight junctions to cope with an impending rush of development that has sparked fears of gridlock.
The area is home to about 70,000 people – who are set to be joined by residents in 1,500 new homes proposed at Fawley power station. The ExxonMobil refinery, the biggest in the country, is also due to have a £750m new diesel plant installed.
Work has been unlocked by a nearly £5.7m government grant for the A326, supported at the latest board meeting of the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership, a regional group of private and public bodies.
It will make up the lion’s share of the overall £8.13m project. The rest will come from Fawley Waterside Ltd, the consortium behind the nearly £1bn power station scheme, which promises to create 1,500 jobs, a dockside area and public open space.
New Forest District Council leader Cllr Barry Rickman welcomed the news, which comes after the Solent LEP was expanded to include the local area.
“The New Forest is such a special place – truly unique, with a world-class environment, majestic coastline, and great communities,” said Cllr Rickman.
“But we cannot stand still if we want the New Forest to play an active and central role in the future economy.
“Investment in the A326 will improve people’s lives in our community today, and underpin sustainable economic growth in the future, ensuring our coastal communities of the Waterside remain connected and share in improved prosperity.”
Announcing the funding, the Solent LEP also pointed to the benefits to existing employment centres at Fawley oil refinery and Solent Gateway port, formerly Marchwood military port.
The A326 improvements are key part to Fawley Waterside Ltd’s bid to develop the old power station, with outline plans currently under consideration by NFDC and the national park authority.
As reported in the A&T, transport investment was one of the central demands made by a combined 160 objections submitted against the two joint applications, with residents primarily concerned about the surge in traffic.
Fawley Waterside chief executive Aldred Drummond said: “Our ambition is to build one of the most beautiful small towns in England – a place with solid economic purpose.
“We are tremendously grateful for the investment from the LEP, which comes in alongside the £2.5m investment we are contributing to this transport improvement package.
“As a local resident, the quality of what we deliver for the area and the community, here at Fawley Waterside, is dear to my heart and this investment from the LEP represents strong backing for our vision.”
The work will be delivered by Hampshire County Council, as the highways authority.
Cllr Rob Humby, its deputy leader and cabinet member for economy, transport and environment, said engineers had been investigating how to reduce congestion at peak times. As well as upgraded junctions, there will also be a new walking and cycling route.
The funding was applauded by minister for local growth Jake Berry MP, who said a “faster, better” A326 was part of the government’s aim of “levelling up every place in the UK”.
He said: “These projects will help unlock the economic potential of the area by improving accessibility to a thriving sustainable environment which will be enjoyed by residents and visitors for years to come.”
Solent LEP chair Gary Jeffries: added “I am delighted the LEP has agreed to invest in this project, which will not only better connect, and deliver a renaissance of our, coastal communities now, but deliver highway infrastructure ahead of the transformation of the former Fawley power station, into a thriving new, sustainable community.”