The preferred route of the planned dualling of the A47 between Wansford and Sutton may be changed because of the results of a long overdue public consultation.
Speaking at a meeting held in Sutton last Thursday, new project manager for Highways England Jon Donlevy said: “I know this meeting has been a long time coming and I promise you I haven’t been putting it off.
“I took over this project just after the statutory consultation finished in November 2018 and it was immediately obvious there was a great deal of concern raised by the public for the preferred route chosen by Highways England back in August 2017.
“For that reason, coupled with the fact that we parted company with our original delivery partner, unfortunately there has been a long delay in getting to this point.
“However, we now have new delivery partners in Galliford Try and the new team are keen to take on board the results of the public consultation so that we can get this project started as soon as possible.”
The project, which is due to begin in the autumn of 2020, follows years of calls for the work to be carried out after a number of serious accidents, including a crash in 2013 which killed Stephen and Samantha Durber.
The Highways England option for the A47 was for a new stretch of dual carriageway built around half a mile to the north of the existing A47 at the western end, before crossing to the south at the eastern end to join the existing dual carriageway at Nene Way.
There would also be a dedicated slip road from the A1 southbound to the A47 eastbound to alleviate congestion at the junction, while at the opposite end a new bridge would provide access to Sacrewell Farm.
Another bridge would carry the A47 over the disused railway line west of Sutton Heath Road.
The meeting at a packed St Michael & All Angels in Sutton was attended by more than half the population of the village.
Mr Donlevy went on to explain that while the results of consultation showed 72 per cent in favour of constructing a new dual carriageway between Wansford and Sutton, 53 per cent had strongly disagreed with the proposed route chosen by Highways England.
Of the alternative routes offered, the one slightly to the north was considered by the public to be most sensitive to archaeological and environmental concerns.
If moved just a few meters to the north the public preferred route would have the new A47 pass by an ancient wood with 300 and 400-year old oak trees in it and miss most of the abundant flora in the area, thereby creating as little disturbance as possible to the fauna along the way, which includes badgers, several species of bats, rare smooth and great crested newts, otters and other protected wildlife.
Mr Donlevy added: “We will therefore be considering the route that has clearly been chosen by the public as a new preferred route, but this will require trial trenching to see if the area to the north is suitable for construction and we cannot dig in the area of the scheduled monument.”
The scheduled monument lies in a field almost directly in the middle of the 2.5km route between Wansford and Sutton at Sacrewell Farm, just meters to the north of the existing A47.
It was designated a scheduled monument decades ago by Historic England on the basis that there may be archaeological interest on the site.
In the UK, scheduled monuments are supposed to be nationally important archaeological sites or historic buildings and are given protection against unauthorised changes using various pieces of legislation to legally protect them from damage and destruction.
Robbie Reid, the land owner most affected by any route the new road could take, said: “Thing is, they have no idea what’s under that land because Historic England have never dug it up.
“They think there might be Neolithic barrows over there, but they have no proof, and they think there might be a Roman farmstead further to the north, but again, they have no proof any of it even exists.
“Yet they’ve designated that field as a scheduled monument which means legally nobody can touch it unless a formal, legal challenge is made to the assumption that there is something of archaeological importance there to protect.
“That challenge would have to come either from Highways England or from us.”
To find out what actually lay under the ground in question, the villagers who protested against the route chosen – collectively called ‘A47 – No to the southern alignment’ – paid for local archaeologist Professor Stephen Upex, of University of Cambridge, to produce a detailed archaeological report.
His findings, running to 35 pages, disagree almost entirely with Historic England’s claims for the land, pointing out: “Historic England claim archaeological interest only to the north of the route in the field at Sacrewell Farm where they’ve designated their scheduled monument.
“But I think it hardly likely our Neolithic ancestors, the Romans or the Saxons simply stopped building any further to the south when they encountered the A47.”
Sutton parish councillor, and Ccairman of the Community Consultancy Team, Cllr Mick Grange said: “We’ve asked Jon Donlevy to invite Historic England to the next meeting at Wansford on November 18 and he has agreed that he will do all he can to make them attend.
“We have finally won over the opinion at Highways England to protect this very special environment for future generations, which their proposed route would’ve destroyed completely.
“We’re not NIMBYs, in fact completely the opposite – we live in villages on the outskirts of a city that proudly proclaims itself to be the Environmental Capital of the United Kingdom, and only in July declared a climate emergency – yet not one Peterborough city councillor has attended any of our meetings, despite all of them being invited.
“Now that we’ve shown our northern route to be the best one for the environment and ironically for the traffic flow and even the eventual cost of the project, we need to get Highways England to work with us to challenge Historic England over their scheduled monument on the field at Sacrewell Farm.
“There is absolutely nothing of archaeological interest or importance there – we’ve proved that through Professor Upex, and even Historic England have to accept his findings because they’re using his report in their own literature.
“This battle is by no means over, but with the support of the people of Peterborough the actions taken already by the villagers of Sutton, Wansford and the other villages around us, coupled with the support of Highways England, we will formally, legally challenge the spurious claims of Historic England.
“We will do this so that the route of the new A47 can be directed just slightly to the north, but in so doing will protect the beautiful wilderness that is currently threatened.”
If all goes according to plan, Mr Donlevy said: “The Highways England assessment of the public preferred alternative alignment for the dualling of the A47 to the north should be completed by spring 2020. Work on the project would beginning in winter 2022 and be open for traffic by summer 2024.”
The next meeting will be held by Wansford Parish Council on November 18 at 7.30pm at The Community Hall and is open to members of the public.
Robert Alexander, Local Democracy Reporting Service