“If this doesn’t work out we are going to lose our house, Wendy (my wife) and I took the decision together that we needed to do this for ourselves and the people we know.”
British entrepreneur Mike Watts, who has gambled his home on building a toll road after becoming frustrated at town council delays in clearing a commuter route blocked by a landslip (landslide) in February.
Mike Watts is charging motorists £2 per journey to use his bypass made from rolled chippings (gravel) and avoid the closed section of the A431 road between Bath and Bristol.
A landslide in February forced the closure of Kelston Road and, while Bath and North East Somerset Council said it has begun repairs costing £1.5million, the road is not due to re-open until Christmas.
Mr. Watts, aged 62 years, said his road, which runs through farmer John Dinham’s field, will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, despite not having planning permission or safety certificates.
“The impact for people that live in the area was immense,” said Mr. Watts, who runs several businesses in Bath’s Guildhall Market. “Our [gas] bill went from £25 per week to £60 pounds per week, the pollution and frustration were incredible. It was 14 miles extra but up to an hour and 15 minutes more each way.”
Motorist Laura Fenton, aged 28 years, from Kelston, said the new road was a vast improvement. “It was difficult, especially getting the kids around,” said the mum-of-two. “If I wanted to take them to a doctors appointment or something in Bath it was a huge diversion. “I think what Mike and the farmer have done is absolutely brilliant.”
Mr. Watts, a father-of-four and grandfather-of-two who lives close to the bypass with wife Wendy Race, aged 52 years, said he would be applying for retrospective planning permission for the 365 metre-long road.
The route cost £150,000 to build and will drain a further £150,000 from Mr. Watts in maintenance and management costs.
“We have got five months to recoup £300,000 but I am pretty optimistic we will achieve that,” he said. “We have really got to get 1,250 vehicles passing each day. Department for Transport figures for the last 10 years suggest in excess of 7,000 cars used the road each day. If this doesn’t work out we are going to lose our house, Wendy and I took the decision together that we needed to do this for ourselves and the people we know.”
The route, which opened on Friday [August 1, 2014], is believed to be the first privately-run toll road built in England in more than 100 years.
Cars and vans are charged £2 per journey and motorcyclists £1. A path owned by Bath and North Somerset Council runs alongside Mr Watts’ creation, allowing cyclists access.
Dean Chappell, manager of the Old Crown pub in Kelston, Bath, said when the road first closed the business lost around £2,000 in trade. He said trade had picked up in recent months and he hoped the toll road would help. The pub is now offering to cover the cost of the toll for customers spending more than £20.
Bath and North East Somerset Council said it did not support the private road and warned motorists not to use it.
A council spokesman said: “We appreciate the difficulties that local residents have experienced since the emergency closure and work has started to deliver a permanent solution as quickly as possible, but will not encourage proposals that have not been proven to be safe or compliant with statutory requirements. The council has no details to confirm the toll road design meets safety standards and no evidence that insurances are in place for any member of the public who uses the private toll road.” (from an Aug. 6 news story at London’s Daily Telegraph)