A BEHIND-closed-doors meeting between Highways England and a housing developer to discuss A358 road improvements has been branded "disgraceful".

Dave Orr, who discovered details of the meeting through a Freedom of Information query, says it contrasts with the treatment of local people, who have been blocked from talking to HE officials.

Taylor Wimpey requested the meeting to see how the road proposals "could affect our plans" for a large greenfield site it recently bought at Orchard Portman.

Although the swathe of land to the east of the M5 at Taunton is excluded from land earmarked for potential development, Taylor Wimpey would hope to build hundreds of homes there.

Dave Orr, who uncovered details of the meeting through a Freedom of Information request, said: "Affected communities wanted to discuss the route for the A358, but Highways England Company Ltd refused.

"Now we find out that they will meet with a major developer to discuss the route for the A358 in secret.

"It is disgraceful that a public body behave like this. Clearly, money talks."

Local resident Mike Farrell said: "I condemn a system which allows large developers to contact and discuss with Government departments the prospects of linking major road schemes to large, new housing developments.

"Whether this scheme will be granted planning permission in due course is irrelevant. It is the manner in which these meetings, discussions and possibly with offered incentives are done behind closed doors and with no reference to those who live and work here and those who enjoy this glorious green space."

HE is expected to announce shortly its preferred route for converting the A358 between Ilminster and Taunton to a dual carriageway.

An HE spokesman confirmed the meeting with a Taylor Wimpey consultancy took place following an approach from the housebuilder to discuss "potential future development aspirations east of the M5" in light of the A358 scheme.

He said: "We actively encourage early engagement on any prospective pre-applications in line with national planning guidance and our own planning guide, Planning for the Future. Taylor Wimpey has not meet with the A358 project team.

"Members of the public have however had many opportunities to meet directly with the A358 project team and to share their views on our proposals during our consultation events...and a community forum with representatives from the local community and wider interest groups."

A Taylor Wimpey spokesman said the meeting was "to understand how future proposals for the A358 could affect our plans" for the Orchard Portman site.

He added: "This is a long-term project and it is important that we take on board the feedback of residents and stakeholders in drawing up any plans.

"We will consult the local community on our proposal for this site in due course."