FUNDING from numerous Somerset housing developments could be spent on a new road to ensure the county’s newest railway station can open as planned.

The Department for Transport (DfT) announced in October 2023 that the new Wellington railway station would be “funded to delivery” following the cancellation of the High Speed 2 rail link between Birmingham and Manchester.

Access to the new station will be achieved by extending the existing road to the town’s Lidl supermarket, which lies on Nynehead Road, up to the railway line as part of a planned development of 220 homes.

Somerset Council has now agreed that around £4.5m from other housing development in the local area could be used to fund the road in advance, to ensure the new station can open by September 2025.

When new housing developments are built, developers provide financial contributions towards local infrastructure, including roads, schools, doctors’ surgeries, sports pitches and children’s play area.

These contributions are typically secured through one of two legal routes – a Section 106 agreement, or the community infrastructure levy (known as CIL).

Money from Section 106 agreements can typically be spent on infrastructure either within the given development site or very close to it – such as the doctors’ surgery which is walking distance of new homes, or a play area within the development’s public open space.

By contrast, CIL funding from different sites can be pooled and spent on larger projects, such as schools, which can be a long way from the homes that originally provided the funding.

West of England Developments (Taunton) Ltd put forward plans in June 2023 for a new development of 220 homes and commercial space on Nynehead Road, which would also include the access road to the station site and parking near the southern platform.

The actual station, including the platforms, ticket office and lifts, will be handled by a separate application from Network Rail, which is leading the project.

Somerset Council confirmed in mid-January that the new station and the surrounding development could be achieved in spite of the ongoing phosphates crisis, with negotiations continuing as to how much would be mitigated through on-site wetlands and how much would be handled by purchasing phosphate credits (which are generated by fallowing agricultural land elsewhere in the River Tone catchment area).

However, there is a risk that these negotiations may not be completed in time for the station to open by late-2025 – which could have repercussions on the central government funding for the project.

To alleviate this pressure, the council’s planning and transport policy sub-committee voted on Thursday afternoon (January 25) to allow CIL funding to be spent in advance to deliver the access road.

Mike O’Dowd-Jones, the council’s service director for infrastructure and transport, said in his written report: “As the developer is unable to guarantee delivery of the access road and associated infrastructure by 2025, we may need to take over control of the delivery of the access road and associated
infrastructure – including designing the road, submitting the detailed planning
application, procuring a contractor and managing the construction of the road.

“In order for the council to fund this, it is proposed that CIL funding is used to provide cash-flow to finance the project, which would be fully recovered from the development of sites surrounding the proposed new station.”

The CIL money spent on the new access road will be incrementally recouped from the housing development once planning permission has been granted – with this repayment being a key feature of the Section 106 agreement covering the site.

At this stage, the council estimates that it will require £4.5m of CIL to deliver the road – with £500,000 being needed for design and planning, and up to £4m for the actual construction.

Councillor Dixie Darch, portfolio holder for climate change and the environment, said: “I am delighted about our success with Wellington station, and we very much want this to go ahead.”

At present, developments within the Wellington parish boundary are exempt from paying CIL – though those which encroach onto neighbouring parishes (such as Wellington Without) do have to pay.

This situation is unlikely to change until the new Somerset-wide Local Plan is completed in early-2028 – meaning the bulk of the money for the new road will be sourced from developments outside of the town.

Councillor Ros Wyke, portfolio holder for economic development, planning and assets, said: “It’s not as though Wellington isn’t contributing at all, because we still get money from all the Section 106 agreements.”

The sub-committee voted to allow the temporary use of CIL to deliver the road after around half an hour’s debate.

The housing development plans are expected to come before the council’s planning committee west (which handles major applications in the former Somerset West and Taunton area) for a decision later in the year.

Mr O’Dowd-Jones said delivering the new road by September 2025 would be “challenging but achievable”.