Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Businessman opens private toll road

A private toll road that has opened near Bath, avoiding the closed section of the A431 between Bath and Bristol
A private toll road that has opened near Bath, avoiding the closed section of the A431 between Bath and Bristol

The businessman behind a private toll road by-passing a closed commuter route is confident he will not have to sell his home if the venture fails.

Mike Watts, 62, has until Christmas to recoup his £300,000 investment or face losing his house.

He is charging motorists £2 per journey to use his bypass made from rolled chippings and avoid the closed section of the A431 between Bath and Bristol.

The Kelston Road was shut in February following a landslip and officials say it will not be repaired until the end of the year.

But with the new makeshift road running through farmer John Dinham's field, it re-opens the important route used by commuters travelling between the two cities.

Local villagers in nearby Kelston have repeatedly criticised Bath & North East Somerset council for not re-opening the main road sooner and say it has caused major traffic problems in the area.

Mr Watts, who lives on the Bristol side of the landslip and runs businesses in Bath, said his toll road is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, having dreamt up the idea in his local pub.

"Its 365 metres long, seven metres wide with two-way traffic. Originally I thought it was going to cost £50,000 but it has cost £150,000 to build," Mr Watts said.

"It costs around £1,000 to operate the road each day. Given the A431 is scheduled to re-open in December we have five months to recoup our investment.

"We have to recover £300,000 by the end of the year. Given it is £2 each way per car we have got to get 150,000 vehicles over this road to ensure we have covered our costs.

"I am very confident we will get that as the demand to use this as a shortcut is going to save them time, it is going to save them money.

"According to Department for Transport figures 7,000 people a day use the A431, so if we get just over 10% of them, which I think we will, I think everybody is going to be happy.

"It's a win, win, win situation for everyone."

Mr Watts added: "If I'm wrong, my wife and I have gone into this with our eyes open, we are risking our house.

"If this doesn't work out we will sell our house to ensure that everyone is paid and no one is out of pocket.

"It was our risk and we were prepared to do it and I don't think we will be selling our house.

"The first three days have been amazing. We opened very quietly on Friday and here we are on Monday and we've already had around 2,000 cars over the road in that short space of time."

Drivers who will regularly use the route - saving themselves a 14 mile detour each way - can bulk buy 12 toll passes for the price of 10.

However, officials say the road does not have planning permission or safety certificates.

Bath and North East Somerset Council said it did not support the private road and warned motorists to think twice before paying the toll.

A council spokesman said: "It's not just the planning, it's the legal aspect of drivers using the road, and also safety.

"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."

"The temporary toll road access is likely to generate a need for more traffic management on site, prolong the construction period and increase the cost of the repairs."

The permanent repair, costing £1.5 million, is due to be complete by the end of 2014.

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