Bypass plan reduces tenant to tears: Inquiry told how scheme has left family's life in 'limbo'. Nicholas Schoon reports

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The Independent Online
THE SALISBURY bypass will utterly transform Claire Bennett's outlook. It will pass within a few yards of her home, all four lanes of both dual carriageways, on an embankment as high as her cottage.

Yesterday, she finally had her say on the scheme at a public inquiry which has been running for exactly a year.

It has heard 87 witnesses, many of them experts, and considered hundreds of dry documents but Mrs Bennett's contribution was very personal and sad. She wept as she told the inquiry inspector, Sir Peter Buchanan, a retired admiral, how the A36 bypass would destroy the home environment of herself, husband Toby, a carpenter, and their toddler son, Jake.

The Department of Transport plans to purchase a corner of the front garden of her rented cottage for the scheme. A junction will also be built next door - slip roads, flyover, roundabout and bridges obliterating her view of Britain's tallest cathedral spire. 'Our lives are being put in limbo,' Mrs Bennett sobbed during her statement. 'We just feel very frightened . . . totally out of our depth.'

She told the inspector about the wild deer that graze in the fields behind her home, about her daily walks with Jake in the River Nadder's water meadows - just beyond those fields where there are wild irises, abundant birds, insects and flowers. The embanked road will sweep across this and other environmentally prized chalk stream valleys.

And what about her walk to the bus stop and the shops? The family has no car. She will have to cross two sliproads.

Sir Peter offered quiet sympathy and promised to visit her home.

Christopher Jones, the DoT's project director for the pounds 80m scheme, told Mrs Bennett that he understood and that he, too, would be worried if someone planned to build a dual carriageway and major road junction next to his home.

'It's always difficult,' he told the inquiry. 'But to take the route elsewhere would do more extensive damage - it is the least damaging of the options.'

Environmental groups and many townspeople loathe the scheme because of the the way it intrudes into the valleys and water meadows of the Avon, the Nadder and Wylye, which converge around Salisbury, and damages the city's fine setting in the gently rolling landscape.

They see it as one of several linked schemes to transform the A36 - which links Southampton to Bath, Bristol and the M4 and M5 motorways - into a fast dual carriageway. But the transport department gave the 11-mile road 'priority one' status in last month's review of the motorway and trunk roads programme, which means that it has an excellent chance of being built in the next few years.

The department says that the road is needed to take through traffic off the city's congested ring road, itself built decades ago to relieve Salisbury's historic core, and out of several nearby villages straddling the existing A36.

Robert Key, Minister for Roads and Traffic, owns a farmhouse next to the A36, but as the city's MP he will take no part in deciding on final approval for the bypass.

Mrs Bennett's home is one of fairly few directly alongside the planned road, nearly all of which will be in open country.

As a tenant rather than an owner, little in the way of compensation is on offer to her from the Department of Transport. It has promised secondary glazing to keep out the noise of at least 25,000 vehicles a day passing by and to plant the large embankments with shrubs and trees.

The department has sent her documents several inches thick to explain why there is no alternative. In its written response to her submission to the inquiry, it agrees that Meadow Dairy Cottage will suffer 'high visual intrusion and obstruction'. She finds much of the material too technical to understand.

Mrs Bennett said: 'I don't know where or how the bypass should be built.'

But the inquiry could be in no doubt that putting it through her backyard was a dismal and frightening prospect.

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